The Archivist's Bulldog

Vol. 11 No. 19, Newsletter of the Maryland State Archives, October 27, 1997

by Heather Ravanbakhsh

Baltimore City Birth Records, 1875-1972

In 1874 the Baltimore City Mayor and City Council passed an ordinance for the registration of births in the city (No. 86, Ordinances of 1874). Even after 1898 when the state Board of Health began regulating birth registration for the 23 counties, Baltimore City continued to maintain its own records until 1972.

The earliest certificates resulting from the ordinance contained the sex, race, and number (birth order) of the child, date and place of birth, names and birthplaces of the parents, occupation of the father, and name and address of the medical attendant. In 1903 the city's Bureau of Vital Statistics revised the form to add a line for the child's name. However, the certificates do not routinely include the name of the child until 1911. Another revision of the form took place in 1910, adding the residence, race, age, and occupation of each parent and the number of children previously born to the mother. In 1949, confidential medical information was added to the form.

The certificates are arranged numerically by certificate number, making them roughly chronological. To perform an efficient search, a researcher should check the birth index first to obtain a certificate number. The only exception to this arrangement occurs for the year 1972. Those records are arranged chronologically by month and then alphabetically by the child's name. The Baltimore City birth index covers 1875 through 1941. It is a vowel index, arranged by the first letter and first vowel of the parents' surname. Each entry gives the parents names (occasionally the mother's maiden name), the date of birth, and the certificate number. The child is not named. Although the index is open to the public, please note that the birth certificates themselves are restricted for 100 years after the date of birth.

The Maryland State Archives holds the Baltimore City birth records in the following series:

County Birth Records, 1898-1972

In 1898, the General Assembly passed a law that initiated the registration of births in the 23 counties (Chapter 312, Acts of 1898). The law declared that "the secretary of the State Board of Health shall be the State Registrar of Vital Statistics for Maryland; he shall. . . prepare the necessary methods, books, and forms for accurate registration of births. . .; and shall supply the local registrars, health officers, ministers, physicians, undertakers, midwives and other persons. . . the proper blanks, forms and books of record." The law did not affect the city of Baltimore, because its Health Department had been registering births since 1875.

At first, compliance with the law on the local level was incomplete. As the State Board of Health gradually increased its control over the local boards, registration became more reliable. Researchers should keep in mind, however, that as late as 1914 the Board of Health was still working to increase compliance with the law, and some births went unrecorded.

The 1898 law dictated that "the record of a birth shall state the date and place of its occurance, name in full, sex and color, and the number of the child, whether living or still born, and the names, color, occupation, birth place and residence of parents, name and address of the physician, midwife or attendant at the birth." In 1970, the only change to county birth certificates took place when confidential medical information was added. The certificates are arranged chronologically by year and month, then alphabetically by the name of the county, and finally alphabetically by the name of the child. Because of this arrangement, one can find a birth certificate by knowing the name of the child or the child's parents, and the month, year, and county of birth.

The Archives also has indexing from 1875 through 1950. The early index, 1875-1919, is arranged alphabetically by the surname of the child (or by the parents' surname, if the child's name is not given). The index provides the child's name (if given), the names of the parents, the date of birth, and the county. The later index, 1920-1950, is in Soundex order by the surname of the child; within the Soundex classification it is alphabetical by the father's first name. When no father's name is given, the card is filed at the beginning of the Soundex class. Children of unmarried couples are listed twice, under the names of both parents. This later index provides the names of the child and the parents, the date and county of birth, and the child's race and birth order. Although these indexes are open to the public, please note that the birth certificates themselves are restricted for 100 years after the date of birth.

The Maryland State Archives holds the following birth records for the 23 counties:

State Birth Records (City and County), 1973-1978

On July 1, 1972 the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Division of Vital Records took over the responsibility of registering Baltimore City births from the Baltimore City Health Department, Bureau of Vital Statistics. The separate series maintained by the two agencies became a single series of records covering both Baltimore City and the 23 counties:

The certificates include the name and sex of the child; date and place of birth; name, birthplace, race, age, residence, and occupation of each parent; number of children previously born to the mother; name and address of the medical attendant; and confidential medical information. They are arranged, like the earlier county certificates, chronologically by year and month, then alphabetically by jurisdiction, and finally alphabetically by the name of the child. The index for these birth records is in electronic format and is accessible only to authorized staff.

by Pat Melville

As usual during the first quarter of a fiscal year, especially for July and August, genealogy was the predominant theme for research at the Archives. On September 16 a milestone was reached - patron #50,000 was registered, a man doing a title search. We began our current system of registration when the Hall of Records Building opened in August 1986.

Topics relating to transportation included the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, Solomons Island Road, Generals Highway, Northern Central Railroad, and railroads in Annapolis. Other studies involving Annapolis concerned Mark Twain's visit, natural history of West Annapolis and Wardour, Hillsmere Farm Manor House, Civil War, West Street area, Clay Street area, historic properties, and Colonial Players.

Studies with religious themes pertained to Monocacy Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown, Great Awakening in Maryland and especially in Anne Arundel and Cecil counties, and St. Martin's Church. Locally based research included Waldorf, Oakland Mill, Wellsview Village, Fairfield, Bloodsworth Island, and Sotterley Plantation. Economic and/or environmental topics concerned iron industry in Maryland, Smucks Dump in Glen Burnie, bogs in Anne Arundel County, and Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.

Medical themes involved Maryland mental institutions, medicine in Maryland from 1790 to 1910, occupational diseases, and nurses and hospitals during the Civil War. Other subjects pertained to diaries and letters of American women, Coode's rebellion, 1st Maryland Cavalry, CSA, U.S. Marshalls in Maryland, maritime labor in the 19th century, and Stringfellow Barr.

by Shashi Thapar

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