Friday, May 28, 2010

Delayed Births - What a Concept!

Occasionally I come across terms that on the surface do not make sense to me. I ask myself, "What does that mean?" In most cases I find these words in old documents, but in a few cases I come across some them in fairly contemporary documents.

Delayed births was one such term that I encountered as I researched my relatives born around 1900. Taking the phrase literally, it made no sense to me. No woman in the midst of labor would want to delay the birth of a child unless there was a very compelling reason to do so. I wasn't even certain that doctors had the means to delay a birth at the beginning of the 20th century.

So what was a delayed birth? Birth certificates are a 20th century creation. Prior to about 1905 and in the United States, most births were recorded in church records and in some cases a county registry. In some instances, the only record of the birth was in a family Bible.

It wasn't really important to actually know when one was born until the advent of the Social Security Administration in 1935. In order to qualify for Social Security benefits at age 65, you had to have proof of age. So for those people who were born before the time that births were officially recorded, there was a mechanism put in place that permitted the county in which you were born to create a birth certificate for you - a delayed birth (certificate).

The applicant for a delayed birth certificate had to obtain affidavits from family and friends that attested to the date of birth and the place of birth. If all was in order, then the county clerk or county registrar issued a birth certificate.

Prior to the creation of birth certificates, there were towns and counties that maintained a birth registry. The physician who delivered the baby was responsible for filing the birth with the town clerk. Physicians occasionally did not file the birth for months and sometimes a year or more later.

One woman who I met at my first full-time job wanted to retire. She believed that she was born in 1907 but the physician when he registered her birth recorded the year as 1908. She was perfectly happy to claim her age based on the doctor who delivered her until she wanted to retire.

Anne and I remained friends until she died at age 93.

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