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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

July 29, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

How Can I Find a Birth Date?

Q: I am trying to find the date of birth for my great great grandfather. I have his date of death, his name, and some military records but I cannot find the birthdate. George S. MOSES was 33 when he enlisted in 1863. He died 22 Apr 1908 in Johnsburg, New York. He was born in Clifton Park, Saratoga Co., New York. I have contacted the bureau of vital statistics for New York State and Saratoga County as well as Clifton Park with no luck. His military records nor marriage records have the birth date. Can you tell me how I might find it? -- Michael

A: Vital records were not recorded in early 1800s for the state of New York, so you are unlikely to find a birth certificate for your great great grandfather. However, you may be able to find his birth date or enough information about his age to be able to determine his birth date.

Your first step would be to order a a death certificate. You have a couple of avenues in which to pursue this. You can contact the Vital Records Section of the New York State Department of Health to request the death certificate. At the present there is a 14-month delay for requests of certificates for genealogical purposes. However, there may be a way to speed this up.

New York is one of the states that participates in the Vitalchek Network. This means if you you go through their channels it might be possible to expedite your request. You can find out more about this by visiting their web site. The cost for the death certificate is $15.00.

Another possible avenue for getting a death certificate would be to contact the Registrar of Vital Statistics in the town of Johnsburg. They may be able to get the death record to you in a quicker manner.

Why such concentration on the death record? Generally, death records include the age at time of death (in years, months and days) and also very often they supply you with the date of birth and place of birth.

Finally, cemetery records will very often have detailed information about the birth of a given individual. The tombstones will have the dates of birth and death, or they will have the date of death followed by the age, again by years, months and days.

Once you know his age in years, months and days, you can subtract that from his date of death to come up with his most logical date of birth. Calculating the date of birth is done with a formula. Information about this formula is discussed in the next question.

How Do I Calculate a Birth Date?

Q: In my research, I have discovered the exact age of my ancestor at the time of death. This was included on his tombstone. I would like to know the best way to calculate his date of birth. -- Renee

A: Calculating the date of birth when you have a complete age at time of death, which means you have the age in years, months and days, requires a little subtraction table. When working this, you subtract from the right to the left, borrowing just as you would in regular math, however, instead of borrowing in terms of say 10, you are usually borrowing in terms of a full months worth of days. The first example, shows you the calculation where there is no borrowing. Our ancestor died 29 Dec 1988. According to our research, he was 77 years, 10 months, 15 days old at the time of his death. The table below breaks the date down into numbers and subtracts the age.

Years Months Days
Date of Death 1988 12 29
Age at death 77 10 15
Est. Date of birth 1911 2 14

You can see that the estimated age of birth from this example is 14 Feb 1911.

But what if the dates don't behave. What happens when you have more days in the age than the day of the date of death. In that case, you borrow from the next largest number. In the next example, we will actually have to borrow first from the months, and then from the years to discover the answer. Remember when borrowing from the months that you add the appropriate number of days for that month. And when you borrow from the years, you are borrowing 12 months.

Our ancestor in this example, died 15 Mar 1989. His age at time of death was 89 years, 6 months, 26 days.

Years Months Days Notes
Date of Death 1989 3 15
Age at death 89 6 26
Mod. Date of Death 1989 3-1=
We have taken the 31 days in March and added them to the day column
Mod. Date of Death
Step 2
46 We have taken the 12 months in 1989 and added them to the month column
Mod. Date of Death
Step 3
1988 14
Age at death 89 6 26
Est. Date of birth 1899 8 20

So our ancestor's estimated date of birth is 20 Aug 1899.

That is how you calculate a birth date when you have the age and the date of death.

Understanding Relationship

Q: What is the relationship of the children born to the following parents. I have two brothers who married two sisters. Is there a unique genealogy name that applies to their offspring? -- Lonnie

A: In genealogy we always seem to have a term for everything we come across. And yes, there is a term for this as well. When two brothers of one family marry two sisters of another family, the children born to these two marriages are known as "double cousins."

What's In an Abstract?

Q: I've ordered, through interlibrary loan, two microfilms from the New York State Library that contain issues of 18th century newspapers. I'd like to abstract the information from them for use online. What would be the proper way to abstract these records? I would like to include anything that may place a person in the locale (births, deaths, weddings, advertisements, etc.) -- Melissa

A: First, before we go into the issues of abstracts and the information you should include. Let me insert a note of caution in regards to copyrights. The Copyright laws are intricate and confusing. You will want to double check the availability of the newspaper in the public domain before launching your project. This may require conferring with someone who is knowledgeable in the copyright laws and ramifications.

With that said, you will want to keep certain things in mind when abstracting records such as this. Since you wish to include information from more than a standard record, such as just marriages, you will need to evaluate the possibility of including all of that in a columnar format or if you will need to go to a sentence structure instead.

To abstract means to pull out the pertinent information, omitting the duplicated verbiage. When dealing with births, marriages and deaths, you will want to have the following wherever they appear:

  • Name of individual(s)
  • Date of the event
  • Place of the event (which may be a town name or a person's residence)
  • Names of parents
  • Names of ministers, doctors or others included
  • Other identifying information
  • Date of newspaper, and page number

When researchers have the above information they can verify the reliability of your abstract by going directly to the original source.

Brickwall in Georgia

Q: I have traced my family back to my great grandfather and can go no further. He was Edward Jackson HARPER. He was born 17 July 1847 in Madison, Morgan Co., Georgia. He married Alta Caroline WILSON 18 June 1871 in Elberton, Elbert Co., Georgia. She was born 22 Mar 1832 in Leaksville, Jasper Co., Georgia. I cannot find names for Edward's parents of siblings. The family story is that seven of his brothers left for the Civil War from Social Circle, Georgia and never returned. -- Sue

A: It is likely that you will need to first put together all the HARPER families in Morgan County, Georgia in 1850. Keep in mind that Edward could be anywhere from 2 to 4 years old in the 1850 census. He could be listed under Edward, Jackson, or a nickname. Once you have determined what HARPER families are in Morgan County, you will then need to trace them through the census and land records to see who stays put, who moves on and who probably died there.

Armed with this information you will then need to look in probate records for Morgan county. And other counties if you have been able to determine where the other HARPER families migrated.

As for the possible seven brothers, you will want to turn your attention to military records. There is a Consolidated Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers. This index is for all soldiers in all the Confederate states. It is on 535 rolls of microfilm and is available from the National Archives, its branches and other libraries and facilities. The good news is that HARPERs are on one roll of film.

When searching the microfilm, you will want to extract all information on any HARPERs that appear to have signed up in the vicinity of your Social Circle and surrounding townships. This would give you at least some information to begin searching for these people. Perhaps finding them in the family units of the 1850 census records you have already looked at.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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