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Overheard on the Message Boards: Locating Vital Records from Fairview, Fulton, Illinois
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

August 08, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have an ancestor who was supposedly born in Fairview, Fulton County, Illinois on January 29, 1856. The problem is that neither the Illinois vital records office or Fulton county keep records back that far. How can I obtain his birth records? If I can verify John's mother, I hope to get his parents' marriage record. It is possible that John Monroe White's parents are John M. White and Elizabeth Rist married January 26,1843 in Fulton County, Illinois. John M.'s second wife may have been Mary Boyd married in January 25, 1857 in Fulton County, Illinois. On the 1880 census, John M. White is listed with wife Mary and boys John M. White, Silas White, George White, and Samuel White. Can anyone help me locate or point me in the direction of John Monroe's birth certificate so I can make the connection with his parents? -- Nevada

A: Vital records, that is birth certificates and death certificates, are relatively contemporary records. In most countries they were not begun until the 1800s (exactly when in the 1800s varies from country to country).

In the United States each state began recording of vital records at a different time. Also, I have found that marriage records were often recorded earlier and vital records were not recorded until a need was seen for their recording.

Consider alternatives to traditional vital records.

When Did They Begin

Each state in the United States began recording vital records at a different time. In some instances they were not begun until the 1900s. Other states began recording in the 1800s. Also there is a difference between when the states began filing vital records at the state level and when the individual counties began to keep them.

As you discovered, the state of Illinois began recording vital records in 1916. Anything before that will not be found at the state's department of public health. You will also find that a state's vital records department often limits who can access vital records at that level since they are restricted by privacy laws.

The counties in Illinois began to keep records earlier. Most counties have records beginning in 1877, the year that the state determined that each county would record these records. Some counties were a bit more progressive and have some vital records earlier than this. Most counties also have marriage records since the creation of the county. Fulton County began keeping track of births in that county in 1878.

Unfortunately for you this means there is no official birth certificate for your John Monroe White. There may be alternatives though.

Other Vital Records

While there is no birth certificate for John Monroe White, there may be some vital record alternatives that would supply you with the same information. Other vital records that exist on John Monroe White may also supply you with the information in which you are in need.

First, if you haven't done so already, you will want to look for a marriage certificate and a death certificate for John. If John was married after 1877 in Illinois, then it is likely that you will find the names of his parents listed in the marriage register. Illinois marriage registers recorded before 1877 usually didn't include anything other than the names of the bride and groom and the date of the marriage. Beginning in 1877 the marriage registers included columns to include information about the bride and groom include age and birth place, as well as the names of parents.

The other vital record to look for on John that should include information the names of John's parents is his death record. Most death registers and death certificates between the latter 1800s and the 1900s included space for the recording of the father and mother of the deceased.

Vital Record Alternatives

While there is no birth certificate for John, it is possible that a baptismal certificate exists for him if he was baptized as a child. Another non-vital record that may include information about John's parents is his obituary. You may find there is a published index to obituaries for the county where John died. Most indexes or abstracts of obituaries will include the newspaper in which the entry was found. You can then find out if the newspaper is available on microfilm, and perhaps interlibrary loan, by checking the United States Newspaper Program National Union List which is available on microfiche through the Family History Library to your local Family History Center.

Probate records may also aid you with your quest. You have identified a possible father and mother for your John. If you haven't done so already, you will want to search for a will or probate records for John M. White to see if he mentions the son John Monroe White.

In Conclusion

While there is no birth certificate for John Monroe White, there are other records you can look for that may supply the names of John's parents.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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