BONA FIDE some records are vital / others aren’t, but might prove vital / a cavalcade of family photos
Revised June 5, 2016
For genealogists, nothing is better than vital records: records of birth, marriage, and death. But any genealogist who’s sifted through vital records knows they aren’t always spot-on correct.
Let’s examine this birth certificate, which happens to be mine. It was signed on 12 April 1956. My parents obtained this copy for the the school district in Burlington, IA so I could attend kindergarten. It’s a typewritten copy of the original. Photocopy machines didn’t exist in 1956. The Des Moines County, IA clerk embossed the birth certificate with his seal to indicate it’s a genuine copy.
But there are two problems. My father’s middle name is shown as “Vermen.” His real middle name is “Vernon.” And my mother’s first name is shown as “Valeria,” when it’s actually “Valerie.” Probably the clerk’s error, right?
Not exactly. In 2004 I found my passport had expired, and to obtain a new one, I had to provide my birth certificate. The above certificate would have sufficed, but I’d misplaced it, so I ordered another one from the State of IA. That birth certificate was a photocopy of the handwritten original dated 2 August 1951, and the original also gives my father’s middle name as “Vermen.” In the case of my mother’s first name, it’s difficult to tell if the original says “Valeria” or “Valerie” because the letters “a” and “e” look similar.
So the clerk who typed up the 1956 copy made an accurate transcription of incorrect information regarding my father, and interpreted my mother’s first name as “Valeria.” The only additional information of interest to me on the original is that my father’s occupation is listed as “Telegraph Operator.”
It’s not quite the end of the story. Several years ago I found a government agency had me in their database as born in “Burlington, Illinois.” As you can see, I was born in “Burlington, Iowa.” I had to produce a birth certificate so the agency could correct their records.
Vital records are important resources for genealogists. Mine states that the original is recorded in Des Moines County, IA, Book 16, Page C-24. If I drove to the county courthouse in Burlington, I could view the original.
(Jeff, age 5 months. At this point you could say I was protoplasmic, blissfully unaware of the horror that surrounded me. Soon, vague images of the environment began to form. I desperately wanted answers, but being unable to speak, that would have to wait.)
[Wow! That’s glacial. Jeff, Valerie Berniece Jeffery (Scarff) Chipman, and Diane. Iowa, 19 Jan 1954. Val used the additional surname “Jeffery” on her DAR certificate.]
Vital records aren’t the only records you generate as your life progresses. There are other rites of passage.
(Oh yeah? Already the BS Detector was set at Max. Jeff, age 5, Perkins School, Burlington, IA. A.M. Kindergarten, 1956–57, Reichert.)
I knew I had been baptized at the First Baptist Church of Downers Grove, IL, on 29 Mar 1964, but not having a written record, on 7 Mar 2016 I queried the church. Darlene Watkins responded and confirmed the date of baptism, and then told me something I didn’t know: two of my sisters were baptized on the same date. That would be Diane and Debbie.
The Baptists don’t practice infant baptism. They baptize by full immersion. Behind the pastor’s podium was a tank concealed by curtains. You wore a robe, and when the curtains opened you were dunked. A bit of stage management there, but the tank symbolized the river Jordan where, it is said, in ancient times John the Baptist baptized Christ.
(The rapid growth of Downers Grove necessitated the construction of a new high school on the south side of the village which opened in 1964.)
Below is part of my employment file kept by Illinois Bell Telephone. I began working for them on 23 Sep 1974. The photo on the right was my I.D. photo. (Click on image to enlarge.)
(It takes one to know one. Mary Beth and Ralph, ca. 1980, Downers Grove, IL.)
Above: I finished my senior year of college at George Williams College in Downers Grove, IL. It’s now part of Aurora University.
Below: Certificate of membership, The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Three of the signatures are difficult to read because they were signed in gold ink. New members are inducted through a state society, in this instance Illinois. Members can also belong to a local chapter, but I don’t—I’m a member at large. I later transferred my membership to Missouri. Some people think organizations like SAR are irrelevant. A lot has changed since 1776: Americans don’t look the same, and the challenges we face aren’t the same. But despite a Civil War, the institutions created by the American Revolution have remained remarkably resilient.
(Jeff and Kar the Arabian, ca. 1989. Kar belonged to a girlfriend who lived in Kane Co., IL. Kane Co., which borders DuPage Co. on the west, has a large horse population.)
Anyone who’s worked for a large corporation will recognize the above as the sort of coma-inducing busy work keeping lower management on the payroll.
[Valerie Berniece Jeffery (Scarff) Chipman, or as I think of her, “Nora Jr.” Springfield, MO, 26 Jul 1999. It was our family custom to assemble about the time of my birthday on 25 Jul, not out of respect for me, but because my birthday occurs at the height of summer.]
(Ralph Vernon Chipman, Springfield, MO, 26 Jul 1999.)
Above: this letter is why you shouldn’t throw important letters away, even if you think you’ll never need them. The letter, dated 14 Dec 2006, from Alcatel-Lucent Corporate Counsel Eric S. Rosen, is proof that no contract exists between myself and my former employer. Alcatel-Lucent has been acquired by Nokia of Finland.
Though most records generated over a lifetime aren’t “vital,” they document your life and should be preserved. In my case, preservation of these records proved vital, not because of identity theft, but due to misrepresentation of my identity.
I have deep MO roots: my mother’s family lived in Miller Co., MO. My maternal grandmother Hillary Lillian Vaughan was born in Tuscumbia. My father’s family lived in Dunklin Co., MO. My father was born in Senath.