I recently discovered that the good people at FamilySearch have added to their online collection of Ohio birth records. Their “Ohio, County Births, 1841-2003” database was just updated on January 16, 2013, with images from several more counties. This database now contains 3,556,062 records—a fantastic resource for finding births of Ohio ancestors, particularly those born between 1867 and 1908.
I’ve been playing around with the database a little bit, and have discovered some quirks, which I thought I’d share with you. First of all, the name of the collection is a bit of a misnomer. Even though it says “1841-2003,” the vast majority of the images are from old county birth registers created prior to the time Ohio started requiring state registration of births and deaths in 1908.
Here’s where a bit of history comes in handy. In Ohio, the counties were first directed to start keeping registers of births in 1867 (Ohio has 88 counties, so that’s a lot of registers). As you might imagine, compliance with this new-fangled law was neither immediate nor complete. Some counties, such as Franklin County—home to the capitol, Columbus—relied on tax assessors to gather birth and death information from people as they were making their tax collection rounds. I can only imagine how happy people were to have the tax collector at their door asking about such things! A big problem with this method is that people who didn’t own property were often overlooked. Also missed were people who had moved away during the year. In short, there were a lot of holes in this system.
In other counties, doctors reported births, sometimes in one big cluster whenever they got around to it. This could be weeks or even months after the birth took place. The counties’ burden was lifted in December 1908, when the state took over the job of registering births and deaths.
So if you click on “Ohio, County Births, 1841-2003,” and then on “Learn More” in the right-hand sidebar, you’ll find a statement that says, “This collection covers the years 1856 to 1909.” That gives you a better idea of what you’ll actually find in the database. As a bonus, it also includes more recent delayed birth registrations for some counties (generally 1940s-1960s).
But back to the database home page. Naturally, the search box is the place to start looking for the birth record of your Ohio ancestor. Be flexible and try different spellings—these names were taken from faded and sometimes damaged handwritten register books. Using the asterisk symbol (*) to stand in for some of the letters can help. Also, unless the name is a common one, I usually don’t enter a date or location as a search term to start.
If you find what you’re looking for, you can see and print the image of the actual birth register. Most of these span two pages, so be sure to click on the arrow to check the next page. Take a moment to think how cool that is, to be able to find your Ohio ancestor’s birth record from over 100 years ago in mere minutes!
But if you don’t find what you need, don’t give up. A recent blog post by the Ohio Genealogical Society observed that this collection does not seem to be fully indexed. Which means not everything will show up just by doing a name search. So what’s the next thing to try? Browsing.
Click on “Browse through 1,896,221 images” on the database home page. You’ll be taken to a list of the counties for which records are presently online. Click on the county you want and see what’s available. Some larger counties have separate index books. If not, you can check the index at the front of each volume. Find the index page for the first letter of the surname, and see if your person is there. If he or she is, it’s simply a matter of getting to the right page in the book.
The collection is not yet complete, as a few counties (including Geauga) have no records. I hope that in time they’ll be added, too. FamilySearch also has another database called “Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962.” It doesn’t have images of the actual records, but can be a great finding aid. And at over 2.5 million records, it’s not too shabby, either.
Are you looking for an ancestor who was born in Ohio? Here's wishing you success with this new resource!