Return of a Birth definition

If you live in the United States and want to retrace your family history and learn interesting and useful information about your ancestors, you have several options at your disposal, for example:

The ones you can access depend on the specific state laws that apply to your territory and the one where the event (birth, death, marriage, divorce, etc.) took place. The date of the event is also important.

It can be difficult to obtain a birth certificate that is not your own, since this official document includes very sensitive information about its subject and their parents.

The Return of a Birth can be a great and relatively easy-to-access source of information for births that occurred further back in the past. Keep reading to learn more about this useful genealogy tool.

What Is the Return of a Birth?

Until the 1930s, the vast majority of children were delivered at home with the help of midwives, most of which learned the craft on the job, and other experts who belonged to the mother’s family and community. Only a relatively small number of women gave birth in a hospital under the supervision of doctors and nurses.

After the birth occurred, it was necessary to record it in the county birth register (when one existed) or relevant ledger. This could be done in several ways. Sometimes, the father traveled to the nearest town hall to inform the clerk that his wife had had a baby.

Other times, when a midwife or doctor had assisted the birth in a private house, they recorded it on a slip of paper that registered their work and the birth and then needed to be filed — the Return of Birth.

That is why Returns can include more information than that noted in the ledger or birth certificate, such as the midwife or doctor’s name. They also include:

  • The name of the child (often left blank)
  • The date of birth
  • The place of birth
  • The child’s sex
  • Whether the child is legitimate or illegitimate
  • The name of mother
  • The mother's age
  • The mother's race
  • The number of children born to the mother
  • The father's name
  • The father's age
  • The father's race
  • The father's occupation
  • The father's place of birth

Stillbirths were also recorded in the form of a Return of Birth.

Where to Get a Return of Birth

In the U.S., Returns were recorded before the completion of modern birth records, typically from the second part of the 19th century to the early 1920s or 1930s (the year range will vary according to state and county rules.)

Since they refer to older events, they are relatively easier to obtain (when correctly recorded) than modern vital records.

Depending on your location, you can try and find original or microfilmed ledgers and Returns at:

  • Your local courthouse
  • The state Archives
  • The county Registrar