Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cincinnati Birth and Death Records, 1865-1912

When I first became interested in genealogy, I remember making an appointment and going to the Hamilton County Health Department to look through index cards that recorded some early Cincinnati births and deaths.  I was struck with how easy it would be to just pocket specific cards and walk out with them.  As I recall, one of the people who assisted me said that cards could be missing.

At some point, the cards were given to the University of Cincinnati Blegen Library where many archives are stored.  I was thrilled when I learned that these cards were being digitized.  Apparently, that task has largely been completed.

There is a FAQ about this collection on the U.C. site:

Question: What is the scope of this collection and its history?
Answer: With a few exceptions, the official death records for the City of Cincinnati begin in 1865 and those for birth in 1874. As a result of a government records program of the Ohio Network of American History Research Centers, in 2003 over 500,000 card files from the Cincinnati Health Department were transferred to the UC Libraries' Archives and Rare Books Library. The cards contain the official records of births and deaths for Cincinnati citizens from the beginning dates as noted through 1908, with additional records through 1912. These cards are sometimes typed and many times handwritten, and were created by the Cincinnati Health Department several decades ago to preserve the data originally entered in ledger books. The ledger books are also preserved in the UC Libraries, but are of such fragility that any turning of the pages results in flaking and tears. The informational cards are considered the official and legal records of births and deaths for this time period.
While the bulk of these records begin in 1865, a small number of records show earlier dates. It is believed that these early records reflect the "restoration" of vital documents by citizens after the 1884 Hamilton County Courthouse fire, and were eventually sent to the City of Cincinnati Health Department for recording.
There are several different techniques for searching the database.  I found one of the most useful ways was to search by "subjects." An alphabetical list will come up and you can search by the surname that interests you.  Even with a surname like "Jones" I had reasonable results.

As anticipated, I was able to find information on some of my family members and not others.  "Deaths" are usually recorded on orange index cards.   Pictured is one that I found for my great-grandmother, Rachel A. Jones.

Once you've clicked on this record, you will be able to click on the "full" record. A lot of information is provided, not only on the person you are researching, but also a complete documentation of the history of the record.  Some of the information is pictured below.

A careful reading of the FAQ explains the few exceptions that have not yet been digitized.  However, I think you would agree that this may be a wonderful new opportunity to research many of our Cincinnati relatives at an important time in our city's history.

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