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Age in AmericaThe Colonial Era to the Present$
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Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870011

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.001.0001

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From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates

From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates

Young People, Proof of Age, and American Political Cultures, 1820–1915

(p.124) 6 From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates
Age in America

Shane Landrum

NYU Press

This chapter begins in the early nineteenth century, when Americans relied upon private documents, most often family Bibles, to record and prove their dates of birth. Shane Landrum argues that the push for universal birth registration came from late-nineteenth-century reformers seeking to improve public health and child welfare. By the 1910s, municipal and state governments had developed compulsory birth registration systems that provided a new generation of Americans with documentary proof of their ages in the form of birth certificates. Because the issuing of birth certificates grew out of public health efforts, however, access to these documents varied by region, race, and local political cultures. Until well into the twentieth century, many Americans from the South, Southwest, and rural West, especially those who were nonwhite or Spanish speaking, lacked documentary proof of age.

Keywords:   Bibles, family, birth, registration, public health, child welfare, birth certificates, race, political cultures, governments

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