Registering Birth: Population and Personhood in American History


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




Though birth registration and the government-issued birth certificate are ubiquitous and quotidian, in the United States they are also relatively recent phenomena. It was not until well into the twentieth century that all states finally recorded upwards of 90% of live births. This study details how a once-locally and unevenly-practiced form of recordkeeping became the most essential mechanism for recording and establishing individual identity. It tells its story through multi-layered archival research dating from the early republic through the 1940s, bringing together federal, state, and organizational archives to show how registration of birth is at the center of how states construct their citizens and apprehend their populations.