Birth Registration | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Birth Registration

Aug 15, 2019

Birth certificates seem integral to us today, but it was a while for this relatively recent document became commonplace. While the state of North Dakota has birth records back into the early 1900s, and some even before then, not every birth was reported. There were a variety of reasons as to why — the area was not very populated; they didn’t know who to report the birth to; and women often gave birth at home, with the help of friends, families, midwives, and others, who did not follow through with any documentation.

The U. S. Census Bureau does not track births, but the department did find itself under pressure to aid in the process. So, in 1924, the Census Bureau designed a "Notification of Birth Registration" form for state vital statistics offices. This was used into the late 1940s, but was discontinued once the states got better at keeping birth records on their own.

On this date in 1925, North Dakota's health director, Dr. Whittemore said, "Constant effort is necessary if North Dakota is to maintain its place on the Department of Commerce's accredited list of states in the vital statistics registration area." He argued that the birth certificate may help to prove the child's "parentage, legitimacy, citizenship, right to marry, to inherit property, obtain employment, mother's pension, passports, admission to school, ... and many other things."

North Dakota had spent a lot of time developing a system of birth registration, but it was a challenge to keep the system running. Continued births outside of hospitals complicated the effort.

So, Whittemore sent out messages via newspapers to get both births and deaths recorded properly. He felt this mass appeal to the public helped in starting, spreading, and sticking to the registration process. “DO IT NOW, before you forget it,” his message warned, and it went on to say, "At least one thousand babies born since January 1 this year are not registered in this office. Is your baby one of them?"

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker 


The Bismarck Tribune, August 15, 1925, p8

St. Thomas Times, Friday, August 14, 1925, p4, column 4