Prior Birth Index Offers Clues to the Past

The fifteen-volume Arkansas Prior Birth Index was published by the Arkansas Genealogical Society, compiling information on people born in the state of Arkansas before February 1, 1914, when the state did not require registration of births systemically. Factors such as the requirements for World War II military enlistments, defense plant employment, and the advent of Social Security caused a surge in Arkansas residents’ desire to document birth.

The Social Security Act of 1935 [H. R. 7260] signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt established federal benefits for the general welfare of older-aged people living in the United States. Three primary benefits of the act are public assistance, unemployment compensation, and insurance for the elders in the community.

Information provided in these documents provides clues to family genealogy, including names of parents, date and location of birth, location of parental birthplaces, number in birth order of the mother, and other details. Although the information might have been provided by the child after entering adulthood, it still serves as a record to confirm or refute details of family history.

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My grandfather is Willie Toombs, according to his death certificate. His delayed birth certificate indexed in the Arkansas Prior Birth Index lists his name as Willis Toombs. His date of birth, parents’ names, and location of birth are all known to me through oral history. Why is his name Willis? He is named after his father’s brother. This uncle owned a barbeque restaurant on Washington Avenue in North Little Rock and was married to Della, an instructor at Philander Smith College. He is buried in the Historic Oakland Fraternal Cemetery in Little Rock. My great-grandfather, Knoxie Toombs, is the informant for his brother’s death certificate.

At age fifty-three, my grandfather filed a delayed birth certificate using his birth name. It was a recognition of a choice made by his parents and in honor of the uncle who died September 2, 1930. It was a clue left for me when I started researching our family history that has allowed me to understand the life direction of my great-grandfathers’ siblings. A cousin, Queen Esther Toombs, daughter of Thaddeus and Annie Garrett Toombs, is also listed in the Prior Birth Index. The youngest daughter of Willie Toombs is named after this cousin. His eldest son, Turley, is named for another of his father’s brothers.

As you can see, although the information available in the Prior Birth Index may not be specific to what you are researching, it can provide bread crumbs leading to family documentation you had not thought to look for.

More genealogy resources are available here. And come visit us in the CALS Roberts Library!

By Rhonda Stewart, Genealogy/Local History Specialist, CALS Roberts Library

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