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Nov 13, 2017

African American Genealogy: Substitute Records for Births in South Carolina

Dock Arnold Death Notice

In Documenting a SC Birth, we discussed how to find your ancestor using birth certificates. Not everyone was recorded on a birth certificate, and birth records are the hardest to find. Fortunately, you can use substitute records to find clues to the date and place where you ancestor was born.  Use the record types discussed below where you may discover more about your ancestor’s birth.


Sometimes newspapers can help you learn things about your ancestor that may not otherwise be found. Your ancestor’s birth may have been recorded in the newspaper, but other types of articles or announcements may help you narrow down a birth date or place. Look for an obituary that mentions birth date or place.

If your ancestor left an estate, the local paper may mention when the estate was probated. The actual probate records may contain clues to birth information. Park Arnold died on April 14, 1911 before death certificates were recorded in South Carolina. Fortunately for an article entitled “Grant Griffin Estate Recalls Other Negro Properties” his death may have remained a mystery:

Newspaper article mentions Park Arnold
“Grant Griffin Estate Recalls Other Negro Properties.” The Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), Saturday, 10 Jun 1950, Page 6.

Because Park Arnold was mentioned as having a large estate, we knew to search for the Administrator’s Notice in 1911 which confirmed the existence of a probate record.  Sometimes probate records can reveal an ancestor’s age which can help you narrow down the year of birth.

Administrators Notice for Estate of Park Arnold
“Administrator’s Notice.” The Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), Monday, 3 July 1911, Page 2.

It was difficult to distinguish Park from his son who was also Park Arnold. We only found the article below by searching Park’s last name, Arnold. We discovered even more articles this way.  The article refers to him using his nickname, Doc, and his son died two years prior.  Without newspapers, it would have been very difficult to tell Park and his son apart. Newspapers are a valuable resource for clearing up these types of challenges.

Dock Arnold Death Notice
“Dock Arnold Dead.” The Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), Thursday, 20 April 1911, Page 1.

U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

The U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index is a collection on  It provides more information about ancestors than the Social Security Death Index. You may discover your ancestor’s birth date and place or parents.

Manuel Goggins “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007” [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.

This is a very useful collection if ancestors born prior to recorded births have a recorded claim. In this database, we have discovered claims for people who had no existing birth record and who were born as early as 1879.

US Public Records Index

It is easy to lose track of members of the family group between census years especially if they move away.  Eugene LaFayette Vance Sr. was born prior to 1900 in South Carolina. He had at least two generations with the same name. The U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and Volume 2 at provided the date of birth and residence for Eugene’s descendants. This made it easier to identify them on the census and in vital records.

Eugene L. Vance Jr. U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we will share more record types that may help you determine your ancestor’s birth information.

Sharpen the Saw

Look for an ancestor’s birth information using one of the record types mentioned above. Let us know what you discover on the Facebook post for this article.