Monday, October 2, 2023

I Am Born

Our neighborhood bank is sadly closing. 40 years as a customer there and now it will be gone. Which means that we had to come in to close our safe deposit box account and move the contents somewhere else. So off we went today to do just that.


Of course, I had little idea what was actually in there or why. I guess it has to do with safeguarding essential documents against fire or other disasters. But what would qualify? My 3rd grade report card? My Distinguished Service Award? My childhood stuffy? What would be so important as to be irreplaceable?


I soon found out. The title deed to our house, our wills, our various saving account numbers, our marriage certificate and our birth certificates. Oh, also a number of classified documents that the former President sent to me for safe hiding. Ha ha!


The birth certificates for my wife and I and our two daughters were the most interesting. I had a moment where I thought they might declare a different birthday or year. (This actually happened when we discovered my Mom’s birth certificate after she passed and found out that we had been celebrating her birthday on the wrong day!) But everything on each of the four seemed to be in order. The main thing is that a piece of paper confirmed that I actually had been born and so had my wife and daughters. Without that paper, would I be here now?


This got me wondering about the history of birth certificates and here’s what I found in Wikipedia:


Enumerations of people were carried out long before the birth of Jesus. Data related to births were recorded in church registers in England as early as the 1500s. However, not until the 1902 Act of Congress was the Bureau of Census established as a permanent agency to develop birth registration areas and a standard registration system. Although all states had birth records by 1919, the use of the standardized version was not uniformly adopted until the 1930's.


So if we accept 40,000 years as the beginning of homo sapiens as we know them (many suggest much earlier), that means that knowing one’s birthday with certainty and having it publicly recorded accounts for .0025 of our history. I’d say that qualifies as a pretty recent phenomena! 


The 1902 date helps explain why Louis Armstrong claimed his birthday as July 4, 1900 (along with the racist practice of not dutifully recording the births of all black people). However, apparently a local New Orleans church parish did have something on paper that said Aug. 4, 1901 and Louis lost both a year and the mythological power of being born on Independence Day. 


And the 1930’s meant that both my parents, born in 1918 and 1921 respectively,  might have not had theirs recorded, since the practice was not “uniformly adopted until the 1930’s.” But they seemed to be among the select.


At any rate, all this is just to say that I’m glad I was born. And I have the paper to prove it.

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