Playing Detective: Grandma’s Birth Certificate


Right about what, you ask?

Right about where my Grandma Hankins was born (Villa Mae Lawrence Hankins 1904-1986).

By playing genealogy detective, I found out where my grandma was really born. Click To Tweet

Where was Grandma born?

I was lucky enough to have known her well. Sadly, though, I did not become interested in doing genealogy research until after she died. In her personal notes she stated that her birthplace was Melbourne, Kentucky. So why could I never find any evidence of her family there?

Puzzled, I eventually sent away to the state of Kentucky for a copy of her birth certificate. (That’s how we did it in the olden, pre-internet, days. It wasn’t free, either.) I was so-o-o excited when the envelope finally arrived in the mail…until…well, until I saw that the certificate had been filled out IN HER OWN HANDWRITING!!!!! (Which I recognized from a lifetime of letters and birthday cards.)

Grandma’s birth certificate

My aunt George Ann confirmed and explained that Grandma had needed a copy of her birth certificate so she could file for Social Security benefits. She had never had one, which was not unusual for people born in rural areas at that time. So, she was allowed to fill out her own certificate, with an affidavit from an elderly aunt, stating she’d been born in Melbourne.

Great. So that’s no help at all in terms of further research. And she didn’t know where her own parents were born, either. Ugh!

When evaluating genealogical data, one must consider the source — how likely are they to know the information? And the proximity in time — sure, Grandma was present at her own birth, but how much is she going to remember about that event?

Now what?

The hypothesis

Map showing that Milburn is located between Arlington and Dublin.

Grandma also mentioned that her family moved from one town to another in a covered wagon when she was about five years old. I looked at a map – it happened to be a very detailed one, which was pure luck, I realize now — genealogical serendipity — and noticed a town called Milburn located between, and quite near, two other towns where she’d also lived, Arlington and Dublin. (There was also a Melber, for that matter, but I think Milburn sounds more like Melbourne than Melber does when you say it out loud.)

Despite never finding any more evidence of her family in this location (they eventually settled in Parke County, Indiana), I believed for years that she was born in Milburn, Kentucky, and that she just got it into her head that it sounds like Melbourne. This was all the more logical when you consider that there really is a Kentucky town named Melbourne, clear across the state, and that Milburn is a tiny, unincorporated town that does not appear on most maps.

Corroborating evidence

So, how do I know I was right, though?

I eventually found a copy of my own mother’s 1934 birth record on The informants were her parents. It states that her mother (my Grandma Hankins) was born in…guess where? Milburn KY!!! So, decades earlier, Grandma did know, and did remember, and reported it correctly. And then forgot. As people do.


1904 Grandma is born.

1911 Kentucky birth registration is enacted statewide.

1934 Grandma states on her own child’s birth certificate that she (Grandma) was born in Milburn.

1969 Grandma applies for a delayed birth certificate, stating that she was born in Melbourne.

1986 Grandma dies. (RIP)

1999 I send for a copy of her birth certificate.

2016 I find my mom’s birth record and my hypothesis is confirmed — case closed!


Have you ever solved a genealogy mystery?

Do you have a mystery that needs solving?

Tell us about it in the comments!

Copyright 2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
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  1. Seana Turner on July 15, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I can see your natural curiosity here Hazel. I think it takes a tenacity to do genealogy research, but it sure is rewarding when you can put the pieces of the puzzle together. I bet your Grandma Hankins would be tickled to know you did so much to track this down:)

    • Hazel Thornton on July 17, 2019 at 2:15 pm

      That’s just the word she would use, too — “tickled”. 🙂

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