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GEDCOM Christening/Birth dates

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  • GEDCOM Christening/Birth dates

    For numerous ancestors, I do not have a birth date. I only have a christening date. For these individuals, the birth date is shown as unknown and no christening date is shown when I upload my GEDCOM.

    I really would like the christening date to be shown in these cases. What is the best thing to do for these situations? I really do not want to have to enter approx. birth dates in my database software for all of these people and then create a new GEDCOM.

  • #2
    It is not unusual to find only a date of baptism (that is the name of the sacrament), in church records sometimes as late as the 18th Century. This is true both in Roman Catholic and Protestant church records. We often have to deal with a complete lack of exact birth dates for a period of maybe 2 centuries, roughly 1550-1750. For this period, the baptismal date serves as a good proxy for the date of birth. Most children were evidently baptized within at most a few weeks of birth (evidence on this point comes from occasional records of deaths of infants). At a later date, some Protestant denominations developed a preference for adult baptism, with the result that the baptismal date was no longer a very good estimator for the date of birth.

    In the GEDCOM standard, there are two tags that might be used to record the Christian sacrament of baptism. For historical/cultural reasons, the tag CHR is used for "christening", an English word that refers to the sacrament of baptism. The tag BAPM is often used for "baptism" as it is understood by the Mormons, but anyone who understands that the non-Mormon sacrament has been called baptism by Christian theologians and clergy for about two millennia will likely use the BAPM tag to record non-Mormon baptisms.

    This oddity of usage means that some genealogy software creates reports with the following characteristics: (1) show the birth date, if there is one; (2) if the birth date is blank, show the date associated with the CHR tag if it exists (sometimes shown with the label "baptized"); (3) usually, ignore the BAPM tag!

    In other words, depending on the cultural background of the genealogist, the assumptions made by the developers of any particular genealogy software program, and the way the genealogist happens to record the information, it is not always clear how to interpret the GEDCOM file.

    I agree with the idea that the baptismal date can be used as a proxy for an unknown birth date. The genealogist may find other information (such as age at baptism or some other event) that can be used to estimate the year of birth, and that value should be recorded in the birth field.

    I also agree that genealogy reports should show the "baptized" information (labeled as such) if the birth date is blank. But if that solution is to be implemented, it would be very helpful to have a clear statement from FTDNA that identifies each of the GEDCOM tags that will be used. That way we can tailor our GEDCOM files so that the way they are displayed will more closely match what we expect to see.

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