Sunday, January 30, 2011

Michutka Monday: April 1891

Growing up, I was always aware of the important dates of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and those of my aunts and uncles. My family marked birthdays, anniversaries, and death dates, noting them together with the passing holidays and holy days. My mother would announce someone’s upcoming special day, a flowery card would be bought, and a trip made to the post office to buy a stamp and mail it. So I always knew that my grandpa George Michutka’s birthday was April 21. 

Except maybe it wasn’t, quite.

Genealogical research is full of surprises—exciting surprises, puzzling surprises, painful surprises, and surprising surprises. When at long last the parish records of Slovakia were microfilmed and available for research, when at long last I could reel through images of browned pages that made me feel that the village must have passed every day under a sepia-toned sky, I sought first my grandfather’s baptismal record to confirm his father’s name and set the foundation for working backwards to earlier generations. I scrolled to baptismal records, to 1891, to April and there he was with the right parents, baptized April 30 and born on the …. 29th???[1]

"Georgius Micsutka" birth & baptismal record, Makov, Slovakia, 29 April 1891

How could we have had the date wrong? We knew the 21st from George himself. Which date was right?

Over the years, I collected a few documents in which George explicitly stated his date of birth, rather than just his age. My puzzlement only increased. I found the following:
  • On June 5, 1917, George Mitchutka [sic] filled out a draft registration card; his date of birth: April 24, 1892.[2]
  • On January 2, 1923, George Michutka filled out a Declaration of Intention in Clinton County, Michigan; date of birth: April 24, 1892.[3]
  • Around September 1928, George sent for a certified copy of his baptismal record; of course, it gave his date of birth as April 29, 1891, since it was information taken from the same parish register as was later microfilmed.[4]
  • A second Declaration of Intention (apparently he never completed the naturalization process in the 1920s) was signed and filed on November 4, 1942; date of birth: April 29, 1891;[5] but…
  • on his Petition for Naturalization (date of this documents is uncertain, perhaps February 1947) his date of birth is recorded as April 21, 1891.[6]
  • George applied for a Social Security account in May of perhaps 1945 (the year is difficult to read); again, the date recorded is April 21, 1891.[7]

It’s tricky to claim a pattern with so few records, but it looks like George first claimed April 24, 1892 as his birth date, until he got the certified extract of his baptismal record.[8] After receiving that baptismal certificate, he used the date recorded there, April 29, 1891. And apparently sometime between very late 1942 and very early 1947, George switched to April 21 as his birthday on legal documents. 

Don’t even bother asking me “why?”

I suppose there are more avenues to research. At what age was a young man required to register for the military in Germany, where George was living in 1907, and in the Slovak lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where his family resided?  Could he—or his mother, or his uncle—have fudged his year of birth to avoid the army? When did George first get a driver’s license, and what date of birth (did the document even ask for that, back then?) did he use for that?  Was George’s date of birth recorded incorrectly in that baptismal register to start with, and his mother Johanna made a late-life confession: “son, you were really born on the 21st”?

In what other documents might I find with his date of birth recorded? and really, would they ever answer the question of why this date or that date?

Standards of research in genealogy would say that the baptismal record is the most likely to be accurate: it was recorded at or very near the time of the event; the informant (parent? godparent?) likely had first-hand knowledge of the event (the birth) although the recorder (priest?) did not; it was created as an official record; and there was little, if any, reason to falsify the information. The one thing that makes me a tad nervous is that the entries on his page of the baptismal register are written with no real variation in the script, as if they had been written all at one sitting from another piece (or pieces) of paper (or worse, from memory).  Two entries earlier on the page have errors crossed out. Could there be a mistake in George’s date of birth?

How much does this really matter, whether he was born the 21st, 24th, or 29th of April 1891 (or 1892)?  I’m sure it made no significant difference in my grandfather’s life.  It has made me a little nuts, because I go back and forth on which date to put for his birth in my genealogy database, and which to record under “alt. birth.”  It became a little more of an issue a few years back, when I decided that it was past time for George to have a headstone on his grave: which date to use?  Which date matters?

I decided to have the headstone date read simply “1891-1967.”  April 29 is the documented date with the most weight; April 21 is associated with memories of my grandpa. We can each mentally add (or not) the date that matters to us. The important thing, in the end, is to note his birth as we pass through April.

George Michutka gravestone, St. Paul's Cemetery, section G, lot 119C #7, Owosso, Michigan

Next Monday: What's in a name

[1]Sv. Peter a Pavol [Saints Peter and Paul] Roman Catholic Church (Makov, Slovakia), parish registers, volume II, 1836-1908, Georgius Micsutka baptism (1891, entry #43); FHL microfilm 2,003291, item 3.
[2]“World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, ( : accessed 19 November 2005), George Mitchutka, no. 397, Draft Board [illegible], New York, New York; citing World War I Selective Service Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509; no specific roll cited.
[3]Clinton County, Michigan, Circuit Court, file no. 195, George Michutka, 2 January 1923, declaration of intention.  I don’t have a note of whether any of the old county naturalization papers I’m citing here are held still by the circuit court or another body.  I had obtained copies in 1999 from the Clinton and Shiawassee County Clerks’ offices; more recently, it appears that the documents or copies of them are at the Michigan State Archives (see
[4] Juro Mičutka baptismal certificate (30 April 1891 baptism, Makov [church of St. Peter and Paul]); issued 20 September 1928, Nitra diocese, Czechoslovakia; original privately held. I have an old photocopy of this certificate; some elements such as the official stamps are not clear enough on my copy to offer additional information.
[5] Shiawassee County, Michigan, Circuit Court, file no. 1432, George Mitchutka [sic],  4 November 1942, declaration of intention.   
[6] Clinton County, Michigan, Circuit Court, file no. 442, George Michutka, apparently 10 February 1947, petition for naturalization.
[7]George Michutka, SS no. 368-28-0040, 19 May [1945?], application for Social Security Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
[8] Note that civil records in what is present-day Slovakia did not begin until 1895, and until that year, church registers were the official records. People born before 1895 who later needed proof of age or date of birth would request a certified copy of their baptismal record. For more information, see Bill Tarkulich’s excellent website on Slovak Genealogy Research, specifically


  1. Julie, the birth date errors--intentional or otherwise, from the nineteenth century records seem to be very common. My grandfather was born, according to his birth record, in 1885. Yet, every other record I could find listed his birth year as 1886, and, perhaps unfortunately, his grave stone lists 1886 as the year of his birth. By the way, my grandfather immigrated to the USA in 1903 when he was either 16 or 17 years old depending on which date was correct.

  2. Hi Julie. My Dad has two birthdays, which we delight in celebrating. He was born at home, as was common in his village in 1920. The midwife attended both his birth and that of a girl who was born nearby. She didn't get around to registering the two births for a few days, and by the time she did, she must have been a little confused and she swapped the two dates. He was born on July 29th, but the official birth registration is for the 31st of July. We celebrate primarily on the 29th, but of course we kid him about his youthful appearance on the 31st, since he is now 180 years old. Whenever he needs an official date, he uses the 31st.

    Love your stories about your family.


  3. Hi Julie. I have the same issue with my relatives from Slovakia - multiple birth dates with no rhyme or reason. The explanation I received when I visited there was that birth dates were pretty much inconsequential back then. The important celebration was the saint's day for the individual. So people simply didn't care whether the correct date was written down or not, and switched dates according to what form they were filling out at the time.


  4. Good points, all! I've found lots of folks of that generation who were wishy-washy about their date of birth; but my grandfather's variation surprised me because it had "always" (haha) been that one particular date, and then I found that he actualyy had the documentation for a different date... who knows! The other surprising bit is the date he did NOT use: April 23, the feast of St. George. Or maybe that's what he was aiming for, when he used April 24.

    At any rate, thanks for your comments, info, and shared experiences!


  5. My grandfather very deliberately lied about his age, changing the year of his birth on documents, to qualify for a burial insurance policy. Then he told his children that the official documents were wrong and what his actual birthdate was. This wouldn't apply to different dates within the month, but has been frustrating in my research.