I’ve just heard an anecdote from Donna Baran. According to the story, someone’s grandparents (perhaps back in the first half of the 20th Century) refused to get a birth certificate for one of their children. These grandparents allegedly claimed that they knew and remembered from their grandparents that birth certificates were originally issued as stock certificates for former [current?] slaves.
I’ve never before heard of this claim. I have absolutely no evidence or authority to support his claim.
But the idea that birth certificates were originally intended for slaves (or former slaves) instantly resonated with me. With nothing to go on but gut, I’ll bet that if someone could research birth certificates back into, say, the 1850′s in the Old South, I’ll bet they find that birth certificates were originally intended as a way of identifying the slaves, property, chattel, animals, and livestock owned by plantation owners.