When retrieving historical census data, scholars should treat the numbers that they see with suspicion. The need for caution is perhaps most clearly illustrated by the jaggedness of the age distribution in the nineteenth century. At that time, people were much more likely to report an age ending with zero, two, or five than an age ending with any other digit. The age distribution eventually smoothed out across the twentieth century, begging the question, Why would people have been more likely to know their age, or to report it with more accuracy, in 1980 than in 1880? Pearson’s The Birth Certificate answers that question engagingly and convincingly through meticulous historical research, telling the story of how birth registration became the norm in the United States, how the birth certificate came to serve as the foundation for a host of individual identity documents, and how various elements of the birth certificate...

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