Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Truth About Oswald's Birth Certificate

One issue mentioned frequently by conspiracy theorists is Lee Harvey Oswald’s birth certificate, or as is sometimes maintained, the absence of one. In May, 1997, on pages 17-20, the assassination journal The Fourth Decade published an article by two Oswald theorist John Armstrong (with Jerry Rose) entitled “Oswald’s Birth Certificate” that posed numerous rhetorical questions about the document. In 2003, Armstrong published Harvey and Lee: How the CIA Framed Oswald. During the six years between the publication of the article and the book, Armstrong’s views about the birth certificate changed somewhat, although he still believed Oswald’s birth certificate was not available for unstated nefarious reasons. This article will examine the birth certificate controversy using Armstrong’s criticisms as a template for discussion and offer what seems to be a final resolution to the matter.

First, we need some definitions. There are two documents in the public record reflecting Oswald’s birth. The first is the document that Oswald, Marguerite, some members of the FBI and the NYC school system apparently thought was his birth certificate. A copy of a photographic negative of the document, which was made by Oswald during his employment at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall, appears in the Warren Volumes as part of Commission Exhibit 800. Another copy of the document existed in the Dallas Municipal Archives and was recorded as item number 448 (24 H 343). For the sake of discussion, this document, which many believe is Oswald’s birth certificate, will be hereafter referred to as CE 800.

The second document of interest is an affidavit by Oswald’s paternal uncle Harvey F. Oswald. The affidavit attests to the fact that Oswald was born on October 18, 1939, the same date listed on CE 800 which is universally accepted as Oswald’s date of birth. The affidavit was not found among Oswald’s possessions but was only made available during an FBI document release (probably in 1978). The affidavit is reproduced in Armstrong’s Baylor Files on Pages 33-40 at the following link:

We know from the record that Oswald thought CE 800 was his birth certificate, or at least could be used as such. CE 800 was used as proof of age when he entered the NYC school system since “BC # 17034” (the number on CE 800) is listed as proof of age (22 H 693; CD 28 4). Oswald, of course, used a birth certificate on several other occasions and while I could find no other instance where BC # 17034 is specifically mentioned, there is no reason to think he used anything other than CE 800. Even the US Marine Corps, who presumably saw thousands of birth certificates from Louisiana and could therefore spot a faulty document, apparently accepted it. This was the same Marine Corps who at the time of Oswald’s enlistment contacted the funeral home that handled the arrangements for Robert Oswald Sr. to verify his death (CD 82, 172). And FBI documents refer to CE 800 as Oswald’s birth certificate in several instances as a quick search at Mary Ferrell’s web site will attest.

1997 The Fourth Decade

Armstrong used the following to open his 1997 TFD article:

Of all the questionable documents to establish the identity of Lee Harvey Oswald, none is more controversial, potentially significant and misunderstood than Oswald’s birth certificate.

Most of the issues raised by Armstrong in this early article are non-issues but I include them here for the sake of completeness. The first thing Armstrong finds odd is that Marguerite twice listed Oswald’s birth date as October 19, 1939 instead of the correct date of October, 18. As often is the case in his writings, Armstrong does not allow for the possibility of simple human error. He also does not consider that such mistakes would seem to support the Warren Commission contention of a somewhat detached mother, as a normal mother would usually not make such a blunder. Armstrong also wonders why the FBI checked Oswald’s date of birth a month before the assassination in October, 1963. The obvious explanation is that the bureau had been investigating Oswald for some time and would routinely seek such background information. The fact that it happened a month before the assassination is purely a coincidence and Armstrong offers no alternative explanation.

The Hoover Imposter Theory

One of the first theories about Oswald’s birth certificate ironically came from none other than J. Edgar Hoover (CD 1114, 835). The document, which Hoover indeed signed off on, has been used repeatedly by theorists through the years as evidence of imposture. As late as 2014, The Men Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ by Roger Stone repeats the allegation. It is not surprising therefore, that on page 17 of the Fourth Decade Armstrong writes:

In June, 1960, J. Edgar Hoover was warning that Oswald’s birth certificate was possibly being used by an impersonator.

Curiously, Armstrong seems to understand why Hoover came to believe this, but still uses it in the article to bolster his argument. The late Vincent Bugliosi succinctly rebutted the Hoover-imposter theory in his 2007 book Reclaiming History (p. 1025):

Marguerite had informed the FBI the previous month that Oswald had taken his birth certificate with him when he had defected to the Soviet Union, and that three letters she had written him had been returned to her undelivered. Also, she had recently received a letter addressed to her son from the Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland indicating that he had been expected to show up at the college on April 20, 1960, but hadn’t. The mother, Hoover said, was therefore “apprehensive about his safety.” In the infinite research on the assassination, no one has yet been able to dredge up any indication that the FBI had evidence at the time of Hoover’s memorandum that someone might be impersonating Oswald. From this fact and from the context in which the subject paragraph was written, it would appear that Hoover used rather loose language in speculating about the possibility of an imposter.

Paul Hoch

Noted researcher Paul Hoch has provided additional details about the Hoover-Impostor theory. According to Hoch:

As far as I know, the first mention of the impostor hypothesis is in the 23 May 60 message from HFG in NY to FBIHQ:

Hoch says documents show that “HFG” is FBI Special Agent Harold F. Good.

… the impostor hypothesis is less mysterious when it is recognized as coming from someone [Good] who was involved with the Funds Transmitted program and presumably with other matters involving the Soviets. His concern presumably was that, if Oswald turned over the birth certificate, it might facilitate the infiltration of a KGB agent or sleeper of a comparable age. Perhaps a birth certificate, like a passport, was a potentially valuable intelligence item.

From Hoch’s study of the documents, he believes that Good thought that speaking to Oswald would be of value to the FBI and that the bureau and the State department should watch for a Russian using the name Oswald trying to enter the US. Hoch also believes that Good thought the State Department should be helpful to Marguerite in her quest to locate her son (which is exactly what happened).

Hoch goes on to say that none of the above …

… relates to the conspiratorial contexts in which we first thought about an impostor: someone else pretending (in Mexico, at the rifle range, etc.) to be the LHO who had returned to the US.

To sum up, Hoch says that the imposter idea originated with Good after reading FBI Agent John Fain’s report of his interview with Marguerite. Hoover did routinely sign off on a document that contained a reference to the possibility of an imposter. But Hoch thinks it is unlikely that Hoover was personally invested in the theory.

2003 Harvey and Lee

By the time of the publication of Harvey and Lee, Armstrong had dropped some of his earlier criticisms. The following excerpt from page 17 explains most of his remaining concerns:

The Recorder of Births, Marriages, and Deaths in New Orleans Parish recorded Oswald's birth in Book 207, Folio 1321. The record on file is a "Declaration of Birth" for Lee Harvey Oswald, was witnessed by Harvey F. Oswald, and dated October 25, 1939. This declaration is NOT a birth certificate. A "Declaration of Birth" is a document that was used when births occurred outside of a hospital and without an attending physician, such as births that occurred on a rural farm. A "Certificate of Birth" was routinely issued for children born in hospitals or delivered at a private home by a physician, especially in a large city such as New Orleans. A "Certificate of Birth" should have been issued by either the Old French Hospital or Dr. Bruno F. Mancuso within a day of Oswald's birth. A birth certificate for Lee Harvey Oswald has never been made public.

NOTE: After the assassination Dallas Police detectives found a document that has been incorrectly identified as Oswald's birth certificate. This document is listed as item #448 in Warren Commission Exhibit 2003 and identified as "Birth Certificate# 17034." This document is NOT a birth certificate nor is it the "Declaration of Birth" mentioned above.

Item #448 is merely an acknowledgment by the New Orleans Parish Office of Records of Births, Marriages and Deaths that Oswald's birth was recorded in Book 207, Folio 1321. Upon payment of a small fee, anyone can obtain such a certificate. The original "Declaration of Birth" has never been found, nor was a copy published in the Warren Volumes. The FBI obtained a copy of this document from an unknown source, which was released by the FBI along with thousands of other JFK related documents in 1978.

One fact that leads researchers to believe that CE 800 is not a birth certificate is that the document does not say “Birth Certificate” at the top. Vincent Bugliosi, one of Armstrong’s biggest critics, agreed with his analysis of the birth certificate issue. On page 360 of the Reclaiming History Endnotes he wrote:

The document reprinted in the Warren Commission volumes (CE 800, 17 H 685) that was seized from Oswald’s room on Beckley Street pursuant to a search warrant on the afternoon of the assassination (Potts Exhibit A-2, 21 H 142), is not, as the Dallas Police Department listed it (21 H 142), Oswald’s birth certificate. It is merely a certification by Henry Lanauge, the deputy recorder of New Orleans, that Oswald’s birth on October 18, 1939, had been recorded in book 207, folio 1321 of the recorder’s office on October 25, 1939. Indeed, the document is not even denominated “Birth Certificate,” but instead, “Recorder of Births, Marriages and Deaths,” and there is no attestation on the document of Oswald’s birth by his doctor or the hospital.

Despite accepting Armstrong’s analysis, Bugliosi pointed out the futility of pursuing the issue on page 360 of the Reclaiming History Endnotes:

Armstrong, a committed conspiracy theorist, writes ominously that “a birth certificate for Lee Harvey Oswald has never been made public,” the implication being that if it exists, the unnamed conspirators are suppressing it (instead of destroying it) because the certificate itself holds some kind of a key (along with a thousand other keys) to the assassination, which, of course, is nonsense. (Or is he suggesting that perhaps Oswald was never born, being simply a CIA clone manufactured in a Dr. Strangelove-type CIA lab?)

A final issue raised by Armstrong is the allegations of Phillip Corso (page 332):

Following the assassination of President Kennedy, US Senator Richard Russell … asked former intelligence officer Phillip Corso to conduct a discreet inquiry into the assassination. After contacting Francis Knight, head of the US Passport Office, Corso reported to Senator Russell that Knight had told him there were two passports issued to “Lee Harvey Oswald” and they had been used by two different people.

But all the information Corso related to Armstrong is based solely on hearsay. To my knowledge, Corso provided no documentation whatsoever supporting his claims. Regarding Corso’s credibility, noted Roswell (UFO) researcher Kevin Randle offers the following opinion of Corso’s book Day After Roswell and his research methods:

Given the information available, given the mistakes in Corso’s book, and given his inflation of his own importance during his military career, it seems that the logical conclusion is that Corso’s claims are of little value. They added nothing to what was already known, and certainly have detracted from the whole of the Roswell case.

A Forum Debate Leads to Resolution of the Issue

I originally believed that the Harvey Armstrong affidavit was generated because of the premature death of Robert Oswald Sr. two months before Oswald’s own birth. I theorized that Harvey Oswald was required to attest to the birth before a birth certificate could be issued. And most of the evidence showed that CE 800 was the birth certificate. To my knowledge, there was only one example of the Harvey Oswald affidavit being described as a birth certificate. That example is found at:

A discussion at the Education Forum in January, 2017 helped to finally resolve the issue of Oswald’s birth documents. Nearly 54 years after the assaasination Jim Hargrove, an Armstrong associate, was still asking:

Why can’t we see a full birth certificate for Lee Harvey Oswald?

By asking this rhetorical question, Hargrove was still implying that something was wrong with the Oswald birth records. But, as Vincent Bugliosi pointed out, what that “something” is remains unclear.

Researcher and attorney Lance Payette joined the debate stating:

If Marina ordered LHO's birth certificate, I have no idea what she would receive… I doubt she would receive a document that looks like CE 800, because of the language "keep this for future reference…" [other examples of Louisiana birth certificates posted on the forum] do not have this language, suggesting that CE 800 is a "birth certificate equivalent" the individual could use as proof of birth.

At that point in the discussion, Hargrove provided the following information:

Well, this is weird....

I was talking to John A[rmstrong]. a few minutes ago, and he asked me what I was doing today, and I said arguing about Oswald's birth card or short form birth certificate or whatever you want to call it, and he said, "Oh, I have his official birth certificate. I thought I emailed it to you and David and some others recently."

I asked him where he got it, and he said he didn't remember, though I suspect he does. He has met with Marina many times and has gotten much original documentation on Oswald from her, but she is just one possibility. John wouldn't give me a clue where it came from.

He said he'll dig up the copy of the official certificate and send it to me as soon as he can find an electronic copy … If he sends it to me, and I'll bet he does, I'll be damned if I know what to do with it. I won't post it here without an OK from James Gordon or someone else who can speak on this board's behalf. Considering Louisiana law, I'm not sure I'd post it anyway …

Two days later, Hargrove emailed the document to Payette. Given Armstrong’s track record (other documents he claimed to have in the past never materialized) I was still skeptical. Payette was less so:

I think the document provided to me by Jim is indeed the birth certificate. Book 207, Folio 1321 is the document referenced in the FBI report a month before the assassination occurred … Again, what we now have is nothing more than a clean and complete copy of the sawed-off negative copy of the declaration of Harvey Oswald that we have been looking at all along. I don't know how a clean copy came into John Armstrong's possession, but since he had contact with Marina I don't see anything sinister about it … CE 800 would just be a short-form proof of birth that could be easily carried and used as needed - hence the language "Keep this for future reference."

I decided to take matters into my own hands. On January 11, 2017, I contacted the State Registrar & Vital Records (which is under the Louisiana Department of Health) who referred me to the Louisiana State Archives. In short, the people at the Archives agreed with Payette that the document provided by Armstrong is the birth certificate. Like Payette, they cited the "keep this for future reference” as an indication that CE 800 is not a birth certificate albeit for a different reason. The Archives people said that "keep this for future reference” means that the Office of Vital Records kept the “register record” as a reference to a separate document-the original birth record. The “State of Louisiana” designation at the top of the document also influenced their belief that the document was genuine. My communication with the Louisiana State Archives is paraphrased here as special permission is needed to quote them directly and I felt that was unnecessary for the purposes of this article.

One must wonder when Armstrong came into possession of the birth certificate and if he was keeping researchers in the dark while allowing them to question the veracity of Oswald’s birth documents. At the late date of March, 2016 a researcher at Duncan MacRae’s forum was asking:

Can anyone point me to this [Oswald’s birth certificate] in the WC's twenty-six volumes? Thanks! [answering his own question] It can't be found because the WC did not include it. Why? They also did not include tax returns for LHO. Again, why? If he was a simple "lone assassin " as claimed, why all the subterfuge with his personal documents?

As a matter of fact, and as Armstrong and his associates finally admit, there is no mystery at all. Just some people who want others to believe there is a mystery.


  1. Great job Tracy. And Bugliosi was right regarding Hoover's comments. Having looked into it myself, what happened was that following Fain's interview with Marguerite, a series of memos went up the line, each one upping the ante on paranoia about the birth certificate, culminating in Hoover's memo. In short, it was something like Chinese Whispers. What started out as an innocent comment about Lee taking his BC on the trip somehow morphed into the possibility of it being used by someone else.

  2. Thanks Greg for your comments and taking time to stop by-much appreciated.

  3. Did the "impostor" idea originate with Good or with Oswald's mother?

    If you read the document you cite carefully, it may well be that Good is simply passing on Marguerite's theories in that second paragraph, but didn't feel it necessary to explicitly attribute them to her again, as the first paragraph makes it clear he's reporting what he was told by Marguerite.

    Just a thought. Since Marguerite was known to be concerned about her son's whereabouts, it's quite possible she was the actual source of the conjecture that there might be an impostor using her son's birth certificate, rather than Good.

  4. H. Sienzant,

    Yes, I think it could have originated with either Marguerite or Good.


Powered by Blogger.