My aunt had a baby out of wedlock in Florida in the late 1930s or as late as 1941. My cousin has asked me to find out who his father is. Were mothers required to name the father back then, and that information was kept under seal? Or should I assume that there no record whatsoever. Is there any alternative way to discover the father's identity?
Here's the checklist I use when when trying to find records about a place or topic:
- Learn what records might have been created in a particular time and place.
- Research which of those records might still exist, and which records are accessible to the public.
- Research what repositories might hold those records.
- Research which online repositories might hold those records.
Records are usually created because they are needed for some purpose, or because they are required by law. So if you want to find out what was required, you have to find the historical statues for that time and place.
The modern custom is to establish registries where men can assert that they might have been the father of a child, so they won't lose their parental rights, if the child is given up for adoption. An overview of such registries can be found on the page Putative Father Registry at the website of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.
The Florida Bar Journal published an article by Amy U. Hickman and Jeanne T. Tate in Volume 82, No. 1 (January, 2008) page 42 and following, which provides background information on the current situation: Florida's Putative Father Registry: More Work is Needed to Follow the Established National Trends Toward Stable Adoption Placements.
For the current statutes, see: The 2014 Florida Statutes: Chapter 63: adoption
The 2014 statues say that the Putative Father Registry is confidential, and exempt from the other laws granting access to public information.
So to answer the question about your cousin would require a search of the historical statutes to find out what was required at the time he was born, and what the rules were about who could access the records.
He could get a copy of his own birth certificate, but there's no guarantee that the biological father's name would be on it (which is true for any of us, whether we are adopted or not). There might be clues on the certificate as to whether it had been amended, but there might not. For the current procedure on getting a corrected or amended birth certificate, see: Certificates: Amendments and Corrections at the website of the The Florida Department of Health, and the history of the rules on Delayed Birth Certificates. Use the current statutes as guides and a source of search terms to work your way backwards and find information about the historical statutes, until you can get back to the late 1930s-1940s.
The obvious answer to the question "Is there any alternative way to discover the father's identity?" is DNA testing, which for the best results, needs to be done in conjunction with traditional paper-trail genealogy. For links to basic information about DNA testing, see my answer to the question Generational Loss of Data with DNA Testing -- in particular, the posts about Triangulation from Roberta Estes' blog DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy.
Michael Lacopo, a professional genealogist, has written a blog about the search for his mother's biological father, called Hoosier Daddy. It is best read in chronological order going forward, so if you want to follow along, start with Beginnings.