Guide To Accessing Vital Records In The US

Researching Birth, Death, And Marriage Records

What Are Vital Records?

Vital records are documents of life events recorded by the government, including birth, marriage, and death certificates. In the U.S., vital records are generally kept at the state level.

Types Of Vital Records

1. Birth Records

This is an official record of a birth that took place in a given state.

If you want to order or request a birth certificate, get in touch with the county where the birth occurred. Birth data from January 1919 to the present are accessible at the State Office of Vital Records. If the birth records are older than 1919, contact state archives for such documents.

2. Marriage Records

Records in this category include marriage applications, licenses, certificates, and verifications. These are available as certified copies in the State Office of Vital Records, accessible for authorized viewing from June 1952 to date.

A couple’s marriage is officially documented through a marriage application and/or certificate. If you are unsure where the marriage occurred or want this information for genealogical reasons, you can get marriage verification by completing a verification request form.

3. Divorce Decrees

A divorce decree is an official document declaring the end of a marriage. It contains precise information on the divorce, like the division of assets and debts, child support, and allocation of parental responsibility between the parties.

4. Death Records

A death certificate is an official document stating the reason, date, time, and location of death which are confirmed and signed by the doctor on duty at the time. If you’re requesting a certified copy of a death certificate, you must have a direct and concrete connection to the deceased, either as a family member or a legal representative.

How To Request For Vital Records

You can request vital records either online, by mail, or in person.

Online Request

Electronic requests for certified copies of vital records can be processed online by independent, third-party websites like VitalChek or State Vital Records. 

A processing fee, which may differ depending on the company, may be applied to your order through the online service. This price is in addition to the certified copy fee.

Mail-in Request

You can order a record via the U.S. postal service by downloading the application from the official page and completing it. The address on the application should receive the completed application, a photocopy of your valid I.D., and the application fee. 

Vital records certified copies costs vary depending on the state you’re in. Each application includes information on processing timelines and optional rush costs if you need the documents sooner.

In-person Request

For in-person requests, you must make an appointment with the appropriate county vital records office and set specific dates and times for your visit.

Ensure you carry your official I.D. card or other identification documents, and get a notarized affidavit authorizing the release of the given record. In some states, the process may require you to pay an application or search fee.

How To Use Vital Records For Genealogy Research

If you want to build a successful family tree and know more about your ancestral lineage, you need relevant and accurate information – this is where vital records come in. These documents have information that can help you paint a clear picture of your family heritage. 

Here’s how to use vital records for a successful genealogy search:

1. Start With What You Have

When doing a family history search, always start with the basic information about your ancestors. For example, if you know the name of your great-grandfather, that should be your starting point. Double check this information with your parents or close relatives to ensure that what you know is correct, so you won’t go around in circles once you start your search.

2. Learn Where It All Started

Once you have the correct names, use indexes to search for their birth certificates. These certificates will give you more information about their birth dates (year and month) and where they were born. If you can, plan a visit to that location, and you might discover more about how your ancestors lived.

3. Track The Marriage Certificate

Now that you know your ancestors’ government names, you can further search for marriage certificates under the marriage indexes. Marriage certificates will tell you more about who they married and at what age. From this, you can get even more information about your forebears, where they were married, and their occupations.

Because most marriage certificates include the year of marriage and the couple’s address, you can extend your search, dig into census records of the same year, and check details under their address. Here, you’ll find other details of their households, including their children, that you can follow up on to branch out your family tree.

4. Get The Death Certificate

Using the detailed information you’ve gathered, look into the death certificates of your family in death and burial indexes. The death certificate contains information about their cause of death as well as when and where they were buried. 

Most death certificates also include the next of kin information, which you can follow up on this to further your genealogy search. Knowing their burial location opens another door to finding other close relatives because, traditionally, family members were buried in the same place.

Who Can Obtain Vital Records?

The general population cannot access or view vital records in many states. Vital records are copied and given to designated people or organizations only. This helps to preserve the integrity of the documents, protect identities, and prevent fraud. 

According to state law, only a person with direct and concrete involvement in the record is eligible to get a certified copy of a vital document. Such people include:

  • Immediate family members
  • Legal guardians
  • Authorized agents
  • Foster parents 
  • Step parents
  • Official representative ( e.g attorneys or funeral directors)

Tips For Using Vital Records For Genealogy Research

  • If you can’t find any relevant vital documents that the government has kept, look for church records of baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials.
  • Family Bibles were often used to keep track of births, marriages, and deaths, so look into those as well.
  • Decide early what information about your ancestor you wish to learn – being specific saves you the trouble of digging through a lot of unnecessary documents.
  • Keep solid notes and be careful to preserve what you have discovered.