Collecting Vital Records

Collecting Vital RecordsIn genealogy, vital records are referred to as primary and secondary sources. These written documents help provide the proof of an event in a person’s life. There are birth certificates, birth registrations, baptismal records, marriage licenses, wedding certificates, divorce records, death registrations, church records, funeral home records, cemetery records, as well as newspaper notices on births, marriages and deaths.

Most vital records are available though a governmental agency or depository. Those from a church or synagogue would be held by each individual church or synagogue or at their central headquarters. Funeral home records reside with those individual businesses as does the records at cemeteries. Newspapers can be preserved at the individual newspaper’s office, but also in the region’s public libraries, usually saved on microfilm.

To document the information gathered on a pedigree chart, whether from your memory or other relatives, you need the vital records. Of course, remember, those same records, governmental, church or private business can contain errors. A careless typing or writing mistake, verbal information provided that was misunderstood all contributes to errors. So collect as many different records to compare as possible.

For example, to verify an ancestor’s date of birth you need the following. A birth certificate issued by a government agency would be your first primary source. Next a newspaper notice of the birth is good. Any hospital record of the birth a family member had is also helpful. Use the secondary sources; such as military records, marriage license or a death certificate to confirm the exact birth date.

From the beginning as you collect the vital records you must have a system of organization. A notebook with vinyl sheets to store the documents is great. A filing cabinet with labeled folders to store the records is helpful. Using a computer to keep in digital form a listing of your collection keeps you up of what you and what you still need.

In acquiring the vital records, start in your own household. You might have copies of birth, marriage and death records of your parents or grandparents already, tucked away in the attic. Next check with other relatives by asking your cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles for copies of their own birth and marriage records. Remember their records include more than just dates, other family names and locations are listed on the papers.

Once you determine which vital records you still need, there are several methods to obtain copies. First, by writing or emailing the governmental agencies for a copy is best. For the United Kingdom, the General Register Office (GRO) is the storehouse of records. Checking the site of General Register Office will provide contact information along with fees to acquire copies. You can order a certificate online, by telephone or by writing a letter to the General Register Office or the local register office where the event took place.

The GRO is the national archive for records of all births, marriages and deaths since 1837, as well as adoptions from 1927 and civil partnerships from 2005 within England and Wales. They also provide adoption information for locating birth parents. There is a General Register Office for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The GRO does require an index reference number or close to an exact date of the event. The index reference number consists of the year, volume number, page number and district in which the event was registered. The very earliest registration is for the September quarter for the months of June, July and September in 1837. If a birth, marriage or death occurred prior to those months in 1837, it will not be in the GRO.

To assist in locating an approximate date for an event in England or Wales, there is the online site ‘Free BMD.’ It has the index number with the district, volume and page numbers along with the year with which quarter. The FreeBMD site has over 241 million records starting from 1837. There are additional sites for acquiring the index reference number, such as and BMD Index, which would require a small fee for usage.

Confirm the basic information by using vital records will be a good start for the genealogy of the family. Doing a couple generations and working back is the most successful method.

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