Vital Records - What they are and Where to Find them

courthouseThose who are new to genealogy may wonder where they should begin. What are the most important things to look for? Where can you find what you are seeking? The research aspect of genealogy can seem a bit overwhelming, at first. This blog will make it easier for new genealogists to understand what vital records are and where to locate them.

What is a vital record? They are records of life events kept under governmental authority. Vital records include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates.

Many consider military records, records of civil unions or domestic partnerships, immigration papers, and divorce records to also be vital. In short, vital records are the official pieces of paper that show when and where a particular individual had something incredibly significant happen that was recognized by the government.

Where to find Birth Certificates

Birth certificates are vital records. They contain the child’s name, sex, date and place of birth, and the names of the child’s parents. During the 1900’s, it became mandatory for state and county courthouses to keep copies of birth records (or birth certificates). Therefore, one way to find a birth certificate is to visit the courthouse where an ancestor lived.

Where to find Death Certificates

Death records are kept in the state where your ancestor died. That may, or may not, be the state where he or she was born (or spend most of his or her life in). It is possible to find a death certificate at the cemetery where your ancestor is buried. You can also check the county courthouse, or seek out church records. The United States Social Security Death Index is a good resource to find death certificate information about relatives who died in (or after) 1962.

Where to find Marriage Certificates

It helps if you know what state your ancestor got married in. Try to narrow it down to the correct county. Once you know where the marriage took place, you can contact the county courthouse. Start at their website. They typically have instructions on how to request a copy of a marriage certificate listed there.

Where to Write for Vital Records

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about where to write for vital records. They are separated by state, and there is a link provided that will get you started. You can use their resources to learn how to request birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce papers.

Image by Teemu008 on Flickr.

Related Articles:

* Collecting Vital Records

* Sending for Birth-Marriage-Divorce-Death Records

* The U.S. Military Pension File

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