Vital records, which are also known as civil registration in some countries, are official documents kept by the government to document the status of an individual. These vital records can include birth certificates, death records, marriage certificates, and divorce records. For genealogists, vital records can shed valuable light on the history of their ancestors. Beyond the name and dates of birth recorded in these documents, vital records can also provide information about parents' names, the number of children in the family, cause of death, socioeconomic status, and even occupation.
Certified, Uncertified and Indexed Vital Records
Certified copies of official vital records contain all information available for the record type, and have a raised seal of authenticity. These records can be used for legal purposes, such as for obtaining passports, or issuing other identification documents. Because of the sensitive nature of certified copies, most states have laws that restrict their access to the individual it belongs to, or the individual's nearest family members. Proof of identification is required.
Uncertified copies of official vital records contain the same information as the certified copies, but do not have a raised seal of certification by the state. They cannot be used for obtaining identification documents like passports, and people besides the corresponding individual and immediate family members may have access to them, depending on the state laws. Because of the growing concerns over identity theft, some states have restricted access to their vital records. However, some official records are less sensitive than others, and most states will generally give the public more access to marriage and divorce records than birth and death certificates.
Indexed vital records are publicly made available and can be accessed online. Like uncertified copies, they do not have a stamped certification by the state, but they can nonetheless provide you with accurate, useful information in your genealogy search. Indexed records may leave out sensitive information, such as social security numbers or any other
non-public information, in order to protect the individuals they belong to.
Where to Access Vital Records
Depending upon your state and the type of vital record you are seeking, there are several ways to find the information:
- State Level: For the particular state you are investigating, start with the Department of Health and Vital Records. Most states charge anywhere from $12 to $20 to access these records.
- County Level: If you cannot find the information at the state level, then begin divulging into the county levels, starting with the County Clerk and Recorder. Most of these records can be obtained for $12 to $15.
- Online Resources: To skip all of the bureaucracy of the state and county departments, you can also utilize authoritative online resources that compile municipal, county, and state records into one source. While some are free, the accuracy of this information can be debated. However, by accessing authoritative website such as Archives.com. you can easily research your ancestors right from your home.
- 1940 Census Index and Images: Using our 1940 Census search, you can access key information about your family members living during that time period. For any example of an individual and her image, please click to see Macey Smith's page.
Any History Begins With Vital Records
Whatever the depth of your genealogy research, your use of vital records will broaden and expand your information to make your family genealogy fuller and more interesting. Taking a journey into your past begins with birth, death, and marriage certificates.
Marriage and Divorce Records
Find marriage and divorce records by state. Search through each state's marriage and divorce vital records to get the documents you need for your genealogical research.
Birth and Death Records
Find birth and death records by state. Search through each state's birth and death vital records to get the documents you need for your genealogical research.