Vital records are birth, marriage, and death (BMD) records that are created by a government entity. These records can be found at the state, county, and city or town level. The federal government does typically not produce vital records.
Which United States BMD vital records are available online? The answer is that it varies by state and date. In many states, clerks began registering marriages a century or more before they recorded births and deaths.
One of the most-current and up-to-date ways to determine if vital records are online is to check the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Here are links to each state:
Births and deaths were recorded in most states by the early 1900s. In some states, they go much earlier. Massachusetts vital records begin in the 1600s. Online United States vital records are found on a number of websites, such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, or state government sites. Some states have not placed their records online and it is necessary for near kin to fill out forms and order copies of certificates.
Types of Vital Records and What They Can Tell You
Birth certificates typically give the child’s name, sex, date and place of birth, and the names of the parents, including the mother’s maiden name.
Birth certificates may also include the hospital name, parents’ birthplaces, parents’ occupations, mother’s marital status, number of other children born to the mother, and the number this child is in the family.
Marriage Certificates and Licenses
These records typically name the bride and the groom and the date and place of marriage. Marriage records are usually kept at the county level, and early marriage records are recorded at the city or town level.
Marriage records may also include the age and birth date of the bride and groom, names and birthplaces of the bride’s and groom’s parents, the residences and occupations of the bride and groom, number of previous marriages for both the bride and groom, witnesses (may be relatives), and the official who performed the marriage.
Death certificates typically include the age of the deceased and the date of death, cause of death, time of death, name of the hospital, and date and place of birth (if it was known). Though there are statewide death records, prior to the 20th century most of these records were kept at the county or city level.
Death records may also include information about the race of the deceased, current residence, length of residence in the county or state, occupation, parents’ names and birthplaces, and spouse’s name (including the maiden name for a wife), relationship status (whether single, married, widowed, or divorced), place of burial, name of the funeral home, name of physician or medical examiner, name of informant and the person’s relationship to the deceased, and officials or witnesses present at the time of death.
More recent divorce records include the names of the husband and wife, the date of marriage, and the date of divorce. Current divorce records are typically kept at the county level in the county where the divorce was granted. Earlier divorce records may only include the names of the parties involved, the date the marriage was dissolved, and the reason for the divorce.
Divorce records may also include the ages and birth dates of the husband and wife, the current residence of the husband and wife, the names and birth dates of the children, and the reason for the divorce.
Vital Records Search Tips
- Refer to census records. Use the ages listed in census records to find the approximate birth year to narrow down your search.
- Check records for new information. For example, even if you already know the death date, remember that the actual death certificate can give the names and birthplaces of parents, including the mother’s maiden name.
- Search the parents’ names. To try to find other siblings, try entering the parents’ names and leaving the child’s name field blank.
- Look for additional children. Fertility patterns, before birth control was common, usually meant that children were born about every two years. If you have long gaps between births, hunt for additional children.
- Search marriage records for other couples with the same surnames. In doing so, you might be able to find other siblings.