West Virginia Vital Records

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Introduction to Vital Records[edit | edit source]

Vital Records consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths recorded on registers, certificates, and documents. United States Vital Records has additional research guidance on researching and using vital records. A copy or an extract of most original records can be purchased from the West Virginia Vital Records State Department of Health or the County Clerk's office of the county where the event occurred.

Vital Records Collage.JPG

Vital Records Reference Dates[edit | edit source]

West Virginia's civil records start the following years:

Birth County Marriages Death
Earliest 1853-1900 1781 1853-1900
Statewide Registration 1917* 1853 1917*
General Compliance 1925 1853 1925
  • Fire destroyed many 1917-1921 records

Online West Virginia Birth, Marriage and Death Records[edit | edit source]

The following is a list of online resources useful for locating West Virginia Vital Records which consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths. Most online resources for West Virginia Vital Records are indexes. After locating a person in an index always consult the original record to confirm the information in the index.

  • West Virginia State-wide, County Birth, Marriage and Death Records are online at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Archives and History. Their West Virginia Vital Research Records Project maintains a large and growing, statewide, online searchable database with index and digital images. SELECTED birth registrations from 1853 through 1908, death records from 1853-1970 as well as marriage registration and death and marriage certificates are available at no cost. NOTE: Some records between 1853 and 1863 that are missing from the index sometimes are found at the Library of Virginia.

Births[edit | edit source]

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Deaths[edit | edit source]

Order Certificates[edit | edit source]

Birth and Death Records[edit | edit source]

Online Records


State Records of Births and Deaths[edit | edit source]

Statewide registration of births and deaths began in 1917 in West Virginia and was generally complied with by 1925. The counties have copies of these records. Because most of the state copies of the records from 1917 to 1921 were destroyed in a fire, it is best to request vital records through 1921 from the county clerk (see below).

The Family History Library has microfilms of:

  • Birth certificates 1852-1930. [1]
  • Death certificates 1917-1973 and Death indexes 1917-1991. [2]

You can also obtain state copies of birth and death records from 1917 to the present for a fee by writing to:

Vital Registration Office
Room 165
350 Capitol Street
Charleston, WV 25301-3701
Phone: 304-558-2931
FAX: 304-558-8001

The current fees for obtaining copies of the state's records are listed at VitalRecords.com.  Birth records do not become public records until 100 years have elapsed. All other records are public after 50 years.  Access to records is restricted and confidential until these time periods have elapsed.

Original West Virginia statewide, county birth, marriage and death Records from 1917-1956 are online at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Their West Virginia Vital Research Records Project maintains a statewide, online searchable database with digital images of selected birth registrations from 1853 through 1908, death records from 1917-1956 and marriage registration and death and marriage certificates. It is available at NO COST.

County Records of Births and Deaths[edit | edit source]

County birth and death records date from 1853 to the present for most counties. Copies may be obtained from the County Clerk. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of all available birth and death records from 1853 to about 1900, and to about 1970 for many counties. It is important to understand the development of a county. If an ancestor lived in an area which began in one county, and then boundary changes moved that area into a second county, you many need to search both counties for records.

The birth, marriage, and death records from 1853 to 1860. [3] Films are arranged by county and listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Later records are listed under:


A survey of county Historical Records was taken in the 1930's. This survey is helpful in determining which vital records survived into the 1930's. For an inventory of the West Virginia Historical Records Survey Archives see

  • McGinnis, Carol. West Virginia Genealogy: Sources and Resources. Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore: 1988. (FHL CollectionAppendix A. WorldCat 1876698

Cause of Death[edit | edit source]

  • Causes of Death - use this resource when trying to interpret a disease or medical condition listed on a death record or certificate

Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

Online Marriage Records

West Virginia marriages were recorded by the existing counties as early as 1780.  For later counties, marriage records began when each county was organized. Marriage records can be obtained by writing to the county clerk of the county where the marriage took place.

For marriage records from 1853 to 1860 see the ten microfilms described above under birth and death records.

The Family History Library has copies of all available marriage records from 1780 to about 1900 and to about 1970 for some counties.

The state has copies of the county records since 1964 and an index for 1921-1963. Records prior to 1964 are kept at the County Clerk's office where they applied to be married. You may obtain copies from 1964 to the present by writing to the Division of Vital Statistics (address given above).

West Virginia Marriages 1853-1970; free searchable index available at FamilySearch. Records include such information as bride and groom's names, birth date and birthplace, marriage place, clerk's name and sometimes the name of the father, and film and record numbers.

West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970 - FamilySearch Historical Records

West Virginia Marriages - FamilySearch Historical Records

Early Marriage Laws[edit | edit source]

For information about marriage laws in Virginia (mother state of West Virginia) see Virginia Marriage Laws . Virginia law required the posting of banns or a marriage bond in the county of the bride's residence. Bonds contain the name of the bride, groom and two bondsmen.  Often, the groom was one of the bondsmen.  Many of these record still exist. Early marriages were in the custody of the Clerk of the County Court.  Ministers were required to submit a list of the marriages they performed at least every three months.  These lists are called "marriage returns".  Occasionally, the minister would turn in the list of marriages to one county when the marriages actually took place in a different county.  Be sure to check the records of adjacent counties or even states if a marriage cannot be found where it is expected to be.

Gretna Greens. When an eloping West Virginia couple's marriage is not in their home county (to avoid local restrictions), search for it in alternate places like:[4]

Divorce Records[edit | edit source]

Divorces could only be granted by the Virginia legislature until 1851.  The following book indexes divorces granted during this time period.

  • Pippenger, Wesley. Connections and Separations: Divorce, Name Change and other Genealogical Tidbits from the Acts of the Virginia General Assembly. Westminster, Maryland: Willow Bend Books, 2000.

Legal separations could be granted by the county court. After 1851, divorce proceedings were kept by the clerk of the circuit court in the county where the divorce was granted.   Divorces are not public record until 50 years after the divorce is granted. Petitions and other paperwork related to divorces are kept by the clerk of the circuit court.

Additional Helps[edit | edit source]

Tips[edit | edit source]

  • Information listed on vital records is given by an informant.  Learn the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) of the record.  The closer the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) and whether or not the informant was present at the time of the event can help determine the accuracy of the information found on the record.
  • If you are unable to locate vital records recorded by governments, search for church records of christening, marriage, death or burial.  A family Bible may have been used to record births, marriages and deaths.
  • Records of African-Americans may be recorded in separate files with separate indexes.
  • Privacy laws may restrict your access to some vital records.  Copies of some vital records recorded in the last 100 years may be unavailable to anyone except a direct relative.
  • Search for Vital Records in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search and then choosing Vital Records.  Search for West Virginia to locate records filed by the State and then search the name of the county to locate records kept by the county.

Research Guides[edit | edit source]

Courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives

Lost and Missing Records[edit | edit source]


Most of the state copies of the records from 1917 to 1921 were destroyed in a fire, it is best to request vital records through 1921 from the county clerk. Many of these records are found in the Family History Library catalog by searching for a particular county and then the vital records available for that county.  See West Virginia county birth and death records.

Substitute Records[edit | edit source]

These links will take you to wiki pages describing alternate sources for birth, marriage and death records.

Church Records: Depending on the denomination, church records may contain information about birth, marriage and death.

Cemetery Records: Cemetery records are a rich source of birth and death information.  These records may also reveal family relationships.

Census: Census records are a valuable source for birth and marriage information. You may also determine approximate time of death when the individual disappear from the census. This is a good place to begin a search.

Newspapers: Besides obituaries, local newspapers may contain birth and marriage announcements and death notices.  Also check newspaper social columns for additional information. 

  • Obituaries: Obituaries found in newspapers can list the age of the deceased, birth date and place, death date and place, and names of living relatives and their residences.

Periodicals: Local genealogical and historical societies often publish periodicals which may contain abstracted early birth, marriage and death information.

Military Records: Military pension records can give birth, marriage and death information,  In addition, soldiers' homes records can included this same information.

Probate Records: If no death record exists, probate records may be helpful in estimating when an individual has died. Probate records in the 20th Century often contain the exact death date.

History: Local histories, family histories and biographies can all be sources of birth, marriage and death information. Often this information is found in county-level records or in surname searches of the FamilySearch Catalog.

More Online West Virginia Vital Records Links[edit | edit source]

These websites contain links to statewide and county vital record online pages.  Some of these links may be duplicates of those already listed on this wiki page.

Family History Library West Virginia Vital Records Collections
[edit | edit source]

This is a collection of Family History Library records which are abstracted, indexed and titled the West Virginia Vital Records Index. For over 30 years, volunteer indexers extracted this information from microfilm copies of the original records. In 1998, a few of the entries were published on 7 CDs by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the "North America Vital Records Index." This index is an index of the births, marriages, and deaths throughout Kentucky. The index is not necessarily complete for any particular place or region.

These records are available online for free at FamilySearch Historical Records Collection.

West Virginia Marriages - FamilySearch Historical Records

References[edit | edit source]

  1. FHL film 1992300
  2. FHL film 1984577
  3. FHL film 034484, first of 10 films
  4. Arlene H. Eakle, "Have you searched and searched for a marriage without finding it?" in Genealogy Blog at Arlene Eakle

[edit | edit source]

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at: