West Virginia Vital Records
Introduction to Vital Records
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 Reference Dates
West Virginia's civil records start the following years:
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. If you have West Virginian ancestors, it is more than worthwhile to explore the whole site and check back for new added data.
- West Virginia Births and Christenings, 1853-1928 -Free name index with film copies available at the Family History Library
- West Virgini Births, 1853-1930 -Free name index to county birth records.
- West virginia Deaths and Burials, 1854-1932 -Free name index to state death records with film copies at the Family History Library.
- West Virginia Deaths, 1853-1970 -Free name index to statewide and county death records.
- West Virginia marriages, 1853-1970 -Free name index to county marriage records.
- West Virginia Marriages, 1854-1932 -Free name index to West Virginia state marriage records. Film copies of these records are available at the Family History Library.
- Order West Virginia Certificates online
State Records of Births and Deaths
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:
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
350 Capitol Street
Charleston, WV 25301-3701
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
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. Films are arranged by county and listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
- WEST VIRGINIA - VITAL RECORDS.
Later records are listed under:
- WEST VIRGINIA, [COUNTY] - VITAL RECORDS.
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 Collection Book 975.4 D23m) Appendix A.
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 - Pilot. 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.
Early Marriage Laws
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.
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.
Under West Virginia state law, adoption records are closed. Adoptive parents, adoptees who are 18 or older, birth parents, and children of a deceased adopted adult may request non-identifying information from the Registrar of Vital Statistics. Identifying information may be obtained through the West Virginia Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry. This registry is open to birth parents and adoptees who are now adults. Further information may be obtained through petitioning the court. Virginia law states that when a child is adopted, a new birth certificate is issued, but the new certificate should show the actual place and date of birth, if it is known. The former birth certificate is sealed and placed in the custody of the state.
- 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 Hisotry 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.
Courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives
- Vital Records in West Virginia: Deaths
- Vital Records in West Virginia: Births
- Vital Records in West Virginia: Marriages
- West Virginia Vital Research Records Project
- Quick Guide to Birth Records
- Quick Guide to Death Records
- Quick Guide to Marriage Records
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.
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.
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 Family History Library catalog.
More Online West virginia Vital Records Links
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.
- West Virginia databases listed on Rootsweb.com - Free
- USGenWeb.org West Virginia Site - Free
- Progenealogists Links for the United States. Press Ctrl + F on the keyboard to search for West Virginia or WV - Free/$
- Search the West Virginia Birth, Marriage & Death Records at Ancestry.com - ($)
- German Roots Online Birth, Marriage and Death Records These links are for all records, not just records for those of German ancestry. -Free and ($)
- FHL Favorites for West Virginia
- Vital Records Search and Information Directory for West Viriginia -Free and ($)
Family History Library West Virginia Vital Records Collections
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 availble online for free at FamilySearch Historical Records Collection.
- Family History Library films beginning with (FHL CollectionFilms 1992300)
- Family History Library films beginning with (FHL Collection Films 1984577)
- Ten microfilms (FHL Collection Films 034484-93)
- Arlene H. Eakle, "Have you searched and searched for a marriage without finding it?" in Genealogy Blog at http://www.arleneeakle.com/wordpress/2007/02/19/have-you-searched-and-searched-for-the-marriage-without-finding-it/ (accessed 8 January 2011).