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Vital Records

Vital records are an essential part of a genealogy search and are necessary for identification and legal purposes. Births, deaths, marriages and divorces are all vital information that play a significant role in the history of the country and of each individual family that calls the U.S. home. These records document the important events that have occurred for centuries and provide a glimpse into those who have lived and died in the United States. Vital records searches might be necessary for a number of reasons, from applying for a passport to creating a family tree.

Types of Vital Records

Vital RecordsThere are a variety of vital records available through public records searches today, but the most common types of documents include:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Death Certificates
  • Marriage Licenses
  • Divorce Decrees
  • These vital records can be found at both the local and the state level, with a few of vital records even stored in national offices. Finding vital records can be fairly easy when the Internet is utilized to complete the search. These records can open the door to a wealth of information about ancestors you never knew, long lost relatives you haven’t seen in years, and even relatives you see frequently, but don’t really know the details of their lives. They can also be used for identification and legal purposes; birth certificates are often required to enroll a child in school, and death records are necessary for the execution of the estate.

    Information Found in Records

    The type of information found in vital records varies based on the type of document and the state in which it is located. Most vital records will include essential information like the full name of the individual and the date and location of the event. Birth records will also include the names of both parents when that information is available. Death records offer the cause of death and may include the next of kin.

    Marriage and divorce records provide the full name of both spouses. Marriage records may also list the person who officiated the wedding, while divorce decrees might list the children of the couple and details of the divorce settlement.

    In some cases, two types of vital records might be available. One is considered the official document, which includes full information about the event, and possibly an official seal from the state where it was issued. The second contains only basic information about the event and cannot be used for identification and legal purposes. The reason for the two documents is to allow the general public access to basic information about the event, while limiting details and official documentation to the person on the document or immediate family members.

    Locations for Vital Records 

     Vital records can be filed at a number of local and state locations. Birth and death records are typically filed with the state’s health department, although older records may need to be searched through the county clerk’s office where the event occurred. Marriage and divorce records may also be held at the health department, although it is just as likely these records are kept at county offices like the clerk and records or court where the document was originally filed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information on where these records are stored in all 50 states, so you can contact the office directly to gain access to the files.

    Restriction to Vital Records Access

    While many public records are available to the general public, some are restricted to protect the identity of the person on the document. Birth and death records are commonly restricted for a set period of time that ranges from 25 to 100 years. After that time, the records are released to public files for anyone to access. The specific restriction is determined by the individual state and is implemented to prevent identity theft and other legal entanglements. When vital records are restricted, those requesting files will need to show proof of identification, as well as their relationship to the person on the record.

    Online Vital Records Search

    The best feature of vital records searches today is the ability to conduct them from the comfort and privacy of home. Many of these records are available on the Internet, which makes it infinitely easier to find the information you are looking for. Once records are found, they can often be downloaded and printed as free public records right from your own computer. However, official copies of vital records usually need to be requested directly from the office that keeps the records on file, and there is usually a nominal fee to order the copy.