The Desert Shamrock
Arizonaís Original Irish Newspaper
Volume 9, Number 5, September/October 1998, page 27

Civil Birth, Marriage and Death Records

by Robert M. Wilbanks IV, B.A.
Professional Genealogist & Historian

 †††††† In the last article I explained about census records, a significant type of record in genealogical research. Overall, they help locate where the family was living in a specific year, and provide a wealth of information such as who the children or parents were, dates and places of births, marriages and deaths, occupation, year of immigration, naturalization, and much more.

††††††† Another type of record(s) is civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths; better known as vital records. Vital records are the most obvious for genealogical research as they provide a wealth of individual and family data. However, if you donít know what city, county, state or country to search, then the census records is your first best source to locate where the family was living, and thus determine where to begin your research for vital records. Also, with ages and number of years married provided in the census, it will be easier to narrow down the years to search for the vital records; this will be most helpful in cases where there are no indexes, or the indexes are created annually.

††††††† While vital records are clearly the most substantial type of record in genealogical research, the problem is that birth, marriage and death certificates are primarily unique to the 20th century. Vital records may have been kept at earlier times in varying formats, dependent upon differing state requirements, but they often can be rare or few and far between before 1900. Most states did not initiate required registration of births, deaths and marriages until 1912. However, these 20th century records can still provide you with information of an individual back to the mid-1800s.

††††††† Some cities, counties and states may have required births, marriages and deaths to be kept prior to 1900. This will vary greatly. For example, the townships in New England began keeping such records in the early 1600s. Virginia has some scattered records in the 1700s, but began to require registration in 1853. However, many Virginia counties lost these records to destruction in the Civil War. The Carolinas have no form of vital records before 1912, while some of the midwest states began to keep vital records in the 1850s.

††††††† In America, vital records can be obtained from City Hall, the County Courthouse, or the Stateís Department of Health, Vital Records Department. In some cases they can be found at the Stateís Library and Archives. This will vary from city to city, county to county, and state to state. With research, or through genealogical societies, you can determine the specifics for the city, county or state of interest. Meanwhile, many of the vital records from the 1600s and 1700s are available in books at genealogy libraries. Many records from the 1800s are on microfilm and available from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City through your local Family History Center, as discussed in the September/October 1997 issue of this publication.

††††††† The Handy Book for Genealogists, by the Everton Publishers, provides a state by state and county by county overview of existing vital records, as well as other state and county information. Also, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services periodically compiles a booklet, Where to Write for Vital Records, which is a state by state list with dates the records began, the types of records kept, the cost of certified or uncertified copies, and the address of where to write. Any public library will have a copy of both of these books, as well as the State Genealogy Library and the Family History Centers.

††††††† Meanwhile, many British and European countries began keeping vital records nationally in the 19th century. In Ireland, these records were begun in 1845 for Protestants, and 1864 for Catholics. Indexes were created annually beginning in 1845, but after 1878 were created Quarterly. In 1922, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland began keeping separate civil registration records.

††††††† The records from 1845 to 1921 for all of Ireland are at the General Register Office in Dublin. The records from 1922 to the present are kept at the respective General Register Offices in Dublin for the Republic of Ireland, or in Belfast for Northern Ireland. However, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has microfilm copies of the indexes to all of the Irish vital records from 1845 through 1958. They also have microfilm copies of many of the original certificates, but there are gaps in the collection so you may still have to obtain the original records directly from Ireland.

††††††† As well as varying in existence from city to county to state and to country, the kind and amount of information recorded will also vary. Regardless, they will always provide more, and helpful information and clues for further research. Because of this varying existence and the amount of information, other records are required in the family history research process. These include church records, cemetery records, wills and probate records, deeds and other land and property records, court records, newspapers, military records, ships passenger lists, and immigration records, just to name a few. Iíll cover many of these records in more detail in future issues of this publication.

††††††† This is the eighth of the series of articles in which I have shown you the basics of searching for your family history, discussing the use of family records, public records, and networking nationally and internationally. I also discussed general issues regarding research in Ireland, as well as geography and history as tools of genealogical research. These previous articles are on my web site at Click on Professional Services then Genealogical Writings.

DISCLAIMER: This is an important reminder that the above article is provided here exactly as originally written and published several years ago. Therefore, while most of the primary context of the article may still be relevant, please be aware that possibly certain of the information and references may now be outdated, such as individuals and organizations, links, contacts, facilities, etc. Please follow-up accordingly for more updated information.

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©2013, Robert M. Wilbanks IV, Scottsdale, Arizona
created Nov 15, 2013; last updated Nov 15, 2013