Using Vital Statistics Databases
Episode #9 of the course Researching your genealogy by Alisa Miller
Welcome to Lesson 9. Today, we will explore finding information about your family by researching vital statistics databases. These databases contain records pertaining to births, marriages, divorces, and deaths.
About Vital Statistics Records
Before we delve into the lesson, it might be helpful to know a little bit about the history of vital statistics recordkeeping. As I mentioned previously, there was no consistent method of recording birth, marriage, and death information until sometime in the 20th century. Even as these records began consistently being kept, the information and method of recordkeeping varied widely from region and state. So, as you begin to search for this information, please know that in some cases, you may find a wealth of information, and in other cases, you may find very little.
What You Can Learn
In addition to the name, location, and date associated with births, marriages, divorces, and deaths, these vital statistic records also provide information that can be helpful in creating your family’s history. One notoriously challenging part of filling in details about families is discovering women’s maiden names. Both birth certificates and marriage certificates can help you discover this information. Birth certificates list the mother’s name using her maiden name, and marriage certificates do the same for the woman getting married.
Death certificates provide the date of death, but they also give you information surrounding the death, including the cause of death and any special circumstances. These details can offer a glimpse into family health history, respond to family rumors surrounding death, and sometimes offer information about people close to the decedent. One piece of information included on the death certificate is the person who reported the death. Sometimes this person was not related to the person who died, but someone close to them. Death certificates also often include the person’s profession at the time of their death.
Finding Vital Statistics Databases
Vital statistic information is normally kept at a county level within each state, and the records available vary from state to state. Some of this information can be found online, and some will need to be requested from the appropriate department within the county or state where you are researching.
The best place to begin your search, though, is with Cyndi’s List, which I told you about in Lesson 4. Let’s say you want to see if you can find a birth certificate for your grandmother. Go to Cyndi’s List, and search for “birth records” and the state in which your grandmother was born. You will get a listing of many places to start your search. Cyndi’s List also designates whether the search will be free or fee-based. I recommend starting with the free options.
If you can’t find the information you seek from Cyndi’s List, then go to Google and search “vital statistics” and the state in which you are searching. From the search results, find the state-sponsored link, and go there to learn what information is available online and what information you can request from that agency. Generally, you must be the next of kin to request information through these agencies.
Often, finding information through these vital statistics records provides you with a rich view of your family history. Tomorrow, we’ll examine using city directories and newspapers to help with your family research.
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