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GenealogySpot > Features > Vital Records

Vital Records

Genealogy amateurs and professionals alike know that they probably won't be able to find all of the family tree information they seek online. This may be the 21st century, but vital records including birth, death and marriage certificates are, in many cases, only available by searching the dusty, antiquated files of a county courthouse.

However, the Internet is a key tool that can save researchers time and money by providing an outline for narrowing their search.

Use the Top Genealogy Sites

Begin your vital records search by entering the surname you seek through the popular genealogy Internet sites. offers a lesson about conducting a courthouse search for documents. The article offers tips on looking for personal information in the paper trail following a move an ancestor made. also hosts sites that specialize in vital records research, including FreeBMD. At BMD Exchange, volunteers make birth, marriage and death certificates for ancestors who lived in England and Wales available online at no cost. has a helpful article about researching local records. Read an explanation of probate records and where specific items may have been filed in your ancestor's hometown.

Perhaps the speediest vital records resource people can use when they visit is the Social Security Death Index. The search engine may help you identify the birth and death date of your ancestor. also hosts a variety of location-specific databases that contain hard-to-find vital records documents.

Finding your ancestor's marriage record online can be difficult, if not impossible. But if the dates present on that record are on the Internet, there's a good chance you can find them at FamilySearch, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Search Vital Records Sites

All Vital Records allows its visitors access to a list of state-specific Web sites. This makes it accessible to people who are trying gather genealogical records but who are not subscribers.

People researching Native American roots, military records and immigration records can find a wealth of information and helpful Web links at the Records Room.

Vital Records Information for the United States is updated by genealogists and is subdivided by state - often meaning a hit-or-miss situation for researchers. But this site's most helpful feature is the link to concise descriptions of how to gain vital records from abroad, which can seem like an overwhelming task for amateur genealogists.

Some state health departments are getting hip to the fact that genealogists are approaching them en masse requesting vital records for their work. The New York State Department of Health offers guidelines for genealogists to obtain records (for instance, birth records are only available if the person has been dead for 75 years) and, of course, fee information.

The National Center for Health Statistics has alphabetically listed the state government resource centers where vital records are held.

Consider yourself lucky if you're searching for roots in Kentucky. The Kentucky Vital Records Index has online indexes of deaths from 1911 until 1992, as well as marriage and divorce records from 1973 through 1993.

Go Local

If you hit a roadblock, double check your information to determine whether your ancestor's hometown may have been located in another county at the turn of the twentieth century or within the timeframe of your ancestor's life event. One way you can do this is by checking out county government Internet sites.

By clicking on an individual state site at USGenWeb, you will reach a breakdown of counties, the dates the county was formed, the parent county, where the county seat is located and the name of the county coordinator for the region's Web site.

NETR hosts the Public Records Online site, which can also help family historians move from a state to a county level with a quick series of clicks. This site provides property information and the locations of county clerks across the nation.

Most importantly, take a deep breath and remember the great feeling you get when you finally find information you can add to your family tree. A little time at the computer before a vital records search can leave you with a lot more time to spend with the family members you know and love.

   --- T. Beecham

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