How Important is Vital Records in Your Genealogy Searches?

Vital records provide many details for those seeking to complete a family tree. A vital record provides birth, marriage, and death record information, allowing individuals to fill in missing areas of a family tree with a more complete portrait of the life of an past family member with accurate dates and locations.

Therefore, it is important to understand how to access and use vital records. A major advantage of official vital records is that they are both complete and accurate. The information contained within has been verified instead of being based on estimates or guesswork.

Depending on the country, city and time period of the event, they are kept by a variety of sources. Some European countries began keeping them at the national level during the nineteenth century.

In the United States and Canada, record keeping is left to the individual state and/or city. New Orleans has the oldest required Vitalflow vital records in the U.S., dating back to 1790, while South Carolina did not require their registration until 1915.

Prior to official registration requirements, they were generally kept by churches. Those early records may vary widely in the information that they contain, but can be a valuable resource when official records are unavailable.

It is important to understand prior to beginning your genealogical research that vital records will not be available for all locations and all periods. Prior to official registration requirements, the registration rate was only 55% or so at best.

Even now, registration only occurs 90% to 95% of the time. Additionally, before the days of computerization, records were handwritten and kept in fairly secure locations. Nonetheless, one act of God such as a fire or flood could destroy the records of an entire town.

Depending on the time and location of the creation of vital records you need, you may find more or less information than you expected. At the very least, you should expect a birth record to have the name, date of birth, and names of parents indicated, and a death record will mention the date and location of the deceased’s passing.

Marriage records contain the full names of the individuals in the union, as well as the location of the event, and a divorce record will list the individuals involved, the date of marriage and the date of divorce.

Many vital records provide a wealth of knowledge beyond these basics. It may be possible to ascertain names of parents or descendants, previous addresses, information about previous marriages, siblings and many other details from them.

Since they vary so widely, it is smart to request every record that you can for each ancestor you wish to research. There is some overlap between records as well, meaning that if you cannot get one particular type of record you may be able to fill in the blanks from a different record.

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