Thursday, June 20, 2013

V is for Vital Records - Family History Through the Alphabet

V is for vital records:  birth, marriage, and death records.  In some ways these records are a family historian's best friend.  They offer names of individuals plus dates and locations of the events for which they were created, and sometimes plenty of other information, too.  (Click on the image below to enlarge and view three vital records.)
Even though these types of records were created at or near the time of the event, we need to be careful not to take every bit of information in a document as absolute truth.  If a birth record was created days, weeks, or a month after the birth, the father providing information for the certificate may not have remembered the exact date of birth and may have calculated it based on the day he mowed the hay.  In the case of a marriage record, young lovers may have chosen not to provide completely accurate information regarding age.  Information on death certificates was sometimes provided by friends, relatives, or in-laws who didn't know details like the decedent's birth location or the names of his or her parents.  If provided by a spouse or child, grief may have clouded the memory or caused questions to be misunderstood thereby allowing for misinformation.  It is best to use the information in vital records in conjunction with other sources.

The years when vital records were first created vary from country to country and state to state.  Often marriages in the U.S. were the first to be recorded, sometimes as early as 1800.  Births and deaths were recorded at the county level in some states beginning in the 1860s, then moving to the state level in the early 1900s.

A search on the internet will help you find when and where to search for these records.  FamilySearch and have indexed many vital records.  FamilySearch's wiki provides more information about birth records, marriage records, and death records.  FamilySearch also provides an excellent page about U.S. Vital Records, including what you may find in a record, how to analyze what you find, and links to information about vital records for each state.

If you are new to family history, I encourage you to begin with vital records (as well as census records) to help you find your ancestors.  If you're not new to searching for ancestors, I'm sure you already know the worth of vital records

This post was written as a contribution to Family History Through the Alphabet challenge created by Alona Tester of  Genealogy & History News.  Thank you, Alona.


1 comment:

  1. Those of us who have been doing research a while are used to finding conflicting "facts." But it's good to be reminded how those conflicts occur. You've explained why my grandmother never knew for sure if she was born on October 9 or 19.


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