Knowing how to search vital records can offer a lot of value to most US citizens. Vital records are an important means of identification. Vital records include several kinds of data are evidence of our identities in the United States. These formal and informational reports focus on significant life events, like marriages, divorces, births and deaths. Because state governments manage them, they represent reliable data that may prove more useful than other forms of identification.
In the U.S., the majority of government collected records are public information maintained at the state and federal levels. This also means that any citizen in any state has the ability to lookup public records. However, access to official vital records are only provided under strict conditions that may vary depending on where you live and what you’re looking for. Here are a few pointers on how to search vital records in America.
Birth records are vital records in the United States. A birth certificate records the circumstances under which a child was born. For instance, most include information regarding the identities of the newborn’s parents, the name of the hospital that performed the delivery procedure, and the date and time of birth. Some also provide details that confirm a birth was witnessed by an attending physician, midwife or other healthcare professional.
Birth certificates often serve as corroboration or proof of identity claims later in life. For instance, they’re required to obtain a passport for international travel, get a social security card or seek a driver’s license. They may also be accepted by institutions of higher learning or agencies that offer social benefit programs. Individuals who want to prove their relationships with their children without having to go through ordeals such as paternity testing may also be allowed to use birth certificates in courtroom settings.
In most cases, birth certificates vary depending on where they were issued. Over time, different states may also switch their formatting and layout. In most cases, however, authentic official birth certificates are identifiable because they include raised or multicolored seals and signatures.
Some hospitals issue short-form, or informative, documents that may include the baby’s footprints. While these records, commonly known as certificates of live birth, are easier to obtain, they aren’t the same as the official birth record kept by the state. Also, bear in mind that states typically limit record requests to the individuals the certificates pertain to, their legal guardians or the parents named on the document.
Vital records include records of death. Governments issue death certificates to mark that a person is a decedent, or deceased individual. Like birth certificates, these documents typically highlight identifying details about the person in question, such as their place and date of birth, address and full name. What’s more, they tend to feature information about the decedent’s parents, marital status, spouse, veteran status, educational history and cause of death. Most also include complete or partially obscured social security numbers and signatures from the coroners or doctors who confirmed the death.
Another similarity these records share with birth documents is that issuing bodies take great pains to combat forgeries and other scams. For instance, death certificates typically need to bear official stamps to be used for certain activities, such as claiming benefits, executing an estate or cremating the body of a loved one.
Death certificates aren’t always available to just anyone. Many states are moving towards laws that prohibit everyone but relatives, estate executors and public officials from obtaining the official versions of these records. The idea behind such moves is to cut down on criminal activity, such as identity theft and social security benefits fraud. Most locales, however, will issue information-only death records to anyone who asks.
Marriage records are vital records. When people get married, join in civil unions or divorce, the state creates marriage records of the events. Even though they tend to contain private information, like the birth dates and addresses of the spouses, anyone can request them from a courthouse.
Marriage records help couples apply for certain benefits and tax breaks. They can also prove critical in divorce cases where people need to establish that they shared community property with someone else. Marriage records are distinct from marriage licenses, which allow you to marry but don’t actually confirm that you have done so. The marriage certificate is only issued after the deal is formally sealed before an official, such as a justice of the peace.
In many jurisdictions, you’ll have to provide your own valid identification to obtain a marriage record, and the court will make a note of the request. As public data, however, marriage documents are usually easy for anyone to view.
There are a few different ways to obtain formal vital records, and your best option depends on what you’re looking for. Information like birth and death certificates are typically kept on file by your state’s department of health or bureau of vital records. The major exception to this rule is when people are born in military hospitals overseas or to U.S. citizens in other nations. The U.S. Department of State holds these consular birth records.
You may be able to get a live birth certificate from the hospital where you were born, but remember that these aren’t the same as the official documents required to prove your citizenship or apply for an ID. These records can be harder to obtain when they concern older people who were born at hospitals that no longer exist.
When seeking marriage or divorce information, you’ll typically go to the courthouse or county clerk. Just be sure to go to the officials in the jurisdiction where the marriage occurred since these documents aren’t shared across county borders.
Death records are typically kept on file at the coroner’s office or state health department. The U.S. National Archives also provide information regarding civilians and military members who died overseas.
Other reasons to search vital records online include protecting yourself from crimes such as fraud and identity theft. In many cases, people seek these valuable sources of information to learn more about their own histories and genealogies. Finally, vital record search engines make it easier to discover what other people can find out about you, which makes it best practice to verify your vital records are accurate.
Vital records are public records, via the FOIA, which means anyone can access this information and it can be found online. Third party public record search engines are also another valuable resource for finding vital records. For instance, you might search vital records to gather more information without having to visit the Department of Public Health, for performing a vital record search. Using an online public records website can offer you both convenience and anonymity. Of course if you want a certified copy of your vital records you will need to contact the relevant state agencies directly.