What They Can Tell You
Vital records are documents that offer proof that someone existed; that they lived, died, were married or divorced, gave birth to or adopted a child. For the most part, these records are a product of the 20th Century; before 1900 it'll be hard to find all of these records on an individual. These are some of the common types of records and the important information that can usually be gleaned from them. Not all vital records provide all of this information, since state laws vary:
INSTANT SELF-SERVICE ONLINE VITAL RECORDS
Birth Certificate: You will probably come across both long and short forms of the birth certificate. Unfortunately, today's birth certificates often don't provide as much information as those in the past did. Of all of the vital records, birth certificates are where you will get a majority of your information to aid in your research: Birth name of child, date and location of birth, time of birth, whether the child was born in a hospital. Name and signature of the doctor or midwife. Depending on state laws, name of the mother and her maiden name; the father may not always be listed if parents were not married. Age of the parents at the time of the birth, occupations. Number of mother's living children(siblings) of the child; whether the child was a twin or part of a multiple birth. Parents' race (some Native American, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) need this information to prove blood quantum for tribal or native benefits.
Death Certificate: Name of person, age, date and location of death. Cause of death. Last known address of person who died. In some states, the name and address of spouse are included. Signature of doctor overseeing proclamation of death. There may also be information regarding any investigation that is ongoing as to the cause of death at the time that the certificate was produced. Death certificates are usually signed within a day or so after death, or after the discovery of the dead person in cases of an unattended death.
Marriage License: State laws vary widely on the issuance of marriage licenses; for historical purposes they began to be issued as far back as the Middle Ages in some countries to indicate who was legally permitted to marry, since marriage laws have evolved as to legal age of marriage, waiting period required between license and wedding, blood tests required, definition of close relatives permitted to marry, etc. On a marriage license you may find the following: the full names of bride and groom, their ages, where bride and groom were born, date of marriage, names of both sets of parents and where they were born, name of person officiating at wedding, location of marriage.
Certificate of Divorce, Dissolution of Marriage: Names of husband and wife, date of marriage and date of divorce, name of court with jurisdiction, signature of judge or court official, cause of divorce. Some divorce certificates also list the children born during the marriage.
Adoption Papers: Most information on the adoption of a child is confidential; state laws vary about who can be given access to these documents and when. If you are doing research on an ancestor, it is quite possible that an adoption was never legalized. It was the tradition in many cultures for children to be given at birth to close family members to raise but legal adoptions were never formalized.
There are different levels of difficulty (legal hoops to jump through) depending on whether you are looking for identifying information on an individual (name of child and names of parents) or if you are going to be satisfied with non-identifying info such as date and place of birth or age, race, religion, and occupation of parents. If you were adopted, the best place to start is to find a support group for those searching for their birth records. Others who have been throughthe same experience can provide valuable advice on searching and save you lots of time. You can also place your name in an adoption registry to let your birth parents know that you are willing to be contacted.
Vital records can unlock the lives of ancestors that you are searching for. Life events/stories can be traced through vital records.They will reveal lives that were surprisingly similar, in many ways, to those living today and will help in linking you to generations past.Next step
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