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Genealogy Guide: United States


Birth, marriage, and death certificates can reveal significant information for family history research. Basic data provided may include the date and location of the event; the individual’s name, address, country and date of birth; as well as spouses’ and parents’ names, addresses, birthplaces, and occupations.

The reliability of the information contained on the forms may vary, depending on who supplied the information and whether the informant had accurate knowledge of the individual(s) described on the document. For instance, it is highly likely that on a marriage certificate the bride and groom supplied the correct information. However, the informant on a death certificate might have been a friend or acquaintance who may not have had accurate information. Therefore, vital records should be used in conjunction with other documents before reaching solid conclusions.

Where to Find Vital Records

Birth, marriage, and death certificates are usually found in a city or county’s Bureau of Vital Records or the City/County Clerk’s Office (localities may have various names for these agencies).  Older records may be found in city, county, or state archives, libraries or historical societies. Often, you can visit these repositories and conduct the research yourself. However, some repositories only accept written requests and may charge a small fee. Additionally, it is often possible to obtain records online (typically for a fee). For more information on how to locate and use vital records, click here.