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U.S. Birth, Marriage and Death Records

United States Vital Records

As we discussed in the previous lesson, family researchers in the United States may simply refer to vital records as birth, marriage, or death records. The government may classify them as vital records or vital statistics. Our U.S. states may classify them as Health Department records and other countries refer to them as civil registration.

More entities than we may first realize have responsibilities for maintaining these records. While we may be aware of State Boards of Health, there are also city workers, military personnel, hospital workers, and others who must also oversee the keeping of these records.

Electronic and Printed Versions

This record group has found its way into print — both traditionally and electronically. There are at least five great values to printed vital records over microfilmed or original versions:Electronic record groups offer quick access to large amounts of data.

  • They can serve as a finding aid for other information. Quick access to information is available for genealogists.
  • They are easier to read than originals.
  • If electronically entered, they can often be searched in unique ways.
  • When originals have been destroyed, these printed sources become invaluable.

However, there are some cautions to keep in mind when using printed vital records. A few of these include:

  • Limited coverage is usually available due to privacy laws for most areas.
  • An every-name index is not often available in early publications.
  • The complete citation is rarely given, so they are often finding aids only, and the original must still be ordered.
  • Many transcribers are untrained in paleography and nicknames, so frequent transcription, interpretation, or typographical errors may be found.
  • Sometimes dating inaccuracies are found for the previous reason as well.
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