Tag Archives: death certificate

Many Paths to Sources: Vital Records Part 1

Generally speaking, in the United States, the requirement to record vital records (I’m primarily referring to birth and death certificates here, marriages are a bit different and we will discuss them in a later post) did not begin until the early part of the 1900s. This requirement was done on a state-by-state basis, so each state’s law started at a different time. Each state will have different privacy protections in place based on the state law at the time. This means some states are very difficult to get a vital record from and others are easier. For example, a birth certificate may not be available to the public for 100 years, but a close family member (you will most likely have to prove your relationship) may be able to get a copy of the record. These requirements differ from state-to-state, and the laws change over time. So, it is best to examine the state’s vital records office for the most recent information.

Ohio Death Certificate for Marshall C. Dimick

When I am looking for vital records, I usually have a few things I do to locate them. The order in which I do these may depend on how old the birth or death certificate is. If it is more recent, I might start at the state vital records office. If it is an older record, I might start at the FamilySearch catalog. My steps:

  • Read up at the state vital records office website.
  • Read the FamilySearch Wiki for that state’s vital records.
  • Look at some of the larger genealogy websites for vital records databases, such as Ancestry.
  • Examine the state-level archives, historical society, genealogical society, or whatever repository the state sends its historical materials to (if they do).
  • Examine the state and county of interest at the FamilySearch catalog to see if they’ve been microfilmed. Some counties may have done a local registration for births and deaths years before the state requirement was in place. This is true for Wood County, Ohio and Audrain County, Missouri, two locations I have successfully found county level vital records.
  • Look at online, user-contributed sources such as Find a Grave or public online trees in case anyone has posted a birth or death certificate for the person in question. (This can be surprisingly successful.)

The most important thing when trying to get a vital record is understanding when each state began requiring them. And understanding that it took a while for the counties to comply with new state laws. If a death certificate was required in 1909 and you cannot find a death certificate for 1909 or even for several years after, realize that things did not happen instantly in the early 1900s. I have looked for vital records in some states and sometimes cannot find them for 10 or more years after registration was required. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t recorded at the county level (though it may). More likely, the systems weren’t in place yet to comply with the laws.

Next time, we will look at some vital records substitutes and places to look for alternatives to the traditional birth or death certificate.

Research in the Equality State: Wyoming Vital Records

In Wyoming, statewide vital registration was required starting in July 1909. Depending on the age of the records your are looking for, there are a couple of locations you might look for records.

  • For birth records under 100 years old and death records under 50 years old, they can be obtained at the Wyoming Department of Health. Their website indicates that birth records may be obtained by the “registrant if 18 years of age, either parent named on the certificate, lawyer representing the registrant or parent(s), or legal guardian with Court Ordered Guardianship papers.” As for death records, you must be an immediate family member, named on the certificate, a bank, a lawyer, or otherwise need to show proof of your relationship to the decedent. Marriage and Divorce records are also on file since May 1941. Prior to that, you will need to check at the county level.
  • For births older than 100 years and deaths older than 50 years you will find the records at the Wyoming State Archives. Of course, this is only back to July 1909. Prior to that, if a record was kept you might find it at the county level.
Wyoming State Archives Death Certificate Database
You request a copy from the State Archives by using the Contact Form.
My husband’s great-uncle’s death certificate from Wyoming.

And even though we didn’t request it, the Wyoming State Archives also sent his obituary! And all of it was completely free!

Obituary for George F. Furbeck from Sheridan Press, 12 November 1953, p. 2.

Of course, you will want to examine the FamilySearch catalog for the county in Wyoming that is of interest to you. Here is the catalog for Albany County marriage records:

And here is the marriage certificate for Philena Bailey, one of the sisters of Susan Bailey, our homesteader from Centennial, Wyoming from the previous blog post:

Be sure to check the county websites as well. You never know what you might find. This is the website for Laramie County (the county where Cheyenne is located, not Laramie, which is in Albany County). They have digitized their handwritten marriage index for the years prior to 1985.

A sample index page from Laramie County’s marriage index.

There are some other useful sites when looking for vital records in Wyoming beyond those listed above:

Next up, one of my favorite record sets, newspapers!