Southern California Genealogical Society
SCGS RESEARCH ASSISTANCE - Articles

Getting Started #3: Vital Records Are Vital
By Beverly Truesdale

Once you have your pedigree chart, family group sheets, and other material organized, what do you do next? You will want to send for birth, marriage, and death records on your family. Look over your family group sheets or pedigree chart. Do you have missing data on them?

Start with yourself. Do you have your birth certificate or marriage certificate? Do you have your parents' and grandparents' birth, marriage and death certificates? If not, then you may want to contact the appropriate vital records department to get a copy.

First, find out where the event took place, then send to the vital records department in that state. From 1900 on, most of the vital records will be at the state level; earlier records will be in the county archives in the different states that you are researching. You can check the "Handy Book," by Everton, for the address and date that the state started keeping its records.

A booklet called "Where to Write for Vital Records" is available at the SCGS library. It lists the addresses and prices for the certificates for each state. Many states have a website and you can order the certificate through that site. Certificates can get expensive, so you may not want to get every certificate. As an alternative to obtaining the actual certificates for vital records, you may wish to document the events using microfilms available through the network of Family History Centers. The event is still documented, but at less out-of-pocket cost.

Many birth records are now "closed" for reasons of privacy. Marriage records are the easiest to find. Always ask for the complete record. Check the witnesses, as they could be family members.

Death records have the greatest chance for errors. Information given on the document is only as good as the person who gave the information. On the death certificate, you will also find the mortuary, cemetery, doctor, etc., listed. Follow up on such clues. You may want to contact the mortuary or cemetery for more information. Maybe more of your family is buried in that same cemetery; if so, you can write the cemetery and get other death dates.


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