Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Records
Are Vital Records Open to the Public?
Not all vital records are open to the public. While the provisions of the U.S. Vital Statistics Act indicate that these records can be accessed by interested persons, the right of public access to vital records is not absolute. As such, selected vital records may be restricted from public disclosure, but available to specific persons. Across most U.S. states, record registrants and their immediate family members are eligible to access vital records, including confidential and certified copies. Persons who do not meet these eligibility requirements may obtain informational copies of these records, which may only be used for genealogical and/or research functions.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- Washington D.C.
What Information Do I Need to Search for Vital Records Online?
In most states, public vital records are managed electronically, on online databases and repositories. To access these records, interested parties are required to furnish the available search tools with relevant information. The required information includes:
- The full name(s) and personal information of the person(s) named on the record
- Former or maiden names (where applicable)
- The name of the subject's parents or legal guardians.
- The place and approximate date of the vital event
- The case file number of the record
- The license-number and issuing date of the record (for marriage records)
Similarly, publicly available records are also managed and disseminated by some third-party aggregate sites. These sites are generally not limited by geographical record availability and may serve as a reliable jump-off point when researching specific or multiple records. However, third-party sites are not government-sponsored. As such, record availability may differ from official channels. To find a record using the search engines on third party sites, the requesting party will be required to provide:
- The location of the record in question including city, county, or state where the case was filed.
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
What Do I Need to Obtain Vital Records?
The requirements for obtaining vital records may vary depending on:
- The type of record being requested
- The judicial district where the record is being held
- The authority of the requesting party.
Standard record-request procedure requires that the requesting party present a government-issued photo I.D. to prove their eligibility. If the requester is ineligible by state standards, the I.D. must be accompanied by a signed permission slip issued by the subject or a court subpoena.
Additionally, Section 25 of the Vital Statistics Act allows state agencies and record custodians to prescribe appropriate fees for the services they provide. Usually, the fee per record varies with the record type, the extent of research required for retrieval and associated costs resulting from copying, certification, notarization, etc.
What’s the Difference between a Certified Record and an Informational Copy?
Certified records and informational copies are primarily distinguished by their function and the legal authority of the issuer. Legally, certified records are the equivalent to original copies. They can be used for a variety of official functions, and are typically only issued to persons who meet specific eligibility requirements. On the other hand, most informational copies may be accessed online by the public and can be used for genealogical research and personal purposes. These copies are often considered ‘unofficial’. As such, they can not be used to establish identity or perform similar functions.
Are Marriage Records Public Information?
In most U.S states, marriage records are public information. However, U.S. public record laws prohibit the dissemination of identifying information to members of the public. As such, public marriage records often exclude sensitive information pertaining to the registrants including birth dates, current addresses, and social security information. To be eligible to access full marriage record information, the requester must be named on the record or be a legal representative of either party.
How Do I Find Marriage Records?
Marriage records are usually held in the state’s vital records office or the marriage licensing office in the jurisdiction where the license was issued. To obtain these records, interested and eligible persons may contact either office for information regarding the record-retrieval requirements of the state or judicial district. Typically, requestors are required to provide information with which to facilitate record searches. This includes:
- The full name(s) of the persons named on the record (including maiden names)
- The place and date of the marriage
- The date on which the license was issued
- The marriage license number (if known)
Are Divorce Records Public Information?
Divorce records are usually public information unless otherwise deemed by a court. Like marriage records, there are also restrictions on the information available to the public. However, all requesters above 18 years old can obtain general divorce information excluding details of the party’s property inventory, financial information and settlement costs. Nonetheless, restricted information can be accessed by either of the parties named in the record, their immediate family members and legal representatives.
How Do I Find Divorce Records?
Divorce records can be obtained by querying the state’s vital records office or the Clerk of Courts in the county/judicial district where the divorce was granted. Typically, divorce requests require that the requesting party provide related information with which to facilitate record search. The required information generally includes the full name of either or both parties as well as the place and approximate date of the event. Additionally, requesters are required to also cover the cost of copies and certification (if applicable).
Are Birth Records Public Information?
Across most U.S. states, birth records are restricted from public access. In selected states or jurisdictions, birth records are closed until specified periods have elapsed; this may range from 25-100 years. Pursuant to federal public record laws, persons eligible to access birth records include:
- The subject of the record (if they are 18 or older)
- The registrant’s parents/legal guardian(s) (provided they are named on the record)
- Immediate family members of the subject ( if they are deceased)
- Persons who are authorized by court order
- Legal representatives of eligible persons.
How Do I Find Birth Records?
Birth records are typically managed and disseminated by the state vital records office or the Health Department of the jurisdiction where the event occurred. To obtain a birth record, interested and eligible persons may petition the applicable office and provide relevant information pertaining to the record of interest. Usually, requesters are required to provide the full name of the registrant, the place and approximate date of the event as well as supporting documents, proving their eligibility to access the record.
Are Death Records Open to the Public?
More often than not, death records are open to the public. Pursuant to federal statutes, general death-related information may be disseminated to persons who are 18 or older. Sensitive information such as the cause of death may be excluded unless the requester is either of the following:
- The deceased’s parent, legal guardian or spouse
- Adult children, grandchildren, and siblings of the decedent
- Individuals who can demonstrate a tangible interest
- Persons authorized by court order
- Legal representatives of the eligible parties.
How Do I Find Death Records?
Death records are managed by the state's vital records office as well as the various health departments. To obtain these records, interested and eligible parties may contact the appropriate office for information regarding the record retrieval requirements of the jurisdiction. Usually, requesters are required to provide information with which the record search can be facilitated. The required information includes the full name of the decedent, the place and date of the death and the record file number (if known).