Vital Records

Vital Records in the United States

Legal Materials

Generally you get records of birth, death, marriage, divorce and other vital records from the relevant agency in the state where the birth, death, marriage or divorce took place. For specific instructions, including information on what to do when these events happened abroad or in unusual places (e.g., on a ship), check out the National Center for Health Statistics’ Where to Write for Vital Records. Note: “Where to Write for Vital Records” is also published in The Lawyer’s Almanac and the American Jurisprudence 2nd Desk Book.

Birth: Vitalsearch, and have birth records, and the other databases mentioned below might as well. You can order a birth certificate on on expedited basis through For specific instructions on how to order official birth certificates from the relevant government agency, see the National Center for Health Statistics’ Where to Write for Vital Records.

Marriage and divorce records are available for selected states through Accurint,, KnowX, Vitalsearch,, Lexis and Westlaw.

For more resources, see Jennifer L. McMahan’s, “More Nancy Drew than Marian the Librarian: Hunting for Vital Records Online,” 53(4) Law Library Lights 8 (Summer 2010). See also the Guide entries for individual states and cities.

Death Records: The Social Security Death Index lists people who were receiving Social Security when they passed beyond this veil of tears. The Index is avaialbe through

TLO, and Accurint have national death records data bases. Lexis, and Vitalsearch have death record databases for several states. These database also cover people who were not receiving Social Security when they died.

Another approach: Try to find an obituary. Obits could are most likely to appear in a newspaper for the person’s last residence or hometown. If the person was notable in his or her field, an obit may also appear in a in a trade journal or newspaper. Of course obits for celebrities appear in general circulation newspapers. (Sources for obits are discussed in the “Obituaries” entry.)

The Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records provides links to state databases, online obituaries, cemetary records, etc.

For more resources, see Jennifer L. McMahan’s, “More Nancy Drew than Marian the Librarian: Hunting for Vital Records Online,” 53(4) Law Library Lights 8 (Summer 2010).

If that still doesn’t do it, and you have some time, you can contact the relevant government agency (as discussed above) to get a copy of the person’s death certificate.

England and Wales

English and Welsh birth, death and marriage records are available from

Vital Statistics

Statistics on U.S. births, deaths, life expectancy, marriages, divorces, accidents and related medical statistics are compiled and posted by the National Center for Health Statistics. They are also available in the The World Almanac, the American Jurisprudence 2d Desk Book and many other fact books. The World Almanac, theAmerican Jurisprudence 2d Desk Book and others also publish information for foreign countries.

Links to morbidity and mortality rates – and related information – are posted by the University of Michigan’s Population Study Center.

See Also

Date of Birth
Grave Sites
Military Records
Actuarial Information
Census Bureau Information
Life Expectancy

Vital Records: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Vital Records. This part provides references, in relation to Vital Records, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Vital Records by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Vital Records and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Vital Records or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Vital Records and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Vital Records. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Vital Records should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Vital Records when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

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