Vital Records — birth, marriage, and death records — are the basic building blocks of family history research. For many, some of these documents are available in the home and serve as a starting point when building a family tree. An important concept in genealogy is the need to 'walk backwards' or to step backwards through time in search of details about your ancestors.
Death certificates, for example contain details about an individuals death, but also include information leading you backwards to earlier records. An date of death and age at death can help establish an approximate date of birth. When used together, birth, marriage, and death records can help establish both time and place for many branches of your family tree.
Why are Vital Records of interest to researchers?
- Vital records considered a primary source to verify an event (but errors are possible)
- Understand the difference between certificates vs. original index ledgers vs. later indexing
- The closer (in time) a record is to the occurrence of an event, the greater the likelihood that the information contained in the record source will be accurate and more detailed than a record of that same event compiled years later (but mistakes do happen)
- Vital records often give clues to other family information (parents, hometown, dates, etc.)
How can you begin to use vital records?
- Learn to step backwards through time . . .
- Do you know when a death/burial occurred?
- What’s on a headstone? (names, dates, and by default usually a location)
- What can your learn from the burial records?
- Read and re-read obituaries, funeral notices, memorial cards, etc.
- Funeral homes? Might they have other information on record? (Yes – sometimes)
- Death Certificates & Obituaries
- Marriage Certificates
- Birth Certificates