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|Vital Registration History in WV|
|Access to Records|
|Other Genealogical Sources|
The Vital Registration Office is the state level office of vital statistics in West Virginia and maintains vital records and reports for legal use and for the compilation of public health statistics regarding the health of West Virginians Although the records maintained by the Vital Registration Office are of genealogical importance, the office is not the best source of genealogical data in West Virginia state government. The best resource of genealogical information is the West Virginia Division of Culture and History's Archives and History Library*, located in the Cultural Center in the main Capitol Complex in Charleston, West Virginia.
The State Archives has a large collection* of data, including
- County birth and death Records
- Census Records
- Military Records
- County Court Documents
- Naturalization Records
- State Government documents and Publications
- Even older records from Vital Registration
- And many other records of interest to the family researcher.
* These links point to pages of interest inside the Culture and History main page. Be sure to visit the West Virginia Division of Culture and History's main page!
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What Records Does Vital Registration Have
Vital Registration maintains records of birth, death, marriage and divorce for people who were born, died, married, or divorced in the State of West Virginia.
Overview of Vital Registration's Records
- West Virginia Occurrence Birth Records from 1917 to Present
- West Virginia Occurrence Delayed File Birth Records starting around 1850
- West Virginia Occurrence Death Records from 1917 to Present (see note below)
- West Virginia Occurrence Marriage Indexes from 1924 to Present (see note below)
- West Virginia Occurrence Marriage Records from 1964 to Present
- West Virginia Occurrence Divorce Indexes from 1967 to Present (see note below)
- Delayed Birth Certificates- The term "delayed file birth records" or "delayed birth certificates" refers to birth records that were placed on file after the length of time designated by Code for the filing of "regular" birth certificates An entirely different process and form is used whereby additional documentation surrounding the events of birth must be gathered as proof of the birth Delayed birth certificates are created only when a birth has not been recorded in the regular manner within the proper time frame. Delayed birth certificates cannot be placed on file for someone who is already deceased Vital Registration has many delayed birth certificates on file for births that occurred BEFORE 1917, when the state office was established, that were placed on file AFTER 1917 If they were not already on file in the county clerks office in the county where the birth occurred However, the bulk of the births that occurred before 1917 are held by county clerk's Unless the requestor knows with certainty that the record is on file in the state office, it is recommended that those requesting birth certificates for people born before 1917 search the holdings in the county clerk's office FIRST as they are more likely to have the record on file.
- Marriage Index- The Vital Registration Office has marriage "index" records for marriages which occurred from 1924-1963. The index style records provide minimal information regarding the marriage and provide insufficient information to produce a "marriage certificate" for those marriages. Marriage certificates for legal use for all marriages prior to 1963 MUST be obtained from the county clerk in the county in which the marriage license was obtained (normally the county in which the marriage occurred). If the county where the marriage license was issued is unknown, contact the office for assistance in locating the proper county.
- Divorce Index- In addition, the Vital Registration Office maintains index style records of divorce. Although technically a statement of divorce can be produced, those records are best obtained from the circuit clerk in the county in which the divorce was granted.
About the Early Years
The Vital Registration Office, codified initially as the Division of Vital Statistics and currently as the Section of Vital Statistics, was created as a division of the West Virginia Department of Health in 1917. Before 1917, county clerks served as the sole local registrars and custodians of birth, death, and marriage for those events that occurred in their respective counties. It is likely that the official reporting and recording of births, deaths, and marriages was mandated from the creation of the state in 1863, as it was the law in Virginia (from which West Virginia was created) beginning around 1852. However, due to the extreme rural nature of the population and the lack of coherent collection mechanisms, reporting was probably very "hit and miss" except around major cities. From 1917 until 1921 it was not mandatory that county clerks report births and deaths to the Vital Registration Office however most did Even though mandatory reporting by counties began in 1921, the reporting of births and deaths was still not considered adequate for inclusion in national health statistics until 1925.
Although in modern times it is extremely rare for a birth or death to go unreported, many births and deaths went unreported, although required by law, due to the lack of coherent collection mechanisms and what must have been a perceived lack of legal "utility". Many reports may have been more a matter of posterity than legal obligation. For example, there was no need for a birth certificate to prove age for Social Security purposes, because there was no Social Security. Most people did not have life insurance, so there was little need for a death certificate for that purpose. The biggest "push" for full reporting of births and deaths was due to the institution of sanitary reforms for the prevention of disease and the use of birth and death reporting in the census of the nation. The reporting of the health conditions surrounding birth and death played an important role in monitoring disease and the impact of the interventions. It was not until 1945 that as many births occurred in hospitals as occurred at home. The rise and proliferation of medical facilities, the increase in the number of trained physicians and other medical personnel, the professional training and licensing of funeral directors and embalmers and the need for legal proofs from birth certificates (name, age, citizenship, parentage), death certificates, and marriage certificates all contributed to nearly complete reporting of vital events nationwide.Top of page
Access to Records
Access to West Virginia's vital records, both those held by the Vital Registration Office and those held by county clerks offices, is restricted by West Virginia Code and accompanying Rules. Both Code and Rules designate those who have a tangible interest and, thus, right to the copies of the records and makes allowances for others who can demonstrate the need for a record to prove a personal or property right. Restricted access applies to only those records of births for births less than 100 years old and marriage and death records less than 50 years old. That is, birth records, other than information that would be deemed medical or is in some manner prohibited for release, older than 100 years are "open access" records. Death and marriage records older than 50 years are "open access" records.
Who May Obtain Birth Records Less Than 100 Years Old?
- The registrant (the person named on the birth certificate)
- A member of the registrant's immediate family
- The registrant's legal guardian
- An authorized representative of the registrant or another who is authorized to obtain a certified copy.
Who May Obtain Death Records Less Than 50 Years Old?
In the case of a death record, any surviving relative who has a direct or tangible interest in the record, or his or her authorized representative. This would normally extend to the immediate family. The informant (the person who provided personal information for the completion of the death certificate) and any party that contributed personal or medical information under signature for the completion of the death certificate would be considered to have a direct and tangible interest.
Who May Obtain Marriage Records Less Than 50 Years Old?
In the case of marriage, the parties married, their adult children, adult grandchildren and additional generations or their authorized representatives.
Who Else May Have Access To Restricted Vital Records Who Are Not Specifically Stipulated?
ANY person or entity who can PROVE that they have a direct and tangible interest in the content of the record AND that the information contained in the record is necessary for the determination of a personal or property right.
Who Is Included In The Term "Immediate Family"?
The term "immediate family" includes: a mother or father; a son or daughter; the brother or sister; a husband or wife; a mother in law or father in law; a son in law or daughter in law; grandparents, great grandparents, and additional generations of same; grandchildren, great grandchildren, and additional generations of same; a stepmother or stepfather; and a stepchild.
Who Is Included In The Term "Authorized Representative"?
The term "authorized representative" includes an attorney, physician, funeral director, or other designated agent acting on behalf of the registrant or his or her immediate family or his or her guardian.Top of page
By law (WV Code §48 4A 1 et seq.), all proceedings and documents relating to an adoption that took place in West Virginia or for a birth that occurred in West Virgina are "closed" or "sealed" by the court that ordered the adoption. Records relating to the adoption or the pre-adoption birth records may only be "opened" or "unsealed" at the order of a court of competent jurisdiction in the county in which the adoption occurred.
West Virginia has a voluntary mutual consent adoption registry, which has a procedure in place to facilitate communication between birth parents and their biological children who were adopted when both parties have submitted information to the system.Top of page
There is a twelve dollar search fee for each three year period searched The year specified is searched, along with, the year before, and the year after Example, if a birth for 1920 is requested and is not found, then 1919, and 1921 are also searched.
If the record is found, the search fee also includes one certified copy If the record is NOT found, then a "No Record Letter" is produced The search fee is non refundable.Visit http://www.wvdhhr.org/bph/hsc/vital/birthcert.asp to request a certificate
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As mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Census Bureau collects information on all individuals living in the United States every ten years. This information becomes available to the public after 72 years, and can be an important resource to the family historian. We have included a copy of a 2008 Census publication entitled "Availability of Census Records About Individuals" that we are sure the family historian will find useful. You may access the document here .
Additional internet sites that may be of interest to the family researcher.
Note: The Vital Registration Office does not endorse the use of the following sites nor receives any compensation and assumes no liability for their use.
They are provided only as a service to the genealogist.
- West Virginia Archives and History Library's Genealogy Corner
- U.S. Census Bureau's Genealogy Page
- NCHS Where to Write for Vital Records
- The National Archive's Genealogists/Family History page
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Genealogy Page
- The WVGenWeb Project
- Family Search (Part of the LDS church
- West Virginia University Library's Genealogy page
- Cyndi's List of WV Genealogy Sites
- African Ancestry in West Virginia
- West Virginia Jewish History and Genealogy
- The offices of the individual county clerks provide another avenue of research. The West Virginia Association of Counties has a helpful map with information and links to many WV counties.