How to find birth, marriage, divorce and death records

Vital records such as birth, marriage, and death records, provide details about essential milestones in someone’s life. They include information about a specific event like date and place, names, occupation, and residence. Most death records also include the cause of death. Vital records are pivotal when doing family history research because they are an accurate account of the event. Vital records are typically created at or near the time of the event.

Vital record offices keep documents for roughly 80 to 120 years, and most vital records are available a few weeks after the event and are easy to obtain online. However, recent records may be restricted to immediate family members or persons with a proven tangible interest. Older records are generally available with fewer restrictions and are usually kept in the state archives. Records from the 17th and 18th centuries may be available at local historical societies.


Table of contents

  1. How to access public records
  2. Closed records vs. Public records
  3. Vital records availaiblity by State

How to access public records

There are many reasons to search and obtain vital public records, for example gathering information on family members to research your family tree, or even reconnecting with long lost family members. The vast majority of public records available like marriage licenses, birth certificate records, and death certificates are maintained at the local level: city, county, and state where the event took place; and there are extensive resources available online that can help you quickly obtain or locate public records. However, for older records, you may need to contact the state department of health or vital statistics to gain access.

There are also several genealogy websites that can help find older records and even death records with birth information. For older records it is also helpful to know the person’s full name as well as the date of birth, this will help narrow your search, and ensure that you can find what you want.

Closed records VS Public Records

A protected or closed birth or death certificate is a record that is only available to eligible individuals. While each state has its own public records law, the vast majority keep birth records closed for 75 years, and death certificates for 25 years. After that time both birth and death records become public.

Public records laws vary from state to state. For example in Florida, death certificates only become public 50 years after the death occurred, and newer records are closed and only available to direct family members. In Illinois, only close relatives or someone with a property claim can access birth or death records. Eligible family members are required to complete a form and submit it to the state Health Department where the event occurred to obtain a copy of closed records. As part of the request, family members may also be required to submit some identifying information, like a copy of a photo ID, so that the request can be verified. If the verification is successful, the applicant will then receive a copy of the closed record.

Vital records availaiblity by State

In most states, births and deaths began being recorded by the early 1900s. In some states, they go much earlier making it easy to find public records online. Most records are maintained by the the Department of Health of the state where the event took place.

For information on vital records before the dates below, please contact the town where the vital event occurred.

Vital records availability by State
State Birth Records Death Records Marriage Records Divorce Records
Alabama January 1908 January 1908 August 1936 January 1950
Alaska Since 1890?s. However, many events before 1930 were never registered with the Bureau Since 1890?s. However, many events before 1930 were never registered with the Bureau Since 1890?s. However, many events before 1930 were never registered with the Bureau 1950
Arizona July 1909 July 1909
Arkansas Since February 1914, and some original Little Rock and Fort Smith records from 1881 Since February 1914, and some original Little Rock and Fort Smith records from 1881 Since 1917 Since 1923
California July 1905 July 1905 State office only has indexes for public marriage certificates that occurred from 1905-2001 and 2010 to present Vital Records only has information for divorces that were filed with the court between 1962 and June, 1984
Colorado Since 1910 Since 1900
Connecticut Since July 1, 1897 Since July 1, 1897 Since July 1, 1897 Since July 1, 1897
Delaware Since 1942 Since 1974 Since 1974 Since 1935
District of Columbia Since 1874 Since 1855 Since 1810 Since 1810
Florida Limited birth records dating back to 1850. The majority of records date from 1917 Limited birth records dating back to 1850. The majority of records date from 1917 Since June 6, 1927 Since June 6, 1927
Georgia Since January 1919 Since January 1919 Since June 9, 1952
Hawaii Since 1909 Since 1896 Since 1909 From July 1951 to December 2002
Idaho Since July 1911 Since July 1911 Since May 1947 Since May 1947
Illinois Since January 1916 Since january 1916 Since january 1962 Since January 1962
Indiana Since October 1907 Since January 1900 Since 1958
Iowa Since July 1880 Since July 1880 Since July 1880
Kansas Since July 1911 Since July 1911 Since May 1913 Since July 1951
Kentucky Since January 1911 Since January 1911 Since June 1958 Since June 1958
Louisiana Since 1918 Since 1918 Since 1978 Since 1978
Maine Since 1923 Since 1923 Since 1923 Since 1923
Maryland Since January 1875 Since 1969 Since January 1990 since January, 1992
Massachusetts Since 1926 Since 1926 Since 1926 Since 1952
Michigan Since 1867 Since 1867 Since 1867 Since 1897
Minnesota Since January 1900 Since January 1908
Mississippi Since 1912 since 1912 Statistical records only from January 1926 to July 1, 1938, and since January 1942 Since January 1926
Missouri Since January 1910 Since January 1910 Since July 1948 Since July 1948
Montana Since 1907 Since 1907 Since July 1943 Since July 1943
Nebraska Since 1904 Since 1904 Since January 1909 Since January 1909
Nevada Since July 1911 Since July 1911 Since January 1968 Since January 1968
New Hampshire Since 1631 Since 1654 Since 1652
New Jersey Since 1918 Since 1918 Since 1918
New Mexico Since 1920 and delayed records since 1880 Since 1920 and delayed records since 1880
New York State Since 1880 Since 1881 Since 1881 Since January 1963
New York City Since 1910 Since 1949 Since 1950
North Carolina Since October 1913 Since 1930 Since 1962 Since 1958
North Dakota Since 1870 Since July 1893
Ohio Since December 20, 1908 Since January 1, 1964
Oklahoma Since October 1908 Since October 1908
Oregon Since 1903 Since 1903 Since 1911 Since 1925
Pennsylvania Since January, 1906 Since January, 1906
Rhode Island Since 1918 Since 1918
South Carolina Since January 1915 Since January 1915 Since July 1950 Since July 1962
South Dakota Since July 1905 Since July 1905 Since July 1905 Since July 1905
Tennessee Since January 1914 Vital Records Office keeps death records for 50 years Vital Records Office keeps marriage records for 50 years Vital Records Office keeps divorce records for 50 years
Texas Since 1903 Since 1903 Since January 1966 Since January 1968
Utah Since 1905 Since 1905 Since 1978 Since 1978
Vermont State office has records for the most recent 5 year State office has records for the most recent 5 year State office has records for the most recent 5 year State office has records for the most recent 5 year
Virginia State office has records from January 1853 to December 1896 and since June 14, 1912 State office has records from January 1853 to December 1896 and since June 14, 1912 Since January 1853 Since January 1918
Washington Since July 1, 1907 Since July 1, 1907 Since January 1968 Since January 1968
West Virginia Since 1917 Since 1917 Since 1921 Since 1968
Wisconsin Since October 1907 since October 1907 Since October 1907 Since October 1907
Wyoming since July 1909 Vital Records Office keeps death records for 50 years Vital Records Office keeps death records for 50 years Vital Records Office keeps death records for 50 years