Vital Information About Vital Records

You may have several questions when reading the term “vital records”.  What is a vital record?  Why might I need to see one?  How do I get a copy if I do?

Vital records are documents pertaining to the birth, marriage, divorce, or death of an individual.  Typically, we think of these as government documents maintained at the county and/or state level, but they may also include documents maintained by organizations such as the individual’s church.  For now, let’s focus on the government records.

You may need a copy of a vital record in many situations, such as:

* Using a birth certificate to prove your identity when applying for a driver’s license or passport, enrolling in school, or getting married.

* Using a marriage license to change your marital status for health insurance or taxes, change your name on financial accounts and contracts, or make arrangements for property succession and child custody changes.

* Using a divorce decree to change your name, remove your spouse from joint contracts, or remarry.

* Using a death certificate to access life insurance and pensions, cancel financial accounts, transfer car and house titles, learn about medical conditions that run in your family, or many more reasons.

* Using any of these records to conduct genealogical research.

Government vital records are maintained at the county level, so you will need to know the county in which the birth, marriage, divorce, or death occurred.  Since the Aurora Public Library District is in Dearborn County, let’s use this county as an example.

The first step would be to find the correct office to contact.  Birth and death certificates in Dearborn County are maintained by the Vital Records section of the county’s Health Department.  This is often the source of records in other locations as well, so reaching information on how to request the records is usually as simple as doing a Google search for “Dearborn County Indiana Health Department”.  You can change the county and state names to the location in which you are interested.

In Dearborn County, marriage and divorce records are maintained by the Clerk of Courts, so a great search term would be “Dearborn County Indiana Clerk of Courts”.  In other counties, the sources for any of these records might be different, so you could also try combining the county and state names with some of the following terms: “Vital Records”, “Birth Certificates”, “Death Certificates”, “Marriage Licenses”, or “Divorce Decrees”.

When requesting any document, you will need to know how many copies you want and whether or not they need to be certified.  Certified copies are more expensive.  In some cases, such as proving someone’s death to settle their estate, it is more effective to order certified copies unless you are absolutely certain that the agency requesting proof of death does not require the death certificate to be certified.  There can be large delays if you find that you needed a certified copy and have to wait for more copies to be sent.  Statements from funeral directors across the United States indicate that the average number of death certificates needed is 10, and that a funeral director should be able to provide a checklist of all the possible assets the deceased person may have which will each require their own copy of the death certificate.

In the case of death certificates, there is often both a long form and a short form version, with the long form providing more personal details than the short form.  You will also need to verify whether the company requesting the documentation needs the long form or if the short form is sufficient.  Again in this instance, the long form is more expensive, but advisable if you are unsure which you need.

In order to request your own birth, marriage, or divorce records, you will need to provide proof of your identity.  Requesting any of these or a death certificate for someone other than yourself will also require proof of your relationship to that person, and there may be limits on what relationships are allowed to request the information.

When in doubt, calling to ask questions is a helpful approach, whether it is questions for a company about what type of proof they require, or questions for a government agency about the process of requesting the needed information.

Any of these government records can provide a wealth of information when researching your family’s genealogy, and many more records exist that can either corroborate that information, or provide information in the absence of more official documents.  One of the Aurora Public Library District’s buildings is the Local History Library @ The Depot, located at 510 Second Street in Aurora.  Staff there can provide further information on using records, both vital and otherwise, in genealogy research.  At the time of this writing, the Local History Library is open from 10 am to 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10 am to 3 pm on the 3rd Saturday of each month.  Current hours can be found on the About page of the APLD website.

We also have both physical books and e-books with instructional materials about genealogical research.  You can find these items and place physical books on hold by searching for “genealogy” in our Online Catalog, or request other items we do not own through the Interlibrary Loan Form.