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Cities around the U.S. began collecting vital records in the mid-1800s. Nowadays you can find many different types of vital records, including birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates unless they've been lost or destroyed.

The standards for accessing vital records depend on the laws of the state which store them and the type of document requested.

You can use third-party services to order vital records, but you'll still have to meet state requirements first.

Different types of vital records

What follows is an overview of the various types of vital records and the processes involved in ordering them.

The state creates birth records when a child is born. Birth records include the full name of the child, the full names of both parents (the spouse of the mother is traditionally listed as the father, even if he isn't the biological father), the time and date of the child's birth, and the city, and state of birth.

Since birth records are used for identification purposes, to avoid fraud the office of vital records must verify your identity before releasing them.

You may only request your birth certificate or your child's birth certificate from the office of vital records. However, most states have exceptions for relatives that were born at least 75 years ago and are now deceased.

The state issues marriage certificates for every married couple in each county. Since many couples use them for identification purposes, the office of vital records will ask to see another proof of identity before they release a marriage certificate.

Marriage records include the name, gender, and date of birth for each spouse, the address of residence, their blood types (if required under state law), the location of the marriage. These records also include the name of the individual (called an officiant) who performed the marriage ceremony and the names of any witnesses to the ceremony.

You’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate for future references, such as when changing the name on your driver’s license. Since these vital records are used for identification purposes, you’ll need to submit a photo identification to request a copy.

The office of vital records also stores death records on everyone who has passed away in each county. Since death records can’t be used for identification purposes, laws on accessing them from the office of vital records aren’t as strict.

Even though you can only request birth certificates or marriage records for yourself or an immediate family member, most people can access death records. These include family members, step-children, and step-parents. However, some states only allow aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws to order death certificates if they’re participating in the funeral planning or estate process.

The employer of the deceased can request death certificates from the office of vital records so that they can issue benefits to families.

Probate attorneys and their agents can request death certificates from the office of vital records if they’re representing the estate of the deceased.

Creditors who wish to obtain assets from an estate can apply for a death certificate if they can prove the deceased owed money to them.

Genealogists can claim death certificates from the office of vital records on behalf of immediate family members.

Also, physicians of the deceased can request death certificates.

Even though the standards are more lenient for accessing death records than other types of vital records, those issuing the request must still provide appropriate credentials.

How to find vital records

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single national office of vital records. Instead, the records are stored locally by vital records offices in the counties where the events (birth, marriage or death) took place.

There are several ways you can order vital records, regardless of the type of documents you want. Options for ordering vital records include asking for them directly from the office of vital records in the issuing state. Or, you may request them indirectly through an online platform, or through a county court clerk's office.

You’ll need to learn the laws that apply to vital records in your target state before making a request.

Even if you’re using an online platform to order vital records, you'll still need to meet all identification requirements.

You should also be aware of the fees for processing vital records requests. Fees tend to be higher for birth certificates and marriage certificates than for death certificates, but they all depend on the particular county.

If you’re ordering another person's vital records, you’ll need to provide proof of your relationship to them according to the state's requirements. You can usually provide this evidence through other existing vital records.

If you use an online platform to order vital records, you'll need to find out how many vital records offices are accessible through that provider. You should also ask how long it takes to process vital records requests, which fees they charge, and whether they can obtain vital records from any state in the country or only from specific areas.

Instead of working directly with your local office of vital records or local court, if you choose the right online provider you'll save yourself plenty of time.