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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Newspaper Records  by Rhonda McClure. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Vital Statistics in Newspapers

Overview of “Vital Statistics”

When searching for births, marriages, or deaths, the first place that we look is the officially recorded records at the town, county or state level. One of the problems with these records is that as you go from the more local governments to the state, you will quickly discover that the certificates were not recorded for many years. Most states did not begin to record vital statistics on the state level until well into the twentieth century, making them useless for research before 1900.

County level vital records may have begun earlier. In many cases the marriage records exist from the time a county is created. The marriage records were proof of inheritance upon the death of a spouse. Birth and death certificates were often note recorded until the latter half of the 1800s, usually when the county’s officials became concerned about a high number of deaths, or a growing population. As such they began to record the births and deaths, sometimes in registers other times on certificates and they set up vital statistics departments that kept track of the births and deaths for the county.

Over the years the counties have changed the information recorded for each event. In the beginning it was simply the name of the child and the names of the parents, usually without the mother’s maiden name, along with the date of the birth. As the registers evolved or the counties instituted certificates, additional information was kept, the kind of information that genealogists long for.

Newspapers can fill the gaps, either where the records were not kept or where there was limited information written in the earlier registers. Entries of births, marriages, and deaths may offer additional information about the family.

Unlike the vital records that often include only basic information and in a standard format, newspaper entries are sometimes full of information, though not all of it is genealogically useful, or perhaps it doesn’t seem like it is, especially if you are hoping to find exact dates of birth or the parents’ names in an obituary. Working in newspapers also means looking in a number of different places for the various announcements of birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.