South Carolina Vital Records
Introduction to Vital Records
Vital Records consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths recorded in ledgers, registers, or on certificates. The United States Vital Records page has additional research guidance on researching and using vital records. In South Carolina, a computer-generated birth or death certificate can only be purchased from the South Carolina Division of Vital Records for certificates issued since January 1, 1915. The county branch offices of the Division of Vital Records can only issue a short form birth certification (birth card). These offices can issue a death certificate for deaths that occurred within that county in the last 5 years. These offices are located in the 46 county public health departments. Marriage records from July 1950 to November 2009 are available from the Vital Records Office in Columbia, South Carolina. Marriage records prior to July 1950 and after October 2009 are available from the Office of the Probate Judge in the county where the marriage license was obtained.
Vital Records Reference Dates
South Carolina's civil records start the following years:
South Carolina Birth, Marriage and Death Records Online
The following is a list of online resources useful for locating South Carolina Vital Records which consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths. After locating a person in an index always consult the original record to confirm the information in the index.
- South Carolina Marriages, 1641-1965 at Ancestry - $; Index, INCOMPLETE
- South Carolina Marriages, 1688-1799 at Ancestry - $; Index, INCOMPLETE
- South Carolina Marriages, 1800-1820 at Ancestry - $; Index, INCOMPLETE
- South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1943 FamilySearch.org - Free; Index with images
- South Carolina Deaths, 1944-1955 FamilySearch.org - Free; Index
- South Carolina Death Indexes 1915-1960 - Free; Index
- South Carolina Death Index, 1950-1952 at Ancestry - $; Index
- South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955 at Ancestry - $; Index with images
Newspapers are an excellent substitute when there are no government records for birth, marriages and deaths. For online indexes and abstracts for South Carolina, see South Carolina Newspapers.
Birth and Death Records
South Carolina did not issue birth and death certificates prior to January 1, 1915. South Carolina did institute a number of laws regarding the registry of births and deaths, some going back as far as March 1, 1669/70. These laws however, were apparently not implemented or ignored. If they were implemented then the register books have not survived. Under the Church Act of 1706 the registering of births, marriages, and burials was transferred to the established church in the colony, the Church of England. It did not matter if the individuals were members of the Church or not. The Church was disestablished as the state church in 1778, however the churches continued to create records according to their canon laws.
Begining in 1706, birth, marriage and burial records were recorded in registers of the Church of England (later known as the Protestant Episcopal Church). There are seven Episcopal parish registers in existence from the colonial era. All of these registers have been published either in book form or in the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (FHL Collection Book 975.7 B2s). Theresa M. Hicks' book South Carolina: A Guide for Genealogists, pages 148-61 (FHL Collection Book 975.7 D27hs) includes a list of parish names and other churches. She provides the South Carolina Historical Magazine volume number and page where corresponding parish records have been published. She provides the title and author's name if the records were published seperately or copied by the WPA.
Late in December 1853, the South Carolina state legislature passed the 1853 Registration Act, which required the tax collectors in the districts and parishes [counties] of the state to make "a seperate return, stating the number of whites, male and female, who have been born, married, or who have died during the year in their respective households, and the number of blacks who have been born, or who have died during the same period." This law was strengthened by adding a payment to the collector in 1856, but was repealed in January 1861. Unfortunately none of these registers have been found or are known to have survived.
For addtional information regarding other church or record subtitutes see:
- Inventory of the Church Archives of South Carolina Presbyterian Churches : 1969 Arrangement with Indexes originally prepared by the Works Project Administration (FHL Collection Films 906117 and 906118). Other denominations' records should also be consulted.
- Local and Family History in South Carolina (FHL Collection Book 975.7 H23c) by Richard Cote for more information about the availability of church records to substitute for civil vital records.
- South Carolina Name Index to Genealogical Records Collected by South Carolina Daughters of the American Revolution (FHL film/fiche beginning with 6052835). These indexed records include South Carolina church records and cemetery transcripts among other records.
Early vital records were kept by some of the larger cities and are available from the appropriate county health department, except for a few major cities where the records are at the city health department. The Family History Library has deaths for Charleston 1821-1886 (FHL film beginning with 23361) and births 1877-1901 (FHL film beginning with 23416.)
Statewide registration of births and deaths began January 1, 1915. For information write to:
Office of Vital Records and Public Health Statistics
2600 Bull Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Internet: South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
Only the person named (must be at least 18) on the certificate or the parent(s) named on the birth certifcate may request a copy of a birth certificate. The guardian or a legal representative of the named individual or parent(s) may also request a copy of a birth certificate. Immediate family members may request a birth certificate for a deceased person if they submit an original certified copy of the registrant's death record.
South Carolina required death certificates beginning January 1, 1915. Death certificates less than 50 years old must be ordered from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Please see information concerning ordering certificates under the heading "Birth and Death Records" on this wiki page. If you are not an immediate family member, you may be issued a statement of death naming the date and county of death.
After 50 years, death records become public record and these certificates are available from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Their address is:
SC Department of Archives and History
8301 Parklane Rd
Columbia, SC 29223
The South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1943 collection at FamilySearch has death certificate images online. FamilySearch also has an online index to deaths for the years 1944-1955. The Family History Library collection includes death certificates 1915-1955. (FHL Collection Film beginning with 1913451).
- South Carolina Deaths 1915-1943 Index with images
- South Carolina Deaths 1944-1955 Index only
- South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955 are available online through Ancestry.com (subscription service). The records are indexed and provide access to available death certificate images (after 1915). ($)
Charleston and Georgetown both had some early death records.
- Charleston 1821-1886 (FHL Collection Film beginning with 23361).
- Georgetown Coroner's Report 1913-1916. Available from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
South Carolina did not require marriage licenses until July 1, 1911. The probate judge's office in the county courthouse holds licenses issued before 1950 and after October 2009. Statewide registration of marriages began in July 1950. Both The Division of Vital Records and the county probate court have copies of licenses issued after July 1, 1950 through November 2009.
During the colonial period, the governor, as judge of the Ordinary [Probate] Court could issue a marriage license. Some of these licenses have been found. Generally, most individuals would have been married in the parish chuch after banns had been published. The Act of 1704 and the Church Act of 1706 recognized the Church of England as the established church and the state was divided into seven parishes. Although the ministers of the "Dissenter" religions, everyone not a member of the Church of England, retained their right to baptize and marry, the law required the registrar of the parish to record all marriages. Not all marriages were reported to the parish registrar. This was the law until the Episcopal Church was disestablished in 1778 when South Carolina adopted a new Constitution. The dissenter religions may have kept their own records concurrently with the established church during the colonial period. A few counties or cities may have earlier records than 1911. If they exist they would normally be in the custody of the county probate judge or in the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
In several cases there are marriage settlement records found at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History or in the records of the probate court of many counties. Marriage settlements were legal agreements, primarily made by women who had been married previously. These records were kept from the 1760s to the 1880s. Recording these documents with the Secretary of State became law in 1785. The Family History Library has some of these records, South Carolina Marriage Settlements, 1785 to 1889, (FHL film beginning with 22512) from the Department of Archives and History.
Some larger cities and counties have early marriage records. Charleston and Georgetown both had early marriage records.
- Charleston marriage records 1877 to 1887 (FHL Collection Film beginning with 23410).
- Georgetown returns of marriages 1884 to 1899. Available from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
In many cases newspapers may need to serve as a substitute for a marriage record. Numerous South Carolina marriages have been abstracted from newspapers (see the “Newspapers” page). Of special note:
- Holcomb, Brent H. South Carolina Marriages, 3 Volumes. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984) (FHL book 975.7 V2hsc) This covers 1688 to 1820.
- Salley, A.S. Marriage Notices in the South Carolina Gazette and Its Successors, 1732 - 1801. Albany, N.Y.: A.S. Salley, 1902. Digital version at World Vital Records ($).
Divorce proceedings are kept by the county court. Divorce was illegal in South Carolina until 1949, and there are restrictions on the availability of the records. Write to the individual counties for information.
Adoption records in South Carolina are confidential and sealed. Adoption records are court records and the court where the adoption was finalized must be petitioned to open the adoption files. For questions and help regarding adoption reunion, contact the South Carolina Adoption Reunion Registry. Adult adoptees, adoptive families, birth parents of the adoptee, or biological siblings to the adoptee can request non-identifying information or access to runion register services.
- Information listed on vital records is given by and informant. Learn the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) of the record. The closer the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) and whether or not the informant was present at the time of the event can help determine the accuracy of the information found on the record.
- If you are unable to locate vital records recorded by governments, search for church records of christening, marriage, death or burial. A family Bible may have been used to record births, marriages and deaths.
- Records for African American may be recorded in separate files with separate indexes.
- Privacy laws may restrict your access to some vital records. Copies of some vital records recorded in the last 100 years may be unavailable to anyone except a direct relative.
- Search for Vital Records in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search and then choosing Vital Records. Search for South Carolina to locate records filed by the States and then search the name of the county to locate records kept by the county,
Abbebille 1873, Beaufort 1865, Chesterfield 1865, Clarendon 1911, Colleton 1805, 1865, Darlington 1806, Georgetown 1865, Lancaster 1865, Lexington 1939, 1865,Oranageburg 1865, Richland 1865, Sumpter 1801.
See individual county wiki pages for more information about record loss in that county.
For further information on researching in burned counties, see the following:
- Arlene Eakle, When the Records are Gone in Tennessee Genealogy Blog
- Burned Counties Research in FamilySearch Wiki
- Michael John Neill, Burned Counties in Family History Circle
South Carolina Church Records Depending on the denomination, church records may contain information about birth, marriage and death.
South Carolina Cemetery Records Cemetery records are a rich source of birth and death information. These records may also reveal family relationships.
South Carolina Census Census records are a valuable source for birth and marriage information. You may also determine approximate time of death when the individual disappear from the census. This is a good place to begin a search.
South Carolina Military Records Military pension records can give birth, marriage and death information, In addtion, soldiers' homes records can included this same information.
South Carolina Periodicals Local genealogical and historical societies often publish periodicals which may contain abstracted early birth, marriage and death information.
South Carolina Newspapers Besides obituaries, local newspapers may contain birth and marriage announcements and death notices. Also check newspaper social columns for additional information.
Probate Records: If no death record exists, probate records may be helpful in estimating when an individual has died. Probate records in the 20th Century often contain the exact death date.
History: Local histories, family histories and biographies can all be sources of birth, marriage and death information. Often this information is found in county-level records or in surname searches of the Family History Library catalog.
More Online South Carolina Vital Records Links
- Obituary Index Database with obituary and death notice information from the Columbia, SC newspapers. -Free
- South Carolina Links from fhlfavorites.info - Free
- South Carolina Databases listed on Rootsweb.com- Free
- USGenWeb.org South Carolina Site - Free
- German Roots Links for South Carolina Birth & Marriage and Death Records - Free/$ This site includes all records, not just those for persons with German ancestry.
- Progenealogists Links for the United States. Press Ctrl + F to search for South Carolina or SC - Free/$
- Ruth S. Green, Charles H. Lesser, Charles R. Lessor, "South Carolina Marriage Records," The South Carolina Historical Magazine 79, no. 2 (Apr 1978): 155-162.
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- Theresa M. Hicks, South Carolina a Guide for Genealogists (Columbia, SC : South Carolina Genealogical Society, 2004) 132-33