United States Civil Records

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United States  >   U.S. Vital Records >  United States Civil Records

Creation of Civil Records

Civil governments have created records of births, marriages, and deaths. Records containing this information are commonly called “vital records,” because they refer to critical events in a person's life. These are the most important documents for genealogical research, but the births, marriages, and deaths of many people have never been recorded by civil authorities.

This section describes the vital records kept by civil governments. (Other sources of vital information are described in Church records and Town records pages.) The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the civil vital records of thousands of towns, counties, and states in the United States.

To find a Civil Vital Record

  • You will need at least the approximate year and place in which the birth, marriage, divorce, or death occurred.
  • You may need to search other records first to find clues about these events, such as family Bibles, genealogies, local histories, biographies, cemetery records, censuses, court records, land records, citizenship applications, pension files, newspaper notices, and probate files.
  • For the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries these sources must often be used as substitutes for civil vital records. These other records may not be as accurate, however, as the vital records kept by church authorities and civil governments.