consist of birth, marriage, and death records created by a
division of government. The purpose of these records was to
maintain some form of documentation of the population under its
jurisdiction. Vital records can be generated at any level of
government, depending on the state and local laws governing
their compilation. Some states began recording these events at
the town level, while territories and states that came into
existence after the Civil War might have recorded them by
county. Around 1920 laws began to appear establishing a state
office of vital records. Counties were required to send copies
of these records to be sent to the appropriate state office.
However, experience has shown that prior to the advent of Social
Security, enforcement of this rule appears to vary for a variety
vital records would only appear in federal records under the
1. When an
American citizen living overseas gives birth to a child, marries
or dies. The record may have been recorded with the U.S.
Consulate in that country.
2. When such
an event occurs on a U.S. military base on foreign soil, the
event may be recorded in the base military records and/or in the
official town of residence of the parties concerned in the
states. To access the military record if it was compiled, you
would need to know the specific branch of service whose
jurisdiction the base was under.
records can be challenging. This is one reason why genealogical
experts will always stress using home sources to crate a
timeline of places of residences and important events in the
life of our ancestors. The process begins by researching the
state or territory to determine when laws mandating the creation
of records began. Research the type of record you are searching
for. Determine if a countywide or statewide index was created.
These indexes should be utilized to determine who submitted the
original record and perform a cursory search of the information
listed. In many cases the state or county record will provide
enough information to determine its usefulness to your research,
especially when dealing with a common surname.
In some cases
you will discover that the vital records were generated by
churches. This is especially true for ancestors who lived in an
area prior to the formal establishment of vital records
mandates. In such cases you may also encounter two vital record
documents, one compiled by the church, and one compiled by the
local jurisdiction. For example, the local government agency
may have the original marriage license, while the church may
have the original marriage record or certificate.
death, or marriage records issued before the 1920's were
submitted to the town or county clerks, or the church by
doctors, midwives, or family members. In most cases the record
will not indicate who reported the birth, death, or marriage.
The information is only as good as the person presenting it, but
the record is all you have to work with. Many doctors,
midwives, and ministers kept small books or ledgers that they
recorded all such events in. The odds that these original books
or ledgers are readily available for inspection are somewhat
slim, but they have turned up in various genealogical or
Fort Myers-Lee County Library
2050 Central Avenue
Fort Myers, FL 33901-3917
Tel: (239) 479-4651
Fax: (239) 479-4634