Tutorial: Vital Records

Very few government agencies make their vital records available online or even provide searchable databases for locating the records.

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One agency does is the federal Social Security Administration, which has a database of death records. These records only include deaths that were reported to the Social Security Administration to discontinue benefits that had been provided to a person, or deaths reported by a surviving relative applying for benefits. So not all deaths are in the database. There are private geneology sites that have online databases that index some of the vital records that are in government databases.

California Vital Statistics

These sites then require registration to get more detailed information and charge a fee for viewing or ordering the records. But even the free search often helps you discover if the Social Security Administration or a state agency has a vital record on a person. In California, vital records are kept at the California Department of Public Health and at a local level at county recorders offices or county health offices.

In California there are almost no government websites with searchable databases for locating vital records. The California Department of Public Health in Sacramento keeps statewide birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as indexes of divorces. There almost always is a charge for getting a copy of any of the records.


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Most counties will not let you just view the records. You have to purchase a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate divorce records are civil filings and those can be reviewed for free at a county superior court.


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County Registrars and Recorders. This tutorial was originally written by Paul Grabowicz for students in his Computer Assisted Reporting class, and later modified for public use.

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California Vital Records

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