Vital Records Search: How to Find Birth, Marriage and Divorce Documents

Vital records research

What are vital records?

Vital records are official documentation of important life events that include:

  • Birth certificates and related records – More commonly known as birth certificates, these documents record the official location (i.e. the state, city / town) where the even took place, date and time of birth, birth parents, delivering doctor and other key information.
  • Marriage certificates and related records – These documents include marriage licenses and applications. Documentation related to civil unions and domestic partnerships would also be included.
  • Divorce records – These docs include records of the dissolution of marriages and include paperwork for the filing of legal separations.
  • Death certificates – The death certificate includes such information as the decedent’s name, date and place of death, cause of death, surviving spouse or relatives, parents and informant information, place of disposition and funeral facility information, and residence history. Other information may include whether an autopsy was performed and by whom.

Where can Vital Records be found?

Vital records are usually managed under governmental authority at the federal, state, county or city level. In most states they are managed by the Office of Vital Statistics. In the United States, these types of court documents are typically maintained under state law by a county clerk or county recorder. Many states offer online access to some of the data but in some cases private detectives must visit the county clerk’s office in person, and may even need to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents are not always considered to be public and access to them is restricted in some states. The records do not include police reports or arrest data, property ownership, military service history, inmate and prison history, or other police and law enforcement reports.

What do private investigators need to know about Vital Records?

Private investigators are often called upon to uncover important documents and public records for their clients. Private eyes often dig up court documents and vital records related to a person’s birth, death, marriage or divorce. For example:

  • An individual may be trying to track down their birth parents. Parent’s names are listed on a person’s birth certificate. However, many people don’t know how to go about getting a copy. That’s where a private investigator comes in.
  • Another example is someone who recently enters a relationship and wants to investigate the background of their new partner. They can hire a private investigator to check for official records that confirm their identity by checking birth records. In addition, they can check into their past relationships by checking marriage and divorce records.
  • In missing persons cases, it is a good idea to search for a death certificate to see if the missing person is deceased.
  • When private eyes are asked to perform a comprehensive background check, all such data may need to be researched and compiled to form a complete picture of an individual.

Online Access to Public Records via Research Websites

As previously mentioned, many states, counties, cities, towns, etc. provide online access to public records. We recommend starting with the state website and looking for the Office of Vital Statistics or the county clerk.

In addition, some companies serve as aggregators and provide access to public records and  documents for all states via one site. Of course, the access will cost you. Costs typically range from a flat fee for broad access, or a per item charge. Following are some aggregators to choose from:

  • Intelius People Search, the leading provider of People Search and Background Check reports. Intelius has an extensive selection of people search reports, background checks, criminal records, court records, real estate and financial reports.
  • National Center for Health Statistics – The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website contains a wealth of information for private investigators and legal researchers. On this site, you’ll find state-by-state information on how to obtain or request court docs and other information. For each type of documentation, the appropriate address is provided, the approximate cost, and guidelines and tips for submitting your request. This is an excellent site that we highly recommend for detectives and regular citizens.
  • VitalRec – This site contains extensive  information about where to obtain data from each state, territory and county of the United States. The website includes information on public data such as birth info, death, marriage, divorce and more. The site also provides a large collection of links to genealogy resources, websites and searchable databases.
  • VitalChek Network – VitalChek is an official, government-authorized service that helps citizens to securely order certified birth certificates and other public records from official government agencies nationwide. It offers a simple ordering process designed to help ensure the accuracy of your order. Once submitted online, your order is submitted electronically to the appropriate government agency for processing. Processing fees range from $2.50 to $16.00.
  • U.S. Vital Records – A website that will help you find your ancestors in the United States by searching federal census records, obituary records, and old newspapers. The results lead you to the We don’t recommend this particular search unless you are doing genealogy research.

Legal Forms

View our legal forms page for descriptions of legal documents related to this type of research. Related documents include divorce or separation forms, pre-marital agreement forms (also known as pre-nups), last will and testament forms and other miscellaneous documents.


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