3 Vital Records Needed for the beginner genealogist

Beginner Genealogy: 3 Vital Records Needed

3 Vital Records

If you’re new to genealogy, start your search with these 3 vital records. Birth. Marriage. Death. These records hold vital information (get it? vital?) about your ancestors’ lives—the three most pertinent events in anyone’s life. To find these documents in Scotland, Ireland, or other Celtic nations, start where you are. There are numerous resources to find your ancestors once they migrated to America.

The civil registration of these 3 vital records, births, marriages, and deaths has a long history in the United States. Registration laws were enacted by the Assembly of Virginia in 1632. A modification of this law was passed by Massachusetts in 1639.

Fun fact….I am related on my mother’s side to William Bradford, governor of the original Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. History is so cool.

The original impetus for civil registration laws was the protection of individual rights, particularly relating to ownership and distribution of property, and not for statistical uses. In the US, there is no national or federal birth registry. Birth certificates are issued by the states, which are obligated under law to report vital annual statistics to the federal government.

In 1902, the Bureau of the Census developed the first standard certificates for the registration of live births. Vital records were recorded in England as early as the 1500s. However, the standardized version was not uniformly adopted until the 1930s. Early Immigrants to the Colonies were accustomed to recording Church-related events such as Christenings.

There are numerous websites where you can find information for birth, marriage, and death certificates, both here in the States and overseas in Ireland and UK.

Websites to Help You Find 3 Vital Records In Scotland & Ireland

International Genealogical Index (IGI) was developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS). They provided records of marriage, birth or baptisms, death, and other valuable records.

Pre 1855 – Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) New Register House in Edinburgh. 3 W Register Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3YT. It opened to the public in 1861.

Records of birth, Christenings, marriage, death, or burial. These records are available as index-linked digital images on ScotlandsPeople.com, ScotlandsPeople Center, and Local Family History Centers.

National Records of Scotland have Parish records dating back from 1553 to 1854. General Register House – 5 Bakehouse Close, 146 Canongate, Edinburgh

Edinburgh World Heritage – Archive

Irishgenealogy.ie: Birth records from 1864 to 1916, Marriages from 1845 to 1941, and Deaths from 1864 to 1966. General Office of Ireland, Irish Family History Foundation

General Register Office of Ireland: 1864 to 1921. Non-Catholic records since 1845. Birth & Death 1864

Gov.ie – has links to other genealogy records you may find helpful.

Northern Ireland: General Register’s Office Northern Ireland.

However, many records have been destroyed in Ireland over the years. This makes it a challenge if you are looking for your ancestors’ records. In June 1922, a fire destroyed thousands of vital records and census reports. There was an explosion at the Public Records Office at Dublin’s Four Courts during the beginning of the Civil War.

1861 and 1871, records were destroyed by the government on the grounds of confidentiality. 1881 and 1891 census records were shredded. In 1918, records were destroyed, possibly due to the WWI paper shortage.

Information Found on Vital Records


Vital Record Birth

The first of the 3 vital records is the birth certificate. There have been various ways that births have been recorded in the last 100 years or so. Most countries in the Western World have been attempting to document them. They have been recorded at the local or regional government level. Mid-1800-1900 records were registered and filed. Some local governments could have records going back to great-grandparents.

When searching for records in Ireland and the UK, most parish or church records recorded Christenings. They may not have the exact date the child was born, but they only have the actual date of the Christening. Other documentation might help with other information we commonly see on a registered birth certificate.

Information Found on a Birth Certificate
  • Full name of the child, given and surname.
  • When and where was the child born?
  • Sex of the child, whether a twin or triplet and the number in order of birth. Also, I asked if the child was legit or not.
  • Information about the father & mother:
    • Full name, residence, color or race, last birthday, age, birthplace, occupation, general nature of industry.
  • Number of children born to the mother and living children born to this mother.
  • Certificate of attending Physician or Midwife.
  • Question: Did you use a one or two-percent silver nitrate solution in this infant’s eyes immediately after birth?

I found this question on my mother’s birth certificate but not my dad’s. So, I did a little research. It turns out that the practice first began in the 1880s when a German doctor put silver nitrate in babies’ eyes to prevent gonorrhea from causing corneal infections and turning babies blind. Silver nitrate was used before health professionals had antibiotics to treat infections.

What you can learn about the history and practices of your ancestors’ time is amazing. Dig a little deeper when you come across things like this.

Marriage Certificates or Licenses

Vital Record Marriage

Doing genealogy can be tricky, especially if relatives don’t want you to do research. My mom was one of those people that got angry when I started researching my family. I uncovered secrets I would not tell my mom I found. Whatever your family tells you about your family, take it with a grain of salt. This marriage license contradicts what I was told about specific facts.

Information on Marriage Licenses
  • Marriage licenses can tell you a lot about your ancestors when they married.
  • When & where they were married.
  • How they were married.
  • Given the surname of the bride and groom (maiden).
  • Whether they were single or widowed at the time of marriage.
  • Sometimes, the given and surname of their parents. In this case, that was not given.
  • Signature and qualification & residence of the informant.
  • When & where the license was registered.

Other records to look for are local newspapers for Wedding Announcements. Weddings were big to-do in small towns and high society.

Also, ask relatives if they have copies of the wedding certificate; maybe the date was recorded in family bibles. Try looking in local courthouses of the town they were married in. Local Historical Societies may have even more information regarding their marriage.

For fun, once you locate a marriage license and the local census. Check the dates for their getting married and the birth of their children. Many married due to an unexpected pregnancy. It just adds to the story. There is no judgment of the dead.

Death Certificate

Vital Record Death

These are my favorite. I am a Taphophile, a cemetery enthusiast. I love touring cemeteries and taking pictures, whether I have a connection to that cemetery or not.

The thing about death certificates is that they are only as accurate as of the person who provided the information about the deceased.

Death certificates contain lots of information. They started to be required at a state level from 1800 to the 1900s. Before that time, you may have to use other sources to learn about death.

Information on Death Certificate
  • Date and Time of Death
  • Date of Birth and Social Security Number
  • Place of Death, County, and State
  • Where they lived sometimes included a street address, such as above.
  • Occupation of the deceased
  • Marital Status
  • Cause of Death
  • Signature of Medical Examiner
  • Name and Address of Funeral Home, place, and method of disposition.
  • The Holy Grail of all Death Certificates is the name of the father and mother of the deceased.

Parish Records

Vital Information in Parish Records

Before the 1800s, events were recorded by the Church in the UK and Ireland. Church records didn’t end when the State introduced the Civil records.

Parishes, or Churches, recorded baptisms and Christenings, but not always the date of birth. Marriages and burials were also recorded. Burials did not always include the date of death.

In 1812, the Rose’s Act introduced printed paper registers and standardized the format of entries for baptisms. Before 1813, baptisms are included in parchment or vellum registers. These can date back to 1538.

Besides marriage and burial records, other records are provided by the Parishes. Dade & Barrington Registers, Bishops’ Transcripts, Vestry Minutes, Poor & Other Rates, Bastardy Bonds, Churchwardens Accounts, Affidavits of Wool, Settlement & Removal Records, and many others. I will cover them in an upcoming blog.

Parishes or Churches were meticulous in recording everything that happened in their county.

Final Words

When researching your ancestors, starting with the birth, marriage, and death records is best. These records can lead you to others who can help you fill in your ancestors’ stories.

Immerse yourself in the world of your ancestors and discover your identity and passion.

Let me know what your story is. Sign up for monthly tips and ideas for that perfect ancestry trip. Thanks for reading. Happy meandering. Slànte Mhath!

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