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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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Vital Records Can Verify Identities and Focus Your Genealogical Research

Every major life event that you experience is documented in some way. When considering the government’s role in recordkeeping practices and maintaining the population’s information, records concerning birth, death, marriage and divorce are considered a matter of public record and accessible by nearly everyone. Many of these records are found in state offices and at the county level where they occurred, and there are several reasons one may need to access them.

Certificates of birth and death, marriage and divorce records are all useful when conducting genealogical research. You may also need to access these to verify your own identity or any legal agreements you entered into with an ex-spouse. Many of these vital records may be searched online, but some information may be limited depending on your relation to the parties named in the records. Following is an explanation of the information contained in official copies of these records:

Birth Certificates

Birth records are typically filed in the county where a person was born, and may contain various information; this all depends upon the practices in that locale and at the time of birth. Typically, the full names of the parents and the mother’s maiden name are included, as well as the baby’s name, his or her date of birth and the location where the birth took place. Birth certificates are often helpful when conducting genealogical research if you want to learn about a past generation, or if you simply need to verify your own identity.

Death Certificates

Records of death often are also filed in the corresponding county where the individual died. Depending upon the practices of that county, the full name of the deceased, the date of his or her death, where they are buried and possibly the cause of death are included in this record. Additional information such as the person’s date of birth and who reported their death may also be found on a death certificate. This information could lead you to a family burial plot or further understand where your family originated from.

Marriage Records

Marriage records can afford a wide range of information to the public, including the date of marriage and where it occurred, the full names of the bride and groom, and even the full names of their parents. Birthplaces and dates are included in the marriage certificate, providing further assistance in verifying you are examining the correct record and gathering useful information. You will need copies of your own marriage records in order to legally change your name or claim life and disability benefits for your spouse.

Divorce Records

Divorce decrees are filed with the local government office where the final divorce was approved. Certificates are also kept at the state level, but contain only general information. The names of the parties involved in the divorce, the date the divorce was finalized, and details of property and debt division, custody and support arrangements as well as any temporary restraining orders are included in the decree. This information can help you to verify a potential mate’s marital status or even track down missing ancestors’ information.

Depending upon whether you are directly named in these records, you may not be able to access some of the personal information included in them. Each state maintains their own laws and practices regarding maintaining these files, but will still allow the general public to verify names, dates and locations where these events took place. Consider using these records to your advantage the next time you want to search for long-lost relatives or perform a simple background check, and you’ll have a general understanding of whether someone is telling you the truth or where you may be able to track them down.



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