Vital records are records of life events kept under governmental authority, including birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. In some jurisdictions, vital records may also include records of civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Various European countries are members of an International Commission on Civil Status which provides a mutually recognized convention on the coding of entries appearing in civil status documents, with common codes and translation tables between the language of the member states. They also provide an English unofficial translation.
In the fields of Records Management and Archival Science the term vital record is used to mean "records, regardless of medium, which are essential to the organization in order to continue with its business-crucial functions both during and after a disaster. They need not be permanent, might be active or inactive, originals or copies."
Note that only the life events meaning is restricted to government; the records management meaning in this article applies to both government and non-government organizations.
In low-income countries, such as Brazil, vital statistic systems have shown a 56% underreporting of infant mortality rates. The results of an ethnographic study conducted by researcher Marilyn K. Nations and Mara Lucia Amaral point to a lack of cultural understanding as the main cause of inaccurate data. Firstly, government authorities are often isolated from these experiences of death. Moreover, reporting deaths often jeopardizes the family’s future subsistence as they rely heavily on government benefits received for each child. Low income families also cannot afford to pay the fees associated with reporting deaths and other indirect costs such as loss of time having to go to the city to register the death. As a result, the data recorded in vital records are often skewed. To overcome this problem, methods of gathering mortality data need to have an awareness of cultural meanings and knowledge of local beliefs.
The governmental authority has a commercial monopoly to sell; photocopies, transcripts or facsimiles of the original vital record while the original vital record itself is maintained in their safe keeping. They have the authority and duty to sell as many copies of one or more records as may be requested. Additional copies of the same vital record are often sold for less than the 'first' copy. The original of all vital records are always kept by the governmental authority and never available to the public. Copies, extracts or transcriptions of these vital records are sold by the governmental authority to the general public. They sell two versions; certified and non-certified. Certified copies are usually priced about 0-20% higher than non-certified copies. Many governmental authorities use a 3rd party vendor (with an added fee) to process the orders for vital record copies with prices ranging from US $20-$90. For example: https://www.vitalchek.com/ Where governmental authority vital records are not available, the use of church, cemetery, census and newspaper records is allowed.
- "Florida Statutes, Chapter 382".
- See for example ISO 15489-1:2001 clause 9.3a.
- "British Records Association Glossary".
- Nations, Marilyn K.; Mara Lucia Amaral (1991). "Flesh, Blood, Souls, and Households: Cultural Validity in Mortality Inquiry". Medical Anthropology Quarterly 5 (3): 204–218. doi:10.1525/maq.1991.5.3.02a00020.
- Where to Write for Vital Records in the US - National Center for Health Statistics
- New Horizons Genealogy specializes in New England and New York Colonial American Vital records, Barbour Collection, State Census records, Census Mortality Schedules, Cemetery records.
- Vital Records and Records Disaster Mitigation and Recovery: An Instructional Guide published by the National Archives and Records Administration of the USA.
- VitalChek is a government-approved source for the acquisition of official replacement vital records.
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