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ORDERING VITAL RECORDS: COMMENTS AND TIPS


 
 
Saving Money
 
Tips to Prevent Failure
 
LDS Family Search Site
 
Great Britain and Wales
 
United States
 
Canada
 

 
 
This page is an assortment of comments and tips about ordering vital records and various other genealogical documents. Some sites, such as the Mormon (LDS) Family History resources and a few government sites, allow their visitors to view and download certificates for free. But, in most cases, you will need to pay a fee to order copies of vital records certificates from the appropriate county, state, or national government office.

If you want to learn about what kinds of truly free genealogy resources there are which you can access from home, see our resources page.

If you find something good that I have not listed, or find any errors or broken links, be sure to email that information to me so I can add it to this page.


 

SAVING MONEY

You can save money obtaining certificates by finding free copies of them online, or by ordering them from less expensive sources. Both free and lower fee certificates all come from the same basic sources, simply differing in which types are available for free vs. at a fee, for each location.

FREE CERTIFICATES

If you are interested in free birth index and free birth records sites, including some government vital records sites, see our International and United States free birth records resource pages. And for a comprehensive list of death record sites in the United States, both free and paid, see Joe Beine's http://deathindexes.com.

And then, for comprehensive lists of both free and paid genealogical and vital records websites, organized by location, see http://cyndislist.com.

Here are the basic kinds of ways to obtain free genealogical vital records:


 
  1. LDS Sites
     
    Both the Family Search site, and the Pilot Family Search site, have some free certificates available online. You will need to search each of the two separately, to determine if any certificates you need are available in their online databases.
     
  2. Government Websites
     
    Some government vital records websites are putting historical vital records and other documents online for free. So be sure to check these before paying for the documents you are seeking. See the websites recommended at the beginning of this section, or resources listed below, for assistance locating government vital records websites.
     
  3. Certificate Exchange Sites
     
    Some websites and user forums allow their members to post information about certificates they obtained which were the wrong ones, which they are willing to forward on to someone else for just the cost of a self-addressed, stamped envelope. So, before you order a certificate for a fee, you may want to search a few BMD certificate exchange sites, or try a search of the internet to see if you can turn up a post about someone wanting to give away the certificate or if you might find a transcription of it.
     
  4. Government Archives
     
    In a few cases, if you can travel to government archives, you may be able to obtain copies of or information from the documents you seek by looking them up in the government archives yourself.
     

LOWER COST CERTIFICATES

If you are unable to find your certificates for free, there are a variety of ways to still save money without paying exhorbitant fees.

For comprehensive lists of both free and paid genealogical and vital records websites, organized by location, including all types of records, see http://cyndislist.com. If you are interested in death records, there is a comprehensive list of death record sites, both free and paid in the United States, at Joe Beine's http://deathindexes.com.

Here are the basic kinds of ways to save money when purchasing genealogical vital records:


 
  1. The LDS Mormon Church
     
    The Mormon Church has filmed many vital records from around the world. You can either view these films at a local LDS Family History Center, or order copies of vital records from the Church for an extremely low fee ($2 each with a $4 minimum as of July 2009).
     
    For more information about this, see our finding aids page, which has links to pages explaining how to order vital records from the LDS church using the batch numbers of the films.
     
  2. Fellow Genealogists
     
    In some areas, amateur or professional genealogists who live near government archives can obtain copies of the documents you seek for a lower cost to you than if you ordered them from the government.
     
    I have listed the few I know about below, just for Illinois and British Columbia. But the one of the best ways to find out about these is to search or join online forums at Rootsweb or GenForum, or Rootsweb mailing lists for the area or areas you are interested in.
     
  3. Genlighten.com is another resource you may want to check out. It is a genealogical marketplace a little like EBay except it is owned by genealogists, not a big corporation. We have no experience using them, but they show promise as a place were you can find other local genealogists willing and able to obtain records for you at a lower cost. Many professionals advertize their services on the site, and may charge high professional research fees, but there also are folks there who offer free or extremely inexpensive lookups. Just bear in mind that many of these lookups are ones you could could get help with by asking for help via online genealogy forums or mailing lists, or do online for free or with an inexpensive paid subscription yourself instead of paying someone to look for you. So be sure to check out our free genealogy resources pages before you spend any money.
     
  4. Government Offices
     
    It is always less expensive to order vital record documents direct from government offices, rather than from large commercial genealogy or vital records sites. See the websites recommended at the beginning of this section, or resources listed by geographic area below, for assistance locating the appropriate offices.
     

PREVENTING FAILURE WHEN ORDERING FROM GOVERNMENT OFFICES

Many kinds of things can go wrong when you order certificates, even when you do everything right. This section discusses some of the kinds of things that can result in failed orders, that you might not think of on your own. If you experience other problems ordering documents from government offices that result in your not receiving the document or documents you have ordered, please email us about your experience so that we can add an anonymous discussion of the issue and hopefully help other readers of this page by alerting them about the issue and likely way to prevent the problem.

PROOFREAD YOUR ORDER AND KEEP AN EXACT COPY

This is obvious, but if you are in a rush, please take the time to proofread your order carefully and correct any errors, as well as to scan or otherwise retain an exact replica. You cannot count on the government clerk receiving your order to check nearby or similar entries to make up for inaccurate or illegible information provided to them. And be sure to keep a carbon, scan or photocopy of your submission. If the order gets lost in the mail, or anything else goes wrong, you have no way to know for sure what you submitted if you do not keep a replica of the form you submit.

NAME CHANGES AND ALTERNATE SPELLINGS

If you do not have the exact name used by your ancestor that is listed in the official records, you are very likely to get a response from the government saying that no record was found. While the GRO in England may refund all or part of your money, most other governments will retain your money to cover the cost of searching for the record.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to locate the record in an official index, you should not have this problem, although it still can happen. But what if you find the record listed on an unofficial index of vital records? You cannot be sure that the unofficial index matches the information the government office uses to retrieve records. This is true for both free and paid resources, and can present serious problems should the record you order be indexed differently by your nongovernment source.

You can possibly circumvent this issue by providing, on your order form, all the alternate names or surname spellings used by someone. If you are ordering a delayed birth record for a married woman or someone who changed their surname later in life for any reason, be sure to include all the surnames used by the person as an adult or after any name changes. While delayed birth records logically should be indexed under the name at birth, we have found that this is not always the case. The court order may be listed under the surname of the adult or party filing the delayed birth request, and not necessarily be cross indexed by the actual surname of the child at the time of his or her birth.

COMBINING ORDERS

If you are ordering vital records by personal check or money order from a government office by postal mail, I would suggest that you order each record in a separate envelope, or at least attach a different check to each order form, to guard against the possibility that your payment and order will get lost or separated.

The one time we ordered two death certificates together with the same money order, we never could get the second certificate. The government workers had no record of the second order, and repeated efforts to get them to locate it and provide us with the $20 certificate we had ordered failed. That was a $20 search fee that I do not want to spend ordering the same certificate a second time, especially if they might not even find the certificate.

THE LDS FAMILY SEARCH SITE

The Latter Day Saints website has many birth record indices for around the world, including some actual certificates for free online, and they are continuing to add new data and databases. One can also obtain scans and copies of some records from them for free or, if you want them to send a paper copy, for a lower cost (i.e., $2 per certificate, with a $4 minimum) than from government offices (where fees range from about $5 to about $20).

http://www.familysearch.org (uses frames)

For help identifying film numbers, see the resources on our finding aids page. And for help with filling out the form and placing your order, see our page about Ordering LDS Photocopies.

Here is a direct link to the order form for requesting free scans or paid photocopies of records from Family Search. If the link does not work, then email support@familysearch.org to find out where they have moved the form. They have changed it's location often, and we are not always able to update the link quickly when that happens. Note that if you wish a free scan emailed to you, you still will need to fax or physically mail the request form to them, they cannot accept copy requests via email. Be sure to provide your email address somewhere on the form.

https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/5/5f/Request_for_Photocopies.pdf

There also are other ways to order copies of vital records from the LDS besides using batch numbers. One of these is to obtain the official government certificate number for the birth, marriage, or death from the online vital record indexes on various free and paid sites. For example, for vital events in New York City, you can search vital record indexes that include certificate numbers at the Italian Genealogy Group and German Genealogy Group. For more ideas about such free transcription sites for around the world, see our free online birth records resource pages.

Another way to order copies without knowing a batch or certificate number, is to first order a listing of all entries for a particular surname on a particular film, for free for an emailed scan , or paper copies for the standard photocopy fee of $2 with a $4 minimum order. This will only work for films that have been indexed so, if you want to make sure it is possible to obtain a surname index for a particular film, you can always email support@familysearch.org to ask if it is possible to obtain surname listing for that film. Then, once you have ordered and received your surname list for that film, you study it and decide which entries you wish to order copies of, and order your copy or copies!

Again, for more detailed information and links to pages on other sites about finding film and batch numbers for ordering films to view and copies of certificates from the LDS, you can also see our finding aids page, and for help with filling out the form and placing your order, see our page about Ordering LDS Photocopies.

GREAT BRITAIN AND WALES

Tutorial about Researching and Ordering Registration Certificates for England and Wales (tutorial free, certificates do cost)

England and Wales Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificates - Ordering
 
    http://home.clara.net/dixons/Certificates/bmdcerts.htm

 

UNITED STATES

This is the United States Federal Govenment's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official home page for where to write for vital records in each state, and includes details about costs and years for which certificates are available.
 
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm(Javascript recommended)
 
The following website is another good tool to use if you want basic information about ordering vital records from a particular state. After selecting a state, be sure to scroll down below the search box (which does not yield free results) to the information about State and County government websites

http://statearchives.us/public

There also are a number of genealogists in the United States who will provide you with copies of vital records from their local government archives for a very low fee. I only know of a few who do so in Illinois, so if you know of any others in the United States who do so at a reduced fee, please email that information to me so I can research and consider their services for adding to this section. Another place to look for more local lookup resources is Genlighten.

ILLINOIS - the following two genealogists can provide you with copies of historical vital records (for Illinois or Cook County) for a very reasonable fee, and provide very quick, friendly service. Check out their websites for complete details and current fees.

Cynthia's Chicago Genealogy
 
   http://www.chicagogenealogy.com
 
Molly Kennedy's Illinois Genealogical Research
 
   http://www.mollx.com

CANADA

We will be adding links to basic information sites for where to order Canadian Vital Records directly from the provinces. Meanwile, check out the links to some of the official provincial government websites on our free Canadian Birth Record Information page.

There is at least one genealogist in Canada, and probably more, who will provide you with copies of vital records from their local provincial government archives for a very low fee. I only know of one who does so for records in British Columbia, so if you know of any Canadians who do so at a reduced fee, please email that information to me so I can research and consider their vital records services for adding to this section. Another place to look for more local lookup resources is Genlighten.

BRITISH COLUMBIA- the following genealogist can provide you with copies of historical vital records (for British Columbia only) for a very reasonable fee, and provides very quick service. Check out his website for complete details and current fees.

Don Crawford's BC Website
 
    http://www.bccopies.ca

Revised November 01, 2012


 

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