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Even with their limitations, all researchers are anxious to find electronic and printed sources of vital records because, frankly, they speed up the process so much.

In 1994, Thomas J. Kemp produced a book which made it so much easier for genealogists to locate vital records, not only in the United States but worldwide. It was called the Vital Records Handbook International. With its up-to-date addresses, localities, requirements regarding information and fees necessary for each repository, and the easy-to-use forms he produced for ordering the records, it was a bestseller. Today we can use the Internet to order many vital records, especially marriage and death records.

Vital Record Characteristics

As we discussed in the last lesson, looking at the latest event (death) first on someone we are researching often yields information of benefit on the other vital information (marriage and birth) we are seeking. Even interments reported to the Board of Health can provide the locality of death, parents, name of at least one descendant, age, date and burial ground.

Remember to build a solid foundationAs already covered in Lessons Two and Three of Your Great Ancestral Hunt series, American Vital Records are limited but Vital Record substitutes often provide the information sought after. For example, marriage dates may be found in a multitude of sources besides actual marriage records including:

  1. Court records.
  2. Legislative records.
  3. Newspapers.
  4. Home sources.
  5. Private collections such as Bible and family papers.

Marriage records are some of the most popular sources in electronic format. But we must caution users who are aware of studies conducted on original printed sources before they were put into electronic format. These studies prove that we should not make too many assumptions from what we find — or do not find, for that matter — in printed sources.

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