Vital records are the records kept by government of births, deaths, and marriages (and sometimes, divorce as well), as gleaned from birth certificates, death certificates and other official documents. Vital records are a crucial source of information for family history research, legal procedures, and estate management, just to name a few.
Each town, county or other jurisdiction has different rules regarding public records, and access to the information in vital records. As a rule, records from several generations ago are usually treated as public records and are freely available, and may even be accessible online.
Access to more recent vital records is generally more restricted, usually to immediate family, though they may be available to non-family members under some circumstances.
Whether you are looking for recent information, or vital records for your distant ancestors, there are some wonderful online resources you can use. These contain birth, death and marriage records from places in the US, England, the UK, Europe, and many other places in the world. Best of all, for many of the resources, there is no charge for the information.
Here's how to find free vital records online.
Find Recent US Death Records at SSDI
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a massive collection of more than 80 million records of almost everyone who has died in the US in the past five or so decades.
You can find a person's full name, birth year and month, date of death, and even their Social Security Number. See Resources for a link to SSDI.
Search UK Vital Records
You may not think you have any relatives or ancestors in the UK...but think again! England was the major hub of world commerce for centuries, and millions of families moved through London, and other ports in England, Scotland and Ireland, and often made these places their homes, even if only temporarily.
You can search more than five centuries worth of vital records at a site called FreeUKGEN. In addition, they also have information from British census records, and parish registers of baptisms, burials, marriages, and more. You can find a direct link in the Resources section.
Search State, County and City Vital Records
A number of states, along with a few counties and cities, have done a wonderful job of making vital records available online, usually at no charge.
In general, the records usually cover the first half of the 20th century, and earlier. But a few places offer more recent online records. For instance, Minnesota makes death certificates available from 1904-2001, and Kentucky's online vital records go up to 1993, and include marriages and divorces.
There are assorted other records as well, such as probate (estate) records, and recorded wills.
Use the links in Resources to access state, county and city vital records.