Vital records are an important part of finding information about your ancestors. Vital records are records of births, marriages and deaths. These are the cornerstones of people lives, the major events if you will. Depending on what country you are interested in researching in, there haven’t always been vital records as we know them today. Often, record keeping was mandated by a law.
In England for example, it was in the 1830s that the government got involved in the official keeping of records. Before that time, the keeping of records was left to the local church. These were not quite the same since it was not birth but rather baptism and not death but burial. Weddings records were the same.
In Canada, the church was keeping all the vital records well into the 20th century. This poses a variety of problems for genealogist but also provides very detailed records in some cases.
In the United States, prior to 1900 there are some areas that have almost no vital records. Even as late as the 1920s all births or marriages were not registered with the city where they took place. Today one must have a legal marriage license to get married but this was not always the case. The person who married the couple was in charge of the record and if this was a minister or a priest then the record is stored with the religious institution.
Since these records have not been centralized, it can be very difficult to locate some marriage records even if you know the state. People eloped, they went on a trip and got married or they just did a church wedding in the next town. It can take years to locate these records which should be easy to find.
Births are the same way through the same period. Many children were born at home and sometimes the births were registered with the town and sometimes they were not. This is not only a genealogy issue but an issue with Social Security when the people had to prove their birthday. We are now pretty well past the era when births were not registered but for genealogist it is another stumbling block. When vital records are not available, try to find church records to fill in the gaps.
When it comes to death records, many people traveled to work. They might have gone to anther town and died there and it is up to the town to record the event. Sometimes they knew who the traveler or worker was and could record their name, other times they didn’t. Official death records in many states are being centralized so if you run into a stonewall finding a death, try the state records. You can also check for newspaper articles or funeral home or undertaker records.
Vital records are an important part of any genealogist research. They are most helpful for events closer to the present day than for research 200 years ago. There are always exceptions however and there are cities that kept wonderful vital records almost from their inception. You never know when you are going to find some vital records that are going to fill in one of your blanks. I guess you could say that vital records are vital to good research.