South Carolina Vital Records
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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
A law mandating registration of all births and deaths in South Carolina was signed into law on 1 September 1914. Actual registration began in 1915, and South Carolina achieved ninety percent compliance within a few years. Original copies of birth and death certificates are filed with the state, and copies can be obtained by writing to South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Office of Vital Records and Public Health Statistics, 2600 Bull St., Columbia, SC 29201. The above office accepts Visa or MasterCard for payment for urgent requests made by phone. There is an additional fee for this service including postal costs.
Each South Carolina county has a copy of the state’s records, and a few cities have records pre-dating the statewide registration requirement: Charleston began keeping birth records in 1877 and death records in 1821, and Georgetown was authorized to establish a vital records registration system in 1883. The Church of England parishes created in 1706 recorded christenings, marriages, and burials, and these registers can serve as vital records for much of the colonial period (see South Carolina Church Records).
South Carolina had no law requiring marriage licenses or registration until 1911. Assembly Act No. 70, “An Act to Require Marriage Licenses and Regulate Their Issuances,” became effective on 1 July 1911. Licenses are on file with the judge of probate in each county. Prior to 1911, marriages were legal if performed according to canonical law; common law marriages also were recognized. Many churches recorded marriages, but when compared with the vast number of marriages that took place, the number of documented marriages is small. Marriage settlements, made by a widow and her second husband to protect the heirs of her first husband, and premarital agreements, not necessarily involving widows, were popular for a while. These records date from about 1760 to about 1890, and may be found in county conveyance books or the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and on microfilm at the The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. Newspapers accounts of marriages from 1732 to the present are a primary source of marriage documentation (see South Carolina Newspapers).
Until 1949, divorce was illegal in South Carolina. Since then, divorces are the province of the county court, and all inquiries should be directed to the county clerk of court.
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
- South Carolina, Births and Christenings, 1846-1935
- South Carolina, Marriages, 1709-1913
- South Carolina, Deaths, 1915-1943
- South Carolina, Deaths, 1944-1955
- South Carolina Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing South Carolina birth, marriage, and death records (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Includes links to FamilySearch vital record databases.