Utah Vital Records
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This entry was originally written by Patricia Lyn Scott, CA and Gary Topping Ph.D. for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
In Utah, the civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages developed slowly, culminating with a statewide system of recording births and deaths beginning in 1905. Certificates for births and deaths from then until the present can be obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics and Health Statistics, Utah State Department of Health, 288 North 1460 West, P.O. Box 141012, Salt Lake City, UT 84114-1012 http://health.utah.gov/vitalrecords/. According to Utah state law, birth certificates are closed to researchers for one hundred years without the written approval of the subject of the record; death certificates are closed for fifty years. Death certificates older than fifty years are available from the Utah State Archives. (See online reference guides for birth and death reecords at www.archives.utah.gov/referenc/death.htm and www.archives.utah.gov/referenc/birth.htm.)
In 1860, the Utah legislature empowered (but did not require) Salt Lake City and Ogden to maintain a register of births and deaths within their respective cities, a practice already begun by Salt Lake City in 1847. In 1880 the power to register was extended to all incorporated cities, but not all cities undertook the responsibility, nor were most births registered for areas that did register births. In 1898, the state legislature provided for central county records, requiring county clerks to keep separate birth and death registers.
All surviving early county birth and death registers have been microfilmed and are accessible through the Family History Library (FHL) and the State Archives, both in Salt Lake City. The death registers have been indexed by the Professional Genealogists Chapter, Utah Genealogical Association, Utah Death Index, 1896–1905, edited by Judith W. Hansen, vol. 1—excluding Salt Lake County (1995), and vol. 2—Salt Lake County (1998). The Utah State Archives has a continuing program of indexing the birth registers. Counties that have been completed and are available online as keyword databases are Beaver, Davis, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Iron, Kane, Piute, Rich, Uintah, and Weber. Some of the original books are still at county seats, while others have been transferred to the Utah State Archives (see Utah Archives, Libraries, and Societies). The County Resources section indicates dates of availability by county.
Since marriage was seen as a religious sacrament, the civil registration of marriages was not required in Utah until 1887. The Edmunds-Tucker Act, which outlawed polygamy, required that everyone married in any territory of the United States, “shall be certified by a certificate stating the fact and nature of such a ceremony.” In 1889, the territorial legislature accepted the general structure of the act and required the person solemnizing the marriage to return the license and certificate within thirty days of the ceremony.
A few marriage records were created before 1887 and may be found in the county justice of the peace or probate court records. Early marriage records were usually interfiled with other court matters, but others may have been recorded in land records, as is the case with some early Beaver County marriage records. Marriage for the pre-1887 time period may have been performed by an LDS bishop (LDS is an abbreviation for Latter-day Saint) or clergyman of a non-Mormon denomination. See Marriages in Utah Territory, 1850–1884: from the Deseret News, 1850–1872 and the Elias Smith Journals, 1850–1884, compiled by Judith W. Hansen and Norman Lundberg (Salt Lake City: Utah Genealogical Association, 1998). From 1889 to the present, a marriage application is completed in order to obtain a license, which is issued by the county clerk. These applications are closed to researchers for seventy-five years without the written approval of the subjects. County issued licenses for some time periods are available on microfilm through the FHL. The Utah State Archives does not generally provide reference services for marriage records; instead, it refers researchers to the appropriate county clerk. The BYU-Idaho Family History Center is extracting early marriage records for many western states as part of their “Western States Historical Marriage Records Index” at http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/fhc/gbsearch.htm. This online index includes over 64,000 Utah marriages representing many Utah counties. This database can be searched with the name of either bride or groom.
The practice of both open and secret polygamy has certainly had an impact on genealogical research in Utah. For a thorough discussion of marriage practices in the state, see Lyman D. Platt’s “The History of Marriage in Utah, 1847–1905,” Genealogical Journal 12 (Spring 1983): 28-41. For a discussion of the practice of polygamy, see Kathryn M. Daynes More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001).
In addition to government-produced vital records, there are a variety of records not recorded in original registers, such as midwives’ and physicians’ records. Many have been microfilmed and are accessible through the FHL under the heading of Utah, [County], Vital Records. The LDS Church also maintains an extensive array of vital statistics in its own church records. For a comprehensive discussion of various types of records, see Laureen Richardson Jaussi and Gloria Duncan Chaston’s Genealogical Records in Utah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974), described in Background Sources below.
Court jurisdiction for divorces in Utah changed back and forth between probate and district courts in the county. By 1877, the district court gained sole jurisdiction. Before statehood, divorce records may be found in either county probate court records, federal (territorial) district courts, or LDS Church records. From 1896 to the present, all divorces are filed through the county’s district court and most are held in the clerk of the court’s office. Some divorce records have been transferred to the Utah State Archives and a few have been indexed and are available online (e.g., Davis County, 1875–1886). See the Utah State Archives online research guide on “How to Find Utah Divorce Records” at www.archives.utah.gov/referenc/referen.htm.