West Virginia Vital Records
This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny, in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
All but five of West Virginia’s counties were formed before 20 June 1863 when Congress officially admitted it as a sovereign state. Those pre-existing counties were governed by the same laws as other Virginia counties, including the requirement to register births and marriages beginning in 1853. When Virginia counties stopped recording birth and deaths in 1896, most West Virginia counties continued registration until 1900 or later in some locations. Statewide registration of births and deaths began 1 January 1917, but most records dated 1917–20 were destroyed by fire.
Microfilmed records dating from 1853 to 1900 can be searched at the Archives and History Library in Charleston (see [West Virginia Archives, Libraries, and Societies], the Library of Virginia (see Virginia Family History Research) and The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. Certified copies of records from 1920 forward can be obtained for a fee from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Health Statistics Center, 350 Capitol St., Rm. 350, Charleston, WV 25301-3701.
Early Virginia law required church officials to record all marriages in registers, but few of those volumes have survived. Ministers were not required to forward a copy of the marriage entry to civil authorities until 1780. That requirement ended in 1853 with a new law requiring county clerks to issue marriage licenses and keep marriage registers. Before a license could be issued, the parties to be married had to complete a form with the following information: full names, ages, places of birth and residence, proposed marriage date and place, marital status (single or widowed), names of parents, occupation of the groom, and name of the minister.
The FHL has filmed all early county marriage records from those still held by county clerks. The early marriages of some counties have been transcribed and published; they may have found their way into the collections of major genealogical libraries and local libraries in West Virginia. Certified copies of marriage licenses issued from 1 January 1964 can be ordered from the Health Statistics Center (address above). A centralized index dates back to 1921.
County circuit court divorce records can be obtained from the clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where the petition was filed.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History has a Vital Research Record Project. The Vital Research Records Project is placing Birth, Death, and Marriage certificates on-line. Users can search the records and view scanned images of the original records. http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_select.aspx
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
- West Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1928
- West Virginia, Births, 1853-1930 (includes images)
- West Virginia, Marriages, 1853-1970 (includes images)
- West Virginia, Marriages, 1854-1932
- West Virginia, Deaths, 1853-1970 (includes images)
- West Virginia, Deaths and Burials, 1854-1932
- West Virginia Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing West Virginia birth, marriage, and death records (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Includes links to FamilySearch vital record databases.