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West Virginia
Vital Research Records
Project Summary and Update


The West Virginia Vital Research Records Project is a collaborative venture between the West Virginia State Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) to place online via the West Virginia Archives and History Web site selected West Virginia county birth, death and marriage records, and statewide death records in a viewable, downloadable and searchable format accessible at http://www.wvculture.org/vrr. The project is on-going, with more records being added when possible and the system undergoing refinement as needed. In Virginia/West Virginia, births and deaths were first reported to the counties in 1853, while marriages were recorded in the counties from the inception of each county. All three types of records are still reported to county clerks today. In 1917, the West Virginia Dept. of Health Vital Registration office began collecting the county reports of births and deaths and issuing official state death certificates. The records made available online in the Vital Research Records database come from both sources: county records as recorded on microfilm by the GSU largely from 1967 to 1970, and statewide records as selected for release by the West Virginia Dept. of Health Vital Registration office.

State death certificates for individuals from all 55 counties dating from 1917 through 1958 are currently available online through this project. Additional death certificates will be added in a batch once a year (usually January 1) as the certificates pass the 50-year mark of issuance. For example in 2010, the death certificates for 1959 will be added to the database. The addition of state birth certificates and of state delayed birth certificates to the database is not anticipated. (Some delayed birth records may show up in the regular county birth records.)

Six counties were included in the initial database for birth, death and marriage records: Calhoun, Gilmer, Hardy, Harrison, Mineral and Pendleton. For these six counties marriage and death records are included up to the last record microfilmed for that county by GSU: Calhoun, Gilmer, and Mineral through 1969; Hardy, Harrison and Pendleton through 1970. For these six counties birth records are included up through 1930, only records 75 years or older at the time posted online. Due to a change in the selection parameters since the initial records were posted, subsequent counties added include only births recorded in those counties more than 100 years ago, meaning currently only births for 1853 through 1908 will be made available, with additional births added sometime after the records pass the 100-year mark, usually January 1 of the following year.

The records are not fully transcribed and are searchable on ly by the information requested in the search boxes for each type of record. The county records are double-paged records, as they were microfilmed, so if the record you want is not visible on the first page shown on the screen, scroll right or left to the adjacent page to find your record. We are aware that the images are over-sized and that a user must scroll up and down, left and right, to view the entire record. We have been unable to determine any way to improve them. Before notifying the Archives of any problem encountered in downloading and printing, please fully explore your options on your own computer first.

Regarding West Virginia state death certificates, a group of 1920 death certificates, #4501 through #5000, are not available. Sometime after the deaths for 1920 were indexed, but before the record books themselves were transferred to the State Archives, that certificate book was lost. The names of the persons and the certificate numbers were entered into the Vital Research Records database, but there will be no accompanying images. Although the Dept. of Health and the State Archives do not have copies of these particular death certificates, the relevant county courthouses should be able to provide them. The Archives and History Library has county records on microfilm for the use of its patrons, and also can provide copies by mail in response to mailed research requests that enclose the required $5.00 fee for in-state requests, or the $15.00 fee for out-of-state requests. (Please note that only the county that issued the certificate can provide a certified copy for legal purposes.)

You may notice some dates earlier than 1853 for county births and deaths. These are either delayed records accepted by the clerks, or are errors by an original clerk or by a transcriber. You may also disagree with the spelling of a name as entered or as transcribed. We have been correcting transcription errors of all types as we find them; however, we can not correct errors in the original records, only errors made in the transcription and indexing process. To correct errors in the original information recorded by a county clerk or by the Dept. of Health, researchers must contact the relevant agency. To report transcription errors, indexing errors or broken links, send an e-mail identifying the problem to chwvvrr@wv.gov. Due to staff time limitations, please do not telephone Archives and History with questions about Vital Research Records, and please do not make research requests to the WVVRR e-mail address. For instance, if a researcher does not find a record as expected, and would like the staff of the Archives to conduct further research to locate that records, or a substitute source such as a census record or an obituary, a written research request letter is required. Research requests must be sent in writing by regular mail, with the proper fee enclosed, to the West Virginia Archives and History Library (address and details posted at http://www.wvculture.org/history/services.html). The West Virginia State Archives can not provide certified copies of any of these records. For certified copies of records, most often needed for legal purposes, contact the issuing agency, either the county clerk or the West Virginia Dept. of Health Vital Registration Office, (304) 558-9100 or http://www.wvdhhr.org/bph/oehp/hsc/vr/birtcert.htm.

To date there is no definitive schedule for adding the remaining counties to the database, but we expect them to be added in 2009. Preparations are continuing for subsequent batches, until records for all 55 counties have been added to the database. The counties yet to be added are: Barbour, Berkeley, Boone, Brooke, Doddridge, Fayette, Hancock, Kanawha, Marion, Mason, Mercer, Ohio and Tyler. Because new data will be added in increments, all three categories of records of a single county may not be added at once, nor for example, will all births for all counties in a new group be added at the same time. Note that while records of the initial six counties currently online cover births from 1853 to 1930, subsequent county records will withhold births less than 100 years old (in 2009, only births through 1908 will appear, etc.). Please check the site periodically for new additions, and watch for announcements in West Virginia Archives and History News, available online at http://www.wvculture.org/history/ahnews/ahnews.html. Archives and History does not have the capability of maintaining a mailing list or of e-mailing individuals with updates to the records.

The Vital Research Records database has been one of the most well-received projects we have undertaken, and is probably the most used portion of our Web site. We ask for your patience if the system times out on you by reporting “Records found,” but listing none. Try making your search more specific, or try again at a less busy time. The image server and the database server will be upgraded in the near future in order to improve service. While there are limitations and restrictions pertaining to both the contents and the use of the Vital Research Records Project database, we are offering these records online as a public service to family history researchers. We think the ability of researchers to view digitized photographic images of the actual records rather than typed transcriptions is very important and contributes to increased accuracy in family history research. Please continue to send us your comments, suggestions and corrections for the database to our special e-mail address for the site, chwvvrr@wv.gov. If you do not have access to e-mail, call Debra Basham, (304) 558-0230.

For greater understanding of West Virginia’s vital records, we refer you to articles in our monthly newsletter and Quick Guides derived from those articles:

  • Vital Records in West Virginia: Deaths, West Virginia Archives and History News, September 2007
  • Vital Records in West Virginia: Births, West Virginia Archives and History News, October 2007
  • Vital Records in West Virginia: Marriages, West Virginia Archives and History News, November 2007
  • Quick Guide to West Virginia Birth Records
  • Quick Guide to West Virginia Death Records
  • Quick Guide to West Virginia Marriage Records

    Organizations, societies and teacher are free to copy the Vital Records articles, the Quick Guides and this WVVRR article for use as handouts or for reprint in other publications, as long as each Guide is printed in full with the statement of origin that appears at the bottom, and as long as the reprint is not used for commercial purposes. West Virginia Archives and History News, Volume IX, No. 12, February 2009, a publication of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, edited by Susan Scouras.