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Guide to using Ancestry Library: Vital Records

Common last names vs. unique last names

If you have a more common last name (i.e. Jones or Smith) make sure you pay careful attention when combing through search results. It's highly likely that multiple people will have the same name as your ancestor and perhaps even have a spouse or child with the same name as your ancestors too. It's important to pay close attention to other things like date of birth, date of marriage, date of death and more. 

Alternatively, if you have a unique last name that few people have, you'll find that for once, this is an immense advantage because for one, you'll have less results to sift through and two, it will be easier and quicker to locate your ancestor in the records. 

What are considered vital records?

Birth, marriage, and death certificates are considered vital records. They are recorded by the government as major life events. In Ancestry Library you have the option of searching all of the above events or simply just one. If you search all at once, you can always filter the results to a specific category on your results page. 

Marriage and death certificates are a great way to perhaps discover previously unknown information such as the maiden names of female relatives. 


Filtering your search results

-You can also filter your results by the type of vital record (i.e. just marriage records, just death records, or just birth records), as well as by record location and record date


-Hovering your mouse over the record will pop up a snippet of that record, giving you the option to either view the original image (so a scanned version of the original document) or the record which contains main pieces of information that's been extracted from the record 

Death certificates


Death certificates can also contain a lot of valuable information. If you don't know much about an ancestor, they can be helpful in discovering when they died, how they died, where they were living at the time of their death, their mother's maiden name and more. 

In some cases, if your ancestor had an untimely death, you might even discover a more sinister cause of death. 


You may also come across death certificates for a relative who died as a child. Keep in mind that the further back in time you go when researching your genealogical past, you may come across a relative even your parents or grandparents never knew about because they were never talked about or in some cases knew they even existed. Childhood mortality at one time was quite common.

Searching birth, marriage, and death certificates

From the "Search" dropdown menu, select "Birth, Marriage, and Death."


Then like all the search categories within Ancestry Library, fill in as much information as you know about the ancestor you're researching. You do NOT need to fill in all of the boxes or be exact (i.e. if you don't know the name of the town or city your ancestor lived in, you can just enter the county/state etc). Just remember that the more information you enter, the greater the chance you'll locate records on your ancestor. 



You can also narrow your search fields to a specific vital records category (i.e. birth, marriage, death) pre-searching.

For something like a marriage, knowing the year your ancestors got married will be useful along with a location (at least the state). 

Examining an original vital record

Marriage license applications can be particularly helpful in genealogical research as they typically contain golden nuggets of information like maiden names for both the bride-to-be as well as for the mothers of both the bride and groom. They'll also list pieces of information like occupation, addresses, and place of birth (useful if your ancestor was not born in the United States). 

Birth certificates

Depending on when the birth certificate was issued, birth certificates at one time listed whether or not the birth was legitimate, meaning if the parents were married at the time of the birth. If "no" was recorded in the field asking if the child was legitimate, at one point in history this was a source of shame a person carried his entire life as unfortunately it defined him through an unfair source of labeling.