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How to Obtain Vital Records

Need to find important family documents, like your birth certificate? Here's a free guide to the paper trail

You apply for a job and are asked for proof of legal residency to comply with immigration laws. That could lead to a frustrating afternoon rummaging through desk drawers for your birth certificate.

See also: 15 great websites for geneaology research.

If that hasn't happened to you, there are plenty of other reasons why it's prudent to have certified copies of your vital records and those of your family stashed in a safe deposit box or safe.

But don't fret if you don't already have a complete set of birth certificates, death records, marriage licenses or divorce documents. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a handy roadmap in the form of Where to Write for Vital Records (PDF).

The guide includes:

  • Up-to-date contact information for the official repositories in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and various U.S. possessions.
  • Fees and application requirements.
  • Suggestions on how to obtain documents from consulates and foreign countries — even how to track down difficult-to-find pieces of paper, such as official verification that a person has died at sea.

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