Search Public Records
Where can I search for free public records?
Finding free public records can be difficult, but many Washington birth, death, and marriage certificates are freely and readily accessible in the State Archives. Washington birth certificates are moved to the public State Archives after 100 years, while death and marriage certificates are publicly archived after 25 years. You can search the Washington State Archives to find the information you seek but plan to dedicate ample time to review records.
Are Washington Vital Records Open to the Public?
Many vital records in Washington are public state records. However, access depends on the type of record and the year the birth, death, or marriage occurred.
When researching vital records, third-party websites can provide helpful reference points. These websites make searching for specific types of vital records easy and are not limited by geographic location. However, the data on third-party sites may not always match official government records.
To find a record on a third-party website, the person requesting must provide the following information:
- The location of the record you’re looking for, including the city, county, or state where it was recorded
- The name of the person on record, if it is not a minor
How to Verify if Your Vital Record is Official
To ensure that you have an official certified copy of your birth, death, or marriage certificate, you can check what the certificates should look like in the county where the original was issued. Each municipality or agency in Washington can have uniquely designed vital records.
To confirm that your certificate is not an informational copy, check if it displays a stamp or mark with a large print across the face of the document that reads “Informational, Not a Valid Document to Establish Identity” or any similar message. If such a stamp or mark is absent, your certificate is not an informational copy and can be used for official purposes.
What Are the Differences between Authorized Copies Versus Informational Copies?
Authorized (certified) copies of vital records are legal documents that can be used to establish identity. They are only issued to individuals with a “direct and tangible interest” in the record. All long-form copies of Washington vital records are considered authorized and official. Unlike most states, Washington issues short-form (heirloom) certificates, which are also legally authorized by the state.
Informational copies of vital record certificates vary by state and can include short-form, unofficial (noncertified), “heirloom,” or “commemorative” certificates. In most states, informational copies are generally intended for personal use, such as display, record-keeping, or genealogical research.
The Washington DOH-CHS offers several alternative forms of vital record certificates. Standard “noncertified informational copies” are available for birth and death certificates. Informational (noncertified) vital record copies contain a watermark stating, “Cannot be used for legal purposes. Informational only.” Anyone can request an informational (noncertified) copy of a vital record; no proof of relationship or ID is required.
Alternatively, the Washington DOH-CHS also issues Heirloom birth certificates for display purposes, recognized as “official documents” signed by the Governor and the State Registrar that can be used legally. They include the same information as regular birth certificates, and the same eligibility criteria and requirements apply when ordering one.
For death certificates issued in or after 2018, the Washington DOH-CHS can only issue “short-form” certificates. These are also “official documents” printed on certified security paper and can be used for legal purposes. Like traditional long-form certificates, short-form certificates can only be issued to authorized individuals who must provide proof of interest in the record. Certain information is omitted from short-form certificates, so you may need a long-form certificate, depending on what you need the death certificate for. Short-form certificates are typically used for transferring titles (e.g., vehicles), real estate transactions, and probate cases.
In compliance with the Washington Public Records Act (PRA), citizens have the right to inspect or obtain copies of public records. Find more references regarding birth, death, and marriage certificates in the resources section.