Search Public Records
Where can I search for free public records?
Accessing free public records can be difficult, but many WV vital records are freely and readily available to the public. In West Virginia, birth certificates are made public after 100 years, while death and marriage certificates are made public after 50 years.
You can utilize West Virginia’s archives to search birth, marriage, and divorce records for the information you want, but be prepared to spend substantial time browsing records.
Are West Virginia Vital Records Open to the Public?
Many state records in West Virginia are available to the public; however, the access depends on the vital record type and the year the record was initially created.
Third-party websites can be helpful reference points when researching specific vital records, as they are not limited to your geographic location. However, it’s important to note that the data on these sites can differ from official government records.
To find a record on a third-party website, you 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
Each county and municipality in West Virginia can have distinct vital record certificates. You can check what the documents look like in the county where yours was recorded to ensure you have an official certified copy.
If your certificate has a stamp or large print across the face of the document that reads “Informational, Not a Valid Document to Establish Identity” or something similar, it is an informational copy, not an official, certified copy.
What Are the Differences between Authorized Copies Versus Informational Copies?
Authorized copies are certified, legal documents that, unlike informational copies, can be used for official identification in legal matters such as obtaining a passport. The certificates are only issued to individuals with a “direct and tangible interest” in the document.
Many states offer Informational copies of birth or marriage certificates, which can include short-form, unofficial (non-certified), “heirloom,” and “commemorative” certificates. These certificates are intended only for display, personal reference, or genealogical research copies. They cannot be used for official purposes like establishing identity, obtaining a passport, or proving eligibility for benefits.
Informational copies are typically not official legal documents, although some states offer certified heirloom certificates. Uncertified (informational) certificates are usually easier to obtain than traditional certified copies; in many states, neither an ID nor a notary is required to obtain one. In compliance with the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act, 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.