With thanks to Peter E. Broadbent, Jr.
More than 16 million Virginia vital records have been digitized and indexed as a result of collaboration between Ancestry and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). These records were officially released to the public on June 2, 2015.
For vital records which are now “open”, the image of the original vital record can be viewed online through Ancestry; for records which are still “closed’, an index with key information is available online through VDH. Virginia death, marriage and divorce records are “closed” for 25 years; Virginia births are “closed” for 100 years.
Virginia has required localities to maintain birth, marriage and death records in the 20th century since 1912. The Virginia vital records presently available through Ancestry are birth and death records from 1912 to 2014, divorce records from 1918 to 2014, and marriage records from 1936 to 2014. Presumably 1912-1936 marriages will be added later. The birth records released include delayed births going back to 1864, but recorded after 1912.
For those without an Ancestry subscription, try www.vdh.state.va.us/vital_records/ for the index. Library of Virginia patrons who are physically at the Library can also access the Ancestry database free of charge.
A link to the vital records index will subsequently be placed on the Library of Virginia website, and all original vital records will be turned over to the Library of Virginia by VDH as they become “open”, commencing later this year.
Virginia vital records for the period 1853-1896 are held by the Library of Virginia, which plans to solicit proposals to have these records also scanned and indexed by a private partner.
Virginia law did not require that vital records be recorded during the period 1896-1912, but a number of local health departments (Lynchburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Roanoke and Elizabeth City County [Hampton]) continued to record vital records during this “gap” period. Some of these groups of records are still held locally, but it is believed that VDH has at least one – Newport News. It is hoped that some of these city records will be found when the VDH original records are turned over to the Library of Virginia, and that all surviving records for this gap period can eventually be placed online.
This important new access to Virginia vital records occurred directly as a result of the Virginia Genealogical Society’s efforts in 2011 – 2012. VGS members wrote key legislators, and former VGS President Peter Broadbent lead the effort in meetings with legislators.
In 2011 VGS became aware that a legislative study was underway which proposed to substantially lengthen the “closed” period for Virginia records, and VGS members started to work on stopping this in the 2012 General Assembly, arguing instead for shortening the “closed” period and improving access. Delegate Chris Peace’s 2012 HB 272 successfully reduced the “closed” time period from 50 to 25 years for death, marriage and divorce records. Senator Harry Blevins’ 2012 SB 660 similarly reduced those “closed” time periods, and went on to require that original vital records be turned over to the Library of Virginia, and directed VDH to enter into a long-term contract with a private company experienced in maintaining genealogical databases to create, maintain and update online indexes of vital records linked to original images for “open” records. Senator Blevins’ legislative aide, Karen Papasodora-Cochrane, was very helpful in working for passage of this bill. The partnership between VDH and Ancestry, and release of vital records which occurred June 2, 2015 were a direct result of SB 660.
Former VGS President Peter Broadbent (currently Chairman of the Library of Virginia) and Librarian of Virginia Sandy Treadway were guests at Governor McAuliffe’s June 2 press conference with VDH Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, and Quinton Atkinson of Ancestry, announcing the release of the vital records online.
The online availability of an index to all modern Virginia vital records, and the online availability of scanned images for “open” records, have now created the largest scale and most comprehensive online availability of vital records by any state in the United States. Both VDH and Ancestry report that other state vital records offices are now contacting them seeking more information about Virginia’s model of improved vital records access, which may hopefully mean that other states will follow this example of public-private cooperation and improved access to these public records.