Vital records and court records are invaluable in genealogical research, with details about both the person and the residence. Generally marriage records are vital records, while divorce records are public court records.
American vital records are maintained at the state level, aggregated into population statistics used for planning. Court records are maintained at the specific court level: city, county or district, or state. While some states have some restrictions on privacy of marriage records, most do not. Divorce records generally have no restrictions.
The website for each state's Vital Records office has mail-in application forms. Some allow in-person, phone, or fax requests, with online requests through VitalChek. Requests for divorce record copies must be made to the clerk of the specific courthouse where the divorce was granted, usually a civil or district courthouse. Many marriage and divorce records are available online, as are indexes of these records.
The marriage record is composed from the marriage license information: names, ages, residences, witnesses, and sometimes birth dates, occupations, parents' names, and parents' addresses. Genealogically, this information can help to locate church records, newspaper accounts, and most importantly, an ancestor's maiden name.
Divorce records may contain just the names and date. Some also include ages, residences, prenuptial agreements, child custody or support, alimony, and causes. Genealogically, this information is valuable to confirm ancestry of children.
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