Vital record

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Austrian marriage license (duplicate) from 1854.

Vital records are records of life events kept under governmental authority, including birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. In some jurisdictions, vital records may also include records of civil unions or domestic partnerships.

In the United States, vital records are typically maintained at the state level.[1] In the United Kingdom and numerous other countries vital records are recorded in the civil registry.

Various European countries are members of an International Commission on Civil Status which provides a mutually recognized convention on the coding of entries appearing in civil status documents, with common codes and translation tables between the language of the member states. They also provide an English unofficial translation.

In the fields of Records Management and Archival Science the term vital record is used[2] to mean "records, regardless of medium, which are essential to the organization in order to continue with its business-crucial functions both during and after a disaster. They need not be permanent, might be active or inactive, originals or copies."[3]

Note that only the life events meaning is restricted to government; the records management meaning in this article applies to both government and non-government organizations.

In low-income countries, such as Brazil, vital statistic systems have shown a 56% underreporting of infant mortality rates. The results of an ethnographic study conducted by researcher Marilyn K. Nations and Mara Lucia Amaral point to a lack of cultural understanding as the main cause of inaccurate data. Firstly, government authorities are often isolated from these experiences of death. Moreover, reporting deaths often jeopardizes the family’s future subsistence as they rely heavily on government benefits received for each child. Low income families also cannot afford to pay the fees associated with reporting deaths and other indirect costs such as loss of time having to go to the city to register the death. As a result, the data recorded in vital records are often skewed. To overcome this problem, methods of gathering mortality data need to have an awareness of cultural meanings and knowledge of local beliefs.[4]

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The governmental authority has a commercial monopoly to sell; photocopies, transcripts or facsimiles of the original vital record while the original vital record itself is maintained in their safe keeping. They have the authority and duty to sell as many copies of one or more records as may be requested. Additional copies of the same vital record are often sold for less than the 'first' copy. Many governmental authorities use a 3rd party vendor (with an added fee) to process the orders for vital record copies. For example:


  1. ^ "Florida Statutes, Chapter 382". 
  2. ^ See for example ISO 15489-1:2001 clause 9.3a.
  3. ^ "British Records Association Glossary". 
  4. ^ Nations, Marilyn K.; Mara Lucia Amaral (1991). "Flesh, Blood, Souls, and Households: Cultural Validity in Mortality Inquiry". Medical Anthropology Quarterly 5 (3): 204–218. doi:10.1525/maq.1991.5.3.02a00020. 

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