Background of West Virginia Vital Records
Most of the counties in West Virginia were formed by June 20, 1863. Only 5 counties were formed later. The counties that existed at that time were under the same law system as the counties in Virginia. Those laws included the mandatory recording of both marriages and births starting in 1853. In 1896 deaths and births stopped being recorded at the county level in Virginia. However, the practice of recording them at the county level continued in most of West Virginia until at least 1900. Recording of those vital records at the state level started on January 1, 1917. However, most of the records from that year until 1920 were burned in a fire. So, records after 1920 are more likely to be available today.
The Charleston Archives and History Library has copies of vital records from the years of 1853 to 1900 on file on microfilm. Similar records can be found at the Family History Library (FHL) and the Library of Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Health Statistics Center, 350 Capitol St., Rm. 350, Charleston, WV 25301-3701 will provide certified record copies for a fee. However, only certified copies of records dating from 1920 onward are available.
The Charleston Archives and History Library has 1852 to 1930 birth certificates (including delayed registrations) and 1917 to 1973 death certificates on file. So does the FHL in Salt Lake City, Utah. Church officials were required to record marriages in specific marriage registers in Virginia’s early days. However, most of those registers have been lost over time. Civil authorities were given copies of records from ministers by law beginning in 1780. However, that only lasted until 1853. At that point, county clerks took over the responsibility of issuing marriage licenses and keeping registers of marriages. Couples wishing to marry had to fill out a form listing all of the following information:
- Full Names
- Places of Birth and Residence
- Proposed Marriage Date and Place
- Marital Status (Single or Widowed)
- Names of Parents
- Occupation of the Groom
- Name of the Minister
Records still in the possession of county clerks have been placed on microfilm by the FHL. Some early marriage records have also been published or transcribed over the years. Many West Virginia libraries and historical societies have some of those published records on file. The Health Statistics Center has an index of marriage records from 1921 onward. They can provide certified marriage license copies for all licenses issued from 1964 onward.
The clerk of the circuit court in each county holds divorce records for divorces that were granted in that county.