Connecticut Vital Records
Posted: February 12, 2000
The Law on Access
Your ability as a researcher
to access vital records in Connecticut is governed by Public Act No. 96-258,
“An Act Concerning Access to Genealogical Records and the Validation of Certain
Marriages,” updating Sections 7-41a, 7-51 and 7-51a of the General Statutes.
This act makes all marriage and death records – and all birth records more than
100 years old – open to everyone. That is, all genealogical researchers may
receive certified copies of all marriage and death records and of all birth
records at least 100 years old.
Access to birth records less than 100 years old is somewhat restricted. Only the people listed in the record, certain relatives, municipal employees, attorneys, and members of certain genealogical societies may receive certified copies of birth records less than 100 years old. Those relatives authorized to receive copies are a child, spouse, parent or guardian. Grandparents are also authorized to receive copies of the birth records of minors only.
Connecticut Statutes, however, recognize the valid concerns of genealogical researchers. Members of genealogical societies which are legally incorporated or authorized to do business in Connecticut are also permitted to access, copy, or receive certified copies of vital records. Although none have taken advantage, should a genealogical society incorporated in another state register with Connecticut’s Secretary of State to do business within Connecticut subject to Connecticut laws, its members would also be eligible to access recent birth records.
In return for this right of access, most genealogical societies in Connecticut require members to sign pledge a pledge that they will use the records they access ethically and legally. Each society reserves the right to rescind membership should problems occur with individual researchers. It is accurate to say that no Connecticut researcher’s briefcase is complete without a card for membership in one of these societies. Indeed, many town clerks will request your card and note its number on a sign-in log.
Ten genealogical and historical / genealogical societies are now incorporated within Connecticut (although one is inactive), thereby providing records access for their members. As of June 1999, those societies are:
The Connecticut State Library
keeps a list called Genealogical
Societies Incorporated or Authorized to do Business or Conduct Affairs in
Connecticut. The list includes addresses, telephone numbers, and web
links to these societies.
Where Records are Recorded
Vital statistics have always been registered at the town level in Connecticut. At no time were births, marriages, or deaths ever registered or stored at the county level. Since 1897, it has also been the law that copies of these records be sent to the state.
In 2000 and for the next few years, however, the state’s vital records office is closed to researchers while the records are being microfilmed.
The only records kept at the county level to be considered within the framework of vital statistics are superior court records of divorce. Copies of decrees can be obtained from the court clerks. Their addresses are listed at Connecticut Counties.
Some divorce records have been abstracted and published by Grace Knox and Barbara Ferris in two volumes. The books are available at NEHGS, Connecticut State Library [CSL], Connecticut Historical Society [CHS], and through most genealogical libraries:
What Indexes Are Available
Because you must look for vital records at the town level, identifying in which town the record was generated becomes quite important. There are several indexes and approaches you can use to locate the records you need.
Note that this location may not always be the town in which the person was residing. For example, the town of Roxbury, Connecticut, is quite small and has no hospital. Roxbury residents thus have a tendency to experience birth and death at the nearest hospital, which is in New Milford, Connecticut.
Birth records are copied to the towns of residence of the parents. This is not the case with deaths and marriages. Fortunately, there are other avenues to discover the location of a death. These avenues include:
Other Avenues to Discover the Location of a Death
The Barbour slip index is statewide, but local index books have also been compiled for individual towns. Many genealogical lineage societies accept printouts or photocopies of the Barbour slip index or town index books as readily as certified birth records. The Barbour index is now the subject of an ongoing publication effort by Lorraine Cook White through the Genealogical Publishing Company. So far 18 multi-town volumes have been published in alphabetic order (through Hebron).
A Note on the Barbour Index: It was compiled largely from transcriptions of local vital records and never compared against the original town record books. In some towns, such as Newtown, this has resulted in poor or missing records. Other towns, such as Guilford, did not have all records available at the time of transcription. Guilford’s first book of vital records is not included in the Barbour index. For early Guilford events, please check volumes 15, 16, and 17 of TAG.
When using the Connecticut Death Index at Ancestry. com, please be aware that record sorting is not perfect by either date or name. For example, my grandmother Adelaide Mathews died 10 January 1978, and my grandfather William Mathews died 28 January 1981, both in New Milford Hospital. As their granddaughter, I have copies from the state vital records office of both death records. A search on Ancestry. com for Adelaide’s death did not yield a record in the state index. The answers based on “Mathews” were rudely sorted by year, but 1980 and 1981 were filed at the end of 1987, so only at the end of the list did I find William’s death. Only a completely thorough search will yield results here.
To search further for Adelaide Mathews, I used the Social Security Death Indexes at Family Tree and at Ancestry. com. Both supplied her date of death, and showed her place of residence as Roxbury. Only one, that at Family Tree, supplied the last place a payment was sent, which was New Milford. This element of information would have led me to the death record’s location in that town.
How to Order Vital Records
Vital records cost $5 whether birth, marriage, or death. [The one exception to this rule is that birth records cost $15 when ordered from the state vital records office. These records, however, are not accessible at this time.] Once you know the location of the event, you need both an application form and an address. To obtain an application form, try one of these sources:
When you write for a birth record less than 100 years old be sure to include a photocopy of your driver’s license to prove you are at least 18 years old and either (1) a photocopy of your membership card in a genealogy society organized in Connecticut or (2) a statement that you are a close relative of the person in the birth certificate. To obtain the address of the town clerk or city registrar, try one of these approaches:
Researchers with ancestors in Connecticut are lucky. Vital records have been kept since earliest times and many are still extant. A search for a birth, marriage, or death record in Connecticut will often be successful.
Connecticut’s vital records access law permits genealogical researchers to see and copy all types of records down to the present day. Membership in a genealogical society that operates under Connecticut laws is a requirement in particular for access to births less than 100 years old.
The closure of the state’s central office for vital statistics has made the search more difficult. Without the central repository, the researcher must know the town in which the record was generated. Fortunately for births, the records are copied to the town of residence of the parents. In the case of deaths, there is an index online for the years 1949-1996 (membership in Ancestry is required to access it). The Hale index to cemetery inscriptions and newspaper marriage and death notices to 1936 and the Social Security Death Index (covering ca. 1956 to the present) serve as alternate sources of information.
Connecticut remains by far my favorite state for research. Massive efforts by Lucius Barbour and Charles Hale produced indexes to vital records to 1850 and headstone inscriptions to 1936. The scholarship of other genealogists has produced town-wide genealogies of the highest caliber. In my next column, I’ll discuss the books that should be on every Connecticut researcher’s bookshelf.
Copyright © 2000, New England Historic Genealogical Society