West Virginians' vital records available online

December 17, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Internet users everywhere can now view Hank Williams' death certificate, Gov. Joe Manchin's marriage certificate or great-grandpa's birth certificate through an upgraded online database of more than 5.7 million vital records in West Virginia, officials said Thursday.

Unlike most states that provide only lists or indices of vital records online, West Virginia's database also includes images of the original files, said Joe Geiger, director of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History's Archives and History Section.

West Virginia's searchable database also is free.

State officials started the online service four years ago by entering records from Calhoun, Gilmer, Hardy, Harrison, Mineral and Pendleton counties, said state archivist Debra Basham. Just recently, it completed entering data from all 55 counties and upgraded its server to increase by three times the speed with which users can access and download information.

Records can be searched by name, date or county.


Basham said most of the millions of hits to the Web site each month are from people using the database to research family genealogy. But others can use it to search for such details as the cause of death listed on the country music legend's 1953 death certificate in Fayette County (acute ventricular dilatation and acute cerebral edema caused by acute alcoholism) or the governor's age when he married Gayle Heather Conelly in 1967 (19).

In accordance with federal privacy laws, public access to death certificates is restricted for 50 years and birth certificates for 100 years.

There are other gaps in the records, too, Basham said. Records from the Civil War years are not available nor are records lost in a 1921 fire at the Lincoln County Courthouse and a 1977 flood in Mingo County.

Basham said some birth and death records from as early as 1853 are available, but better records exist after 1917 when the West Virginia Department of Health Vital Registration began collecting county records.

Marriage records are available from the inception of each county, the earliest of which dates to 1780.

New records that become part of the public domain each year are automatically added Jan. 1.

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