lost government issued documents

Using Birth & Death Certificates to Create a Family Tree

Finding out family history can lead to very exciting discoveries. Perhaps you are a descendant of a founding father, famous artist, or will find long lost family members. No matter what you are looking for in your family’s lineage, you will need to have access to both birth and death certificates to help complete a family tree. While gaining access to vital records is easy in today’s day and age, it may not be so easy to find records of your families past without some research.

Vital records as formal certificates did not become common until later in America’s history. Birth certificates were standardized in the late 1930’s. Prior to the standard birth certificate, it was common for the practicing religion to keep documentation of births and deaths. Once you know where to start, using birth and death certificates to create your family tree can help you follow maiden names or name changes throughout your family line. Next, you can start unlocking information that can be passed down to your children, down to their children, and throughout the family for years to come. Here are some helpful steps on how you can start creating a family tree with your vital records.

  • Start by asking living family members for family information. You should start with your oldest living relative to get information as far back as possible. Welcome the stories they tell, you never know which ones may prove to be helpful in your search!
  • Once you have an idea of your family story, start by going backwards. This may sound strange but if you can start with your personal history, then your parents, and then their parents, you will get a good deal of information to start a family tree.
  • Research birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates for family members who lived long before you. Remember that it wasn’t common to use a government recorded birth certificate in the United States prior to the 1900’s. You can look for information in both religious records such as The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints Family History Centers online resource or Census Records for helpful genealogy records. You can search through census records online by doing a search, in person in Washington DC, or at your local library.
  • While handwriting family information down may seem helpful, it is recommended that you start a family map or chart that can be saved on your computer. A digital copy can easily be shared to other family members so they can help add information and can also help keep you organized.

Researching family history is fun and can help bring family together. If you need help obtaining vital records during your search, you can visit VitalChek. We are a leading vital records provider and make obtaining your personal records simple.


  1. Agtadeceré me remitan informacion Para solicitar Acta de defunción de mi hermano sucedido en Austin- Texas en Julio 27 de 2015
    Yo resido en Perú y necesito obtener acta de Defuncion de mi hermano para tramites legales, por este motivo les agradeceré me envien los requisitos necesario para tramitar el acta desde Peru y les remitiré la documentación necesaria via correo Postal o Internet.

    Jorge Gracia Urrutia Laca

    1. Si Claro que lo asistiremos en el proceso para obtener la acta de defunsion de su hermano.
      Usted nos puede contactar a este numero 1-800-255-2414 , para empezar el proceso de una orden
      ~ Nancy Q.

  2. Corrección mis nombres y apellidos son

    Jorge Garcia Urrutia Laca

    1. Si Claro que lo asistiremos en el proceso para obtener la acta de defunsion de su hermano.
      Usted nos puede contactar a este numero 1-800-255-2414 , para empezar el proceso de una orden
      ~Nancy Q.

  3. I purchased this service today from Vitalchek and was told that legally a descendant cannot purchase the vital records of ancestors that have been dead for over 75 years unless a grandchild is still living. Then the grandchild can (but not a great grandchild, etc.) They kept my fee and the customer service person recommended getting an attorney which I thought was strange. The world wide web seems to be a credit card vacuum these days but we live and learn.

    I don’t think that they offer a real service but maybe you can purchase a copy of your own birth certificate. I do not know why they choose to not disclose the facts for people to be able to use their service effectively. Oh, well. “Caveat Emptor” for all things purchased from web businesses.

    1. We’re sorry you experienced an issue with your request for a historical certificate. Each individual vital record agency sets the regulations for who can order death certificates and when these certificates become historical in nature, but generally after about 50-75 years after the event. VitalChek handles orders generally for more current certificates, and not always those historical documents. We apologize again if someone provided you incorrect information, and thank you for letting us know.

  4. Hi, I’m in the process of building a family tree through ancestry.com in the hopes of finding information for all my grandparents before they pass. My grandfather had four siblings that died as infants, and so far I have only been able to find one death certificate despite finding all the grave sites. I did notice afterwards that his father, my great-grandfather, was not actually given a birth certificate until a month after he appeared on the death certificate (specifically the baby died in February and his delayed birth certificate was made in March of the same year based on the records in the family bible and his father’s affidavit). All three of the other infants died 10+ years before this one, so he did not have a birth certificate at the time of those deaths. I’m wondering if my great- grandparents would have been able to get death certificates for the babies that died earlier without him having a birth certificate or if one wouldn’t exist because there was no record of their father at the time of their deaths and if he was possibly made to get a delayed birth certificate after appearing on the last baby’s death certificate. If you could answer that for me, I would greatly appreciate it, and I hope I’ve made this easy enough to understand. Thank you so much.

    1. Hello Gabriella and thank you for your questions.

      The best place to start for finding out if a certificate would have been created and who would’ve been able to obtain them would be the genealogy department within the state where the birth or/and death took place. If you need the contact information for a specific location we can assist you in looking this up. We will just need to know where the event (death/birth) took place.
      Thank you,
      Nichole H.

  5. I looked online at the New York State Department of Health page regarding requesting death certificates for genealogy purposes:


    There it indicates that a direct line descendant can order said record (ie. great-great-grandchild). However, this does not appear to be an option on the VitalChek website. Can I still order said record through you via telephone versus the online ordering?

    Rick Z

    1. Hello Rick. Thanks for your question. Please email us at vitals.research@vitalchek.com and we’d be happy to assist you

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