Birth, marriage, and death certificates are key documents for tracing family backward from one generation to the previous one. These are referred to as vital records in the U.S. or civil registration documents in many other countries. Churches in Europe were responsible for maintaining records of christenings, marriages, and burials in their ecclesiastical registers. Governments later took responsibility for issuing official documents in the form of birth certificates, marriage licenses and certificates, and death certificates.
Marriage documents were typically generated and recorded earliest by governmental entities, with birth and death certificates following later. The issuance of government-mandated birth certificates began at different times in different places based on legislation passed at different times. In the U.S., each state or territory passed legislation to implement the issuance of birth and death certificates. As a result, the implementation date and format of these documents varies.
Read more in the FamilySearch Research Wiki about these documents, particularly for the country, state, province, county, parish, or other geopolitical topic.
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