Wow! I had no idea West Virginia had such a great online vital record collection. I found out thanks to this article in the Charleston Daily Mail.
What am I going on about? I’m talking about the West Virginia Vital Research Records, available at http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_select.aspx. Not only does this site have vital record lookup, it also has online images of vital records.
At the moment, birth, marriage and death records are available. All the birth records I saw were listings on a registry, not in certificate form, and are available from 1853 through 1908 because of privacy laws. Also because of privacy laws, the death certificates from the entire state are available for the years 1917 through 1958. (Batches of records will be added every year as the privacy restrictions expire.) Marriage certificates look like they’re available through roughly the 1970s. Each vital record type has varying availability depending on county and time; the search page for each record type has a list of counties and year spans available.
I searched birth records for smith and got 14,789 records presented in a simple table that shows name, birth date, and county, with a link to the vital record image. (The site warns that “there may be multiple records on each image.”) The first result is for an Amanda J. Smith, born May 12, 1853. Here she is:
The registries do contain much of the same information that a birth certificate would contain, like parent’s name and occupation, but they can be a bit hard to read. And the WV Vital Research Records site does not have a image viewer for panning, zooming, etc. When you get the image, you get the image. I recommend downloading it and opening it in a graphics program so you can scale it, move it around, etc.
A death record search for smith found 26864 records. In this case some of the early records I looked at were indeed registries, but the later ones (much later) were death certificates. And in the case of 1945, it looked like a bound book of abbreviated death certificates — the same information, just several names to a page. (And they were TYPED. It was so lovely. Anybody who’s done genealogy research and tried to interpret handwriting will appreciate the wonderfulness of typed vital records.)
I did notice in the record summary pages that there wasn’t as much information about the birth/death/marriage as there was on the record itself. So don’t look at the summary and think you’re seeing everything; download the images.
The marriage records let you search by bride or groom last name. Early data is contained in a registry, while later data is in certificate form and typed. This is the largest span of data — the search form lets you specify search dates from 1780 to 1971, though what’s actually available varies by county.
If you’re into genealogy and you have folks in West Virginia, do a happy dance! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your ancestors’ county was one that has been digitized and made available.