Table of Contents

  1. How do I obtain a copy of my ancestor's birth (death or marriage) record?
  2. What is the difference between a certificate and a record?
  3. Where else can I find my ancestor's birth (death or marriage) record?
  4. Why doesn't my ancestor appear in the census? I'm sure he was a resident of the county.
  5. Why is my ancestor's marriage recorded in a county other than the one in which he resided?
  6. Are there other records about my ancestors?
  7. I'm not sure which county my ancestor was born in!
  8. Why did our ancestors move around so much?

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I obtain a copy of my ancestor's birth (death or marriage) record?

(Remember, birth and death records are only available in WV after 1853). Begin by sending a request for a copy of the RECORD to the Clerk of Courts of the county in which your ancestor was born. Provide your ancestor's name, date of birth and parents' names (if known) as well as your return address and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Include a check or money order in the amount of $5.

If the Clerk returns your check and your request unfulfilled, prepare a second a request following the instructions above and mail it to the WV State Archives. Be sure to specify the county in which your ancestor was born and the date of birth.

Click here for more information on addresses.

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What is the difference between a certificate and a record?

A certificate, whether for birth, death or marriage, is a document typed, signed and notarized by the present Clerk upon receipt of your request. It gives your ancestor's name, date of birth/death/marriage, parents' names (if provided) and the Book and Page number wherein the original RECORD is recorded. But, if what you want is a copy of the original record, you must specifically request just that.

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Where else can I find my ancestor's birth (death or marriage) record?

More than likely, the record you seek is on microfilm at the West Virginia State Archives and/or West Virginia University. Older records were microfilmed by the WPA and are on file at both entities. Because County Courthouses lack the space to store all records from the date of formation, the older records are sometimes destroyed or warehoused at a location inaccessible to the public.

Also, records of births, deaths and marriages that occurred around the time of the Civil War can sometimes be located in Virginia. This is especially true for Fayette County, WV although this will  probably be denied by both West Virginia and Virginia archivists or historians.

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Why doesn't my ancestor appear in the census? I'm sure he was a resident of the county.

Sometimes the census taker was in such a hurry, he avoided wandering back into some of the "hollers" in which our ancestors lived. Often, he took a neighbor's word about the names and ages of the family living on the next farm. Check the Personal Property Tax records of the county for the year of your ancestors' residency and the years preceding and succeeding that time. Tax records were microfilmed by the WPA and are accessible at the West Virginia State Archives and/or WVU.

Also, if your ancestor lived close to the border of an adjacent county, it's possible he's recorded in the census of that county. Census takers often recorded residents as living in one county when they actually lived in another. This is just one reason censuses are unreliable as "documented proof."

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Why is my ancestor's marriage recorded in a county other than the one in which he resided?

Until recently in West Virginia, marriage licenses were obtained in the county in which the Bride or the Bride's father was a resident. The marriage was usually performed and recorded in the county of her residence.

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Are there other records available for my ancestors? Where can I find them?

Probably. Be sure to search land grants, Grantor and Grantee deeds, Wills, Estate appraisements and Fiduciary orders, Court Orders, Personal Property Tax lists and military records. Also, you may want to search these records in surrounding or parent counties, particularly if your ancestor was living in an area that was annexed to form a new county.

Many of these records are available on microfilm from West Virginia University through Interlibrary Loan. Talk to your local librarian about renting these films and any fees that may apply. More about the films available from WVU is available here.

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I'm not sure which county my ancestor was born in!

You should first try to obtain your ancestor's death record. More than likely, his date of birth is provided in that document. If you cannot locate a death record, search the military records for the era in which he lived. (Don't forget that America was involved in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War (1840) between the Revolution and the Civil War and in the Spanish-American War and the Phillipine War between the Civil War and World War I. These records are housed at the National Archives in Washington D. C. and the West Virginia State Archives and often provide a wealth of information about an individual). Once you have narrowed down a date and place of birth, you can request a copy of your ancestor's birth record from the county clerk.

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Why did our ancestors move around so much?

In many cases, it only seems like our ancestors moved about once every ten years. With the increasing population west of the Alleghenies, new counties were formed from "parent" counties to insure equal representation in government. Residents of one county often found themselves and their property residing in the new county. Greenbrier and Monroe counties are one example as well as Nicholas and Fayette counties. Take a look at the petitions to form new counties--you may just find your ancestors' signatures there!

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