Lately I have been doing research in Virginia for one of our clients at work. I have come across a very interesting situation with some vital records. I decided to write a blog post about it, anticipating that someone may read it, know what I am talking about and possibly be able to help me. I have made it a personal goal of mine to figure out what has happened to these vital records because no one seems to know where they are.
Virginia Vital Records
Virginia is one of the rare states that started keeping birth and death records in the mid-1800s. In 1853 each county and independent city in Virginia was required to keep birth and death records. During the Civil War many counties and independent cities did not keep these records, so that should be kept in mind when researching during the Civil War. Registration of birth and death records continued until 1896. On 14 June 1912 statewide registration of vital records began.
During the time between 1896 and 14 June 1912 some independent cities still kept birth and death records, independently of the state laws. According to Kimberly Powell, of the About.com genealogy blog, the only cities that kept birth and death records between 1896 and 14 June 1912 were Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond.
Newport News, Virginia
Newport News was once part of Warwick County. In 1896 Newport became incorporated as an independent city. In 1952 the county of Warwick was incorporated as the City of Warwick. In 1958 the cities of Warwick and Newport News voted to consolidate the two cities and take upon the more well-known name of Newport News.
Vital Records in Newport News
One of the client's ancestors died in 1902 in Newport News, Virginia. The client provided a transcript of his obituary, but since this case is for a lineage society, I wanted to do my best to obtain any and all vital records possible - especially since I know the lineage society would require the records, if available. I also wanted to obtain a copy of the newspaper obituary, not just a transcription of the record.
I went online to find the Newport News Public Library website. Unless the newspaper has been digitized and put online, I have found that going to the city/county public library is the next best thing when looking for newspaper articles/obituaries. As I was looking for information regarding the library's newspaper holdings, and if I could obtain a copy of his obituary from the library, I found some information about vital records in Newport News.
This website is actually where I first learned that Newport News kept vital records between 1896 and 1912, independently of state laws. The page states that if you want records from Warwick County and Newport News between that time period to contact the Newport News Health Department. The address and phone number was provided.
I called the health department and asked the lady how I could obtain this record. She told me that they do not have those records between that time period. After talking with her for several minutes and being transferred to another lady, I was told that those records do exist, however, the health department in Newport News only holds records for five years and then they are transferred to the State Department of Health in Richmond, Virginia.
Next, I called the State Department of Health. The customer service representative told me that the health department does not have any records between 1896 and 1912. I told her that the Newport News Department of Health told me that they transferred those records to the state. I was assured by the employee at the state that they do not have those records.
I called Newport News again. I talked again with the same lady as before. I told her what the state health department told me. She reassured me that Newport News does not have those records anymore. She told me that she worked at the Newport News Department of Health when those records were requested by the state and transferred about 15 years ago.
I ended up going back and forth between each agency and they each told me opposing things. After all of this I am beginning to wonder about these records. Do they exist? If they exist, where are they? Why does no one know where these records are?
I am on a quest. This is so much more than just client research. I am intrigued as to the existence of these records. I have contacted a few people and I will not stop until I can find a solid answer.
A.C. Ivory is a professional genealogist, blogger, product manager, ux designer, computer geek, and traveler.
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