I've made a brief survey of state vital records laws and here present some of the "best" states in terms of "openness." These determinations are based on several factors: whether law provides that vital records are "open" or "public"; whether reasonable "confidential periods" are imposed; whether reasonable fees are required; whether procedures for obtaining records are uncomplicated, and whether in my sole judgment, the state is more user-friendly than not when allowing access to vital records.
A note about some terms used by states to describe their records policies: some states say that they are "open" or "public" records states, while others say they are "closed" records states. Do not put too much emphasis on these self-descriptions. The fact is that states use these terms without much consideration. As a result, some so-called "open" records states may have, in practice, more restrictive access than so-called "closed" records states.
In my view, a confidentiality period longer than fifty years for death records or seventy-five years for birth records is unreasonable. And any confidentiality period for ordinary marriage records is unreasonable.
Now, some of the best states for access to vital records:
- Arizona: supposedly a "closed" records state. Allows public access to non-certified copies of birth records after 75 years, death recotds after 50 years. What else makes Arizona great: the Arizona Dpeartment of Health Services has placed birth and death records online.
- Illinois: Uncertified birth records after 1916 available after 75 years; uncertified death records after 20 years. What else make Illinois great: very good website; no images but easy to search.
- Missouri: Birth records seem to be highly restricted, but the Show-Me state makes this list because death records are available after fifty years and the Missouri State Archives has a great website of death certificates with PDF versions of the certificates. Jackson County [Kansas City area] has an excellent website with images of marriage licenses.
- Texas: Birth records available to public after 75 years; death records after 25 years. What else makes Texas great: an easy-to-use online order system for vital records.
- Wisconsin: Uncertified copies of birth and death records are available to anyone who applies. Caveat: No birth record is public concerning (1) a child born to unmarried parents when paternity has not been established, or (2) a child born to unmarried parents when paternity was established by court order.