About a year ago, I ordered death certificates from New York City through VitalChek. VitalChek is an online service from Lexis/Nexis that has created partnerships with just about every municipality that generates vital certificates. And in many cases, the only way to order certificates online from these municipalities is to order through VitalChek. The alternatives are to order birth, marriage, and death certificates by mail or in person.
In New York City, the Municipal Archives, a division of the Department of Records, holds birth certificates dated prior to 1910, marriage certificates prior to 1930, and death certificates prior to 1949. For $15 per certificate plus a shipping fee, you can order any certificate held. They are part of the public record due to their age.
These are easy to order online from the NYC Municipal Archives genealogical resources. Because my family has so much of its history over the last century and a half in New York City, I’ve been ordering these records for as long as I’ve been doing family history research.
I should point out that this isn’t the least expensive option for ordering these records. The Family History Library of the Church of Latter-Day Saints has these certificates on microfilm, and they can accept orders through an online form, and they can return scans of the certificates through email. This service is free, but there is a long turnaround time. The library also discourages people who live near a Family History Center from using this “free duplication” service.
You can, however, order the microfilm to be delivered to a local Family History Center. You can view the microfilm there and pay a very small fee to print a copy of the certificate you’re looking for. This isn’t free like the email service, and requires a lot of work if you have many certificate to order.
Certificates for New York City vital records more recent than the dates mentioned above must be ordered from the Department of Health (for birth and death certificates) or the Office of the City Clerk (for marriage certificates). This process can be much more complicated. You can order some certificates online through VitalChek. For example, you can order birth certificates, but only if your name appears on the certificate. That means that the certificate would generally need to be your own or your child’s. Otherwise, you need to order by mail or in person. Ordering by mail requires some kind of documentation of your identity and relationship, and the form must be notarized.
For death certificates, when ordering online, you need to be a blood relative, and VitakChek will verify your identity by accessing your credit report via your Social Security number. This is the process I used last year to order death certificates for my great grandparents on my maternal grandmother’s side, Jack (Jacob) Klein and Lillian Herman Klein. The order went though, but I never received anything. I had successfully ordered certificates through VitalChek in the past, but there was no response to these.
Last month, without realizing I had already tried to order Lillian’s death certificate last year, I placed a new order. This attempt was much more successful, and the certificate arrived thirteen days later. The certificate provided me with several new addresses, another confirmation of my second great grandfather’s full name (Samuel Wolf Herman, one f in Wolf, though there is no guarantee this spelling is correct), and, most relevant, her date of death. The date of death I originally listed was two days off.
VitalChek isn’t always consistent. Last year, I tried ordering this same certificate, and I never received a response. By the time I followed up, my order status expired. Although I track my orders — not just from VitalChek but from all sources — in a spreadsheet, I didn’t follow up in time.