November 2015 Vital Records News

November 2015

Vital Records News

State Archives—a record repository for perpetuity

Much of our effort and the work we do in vital records is on vital events as they happen. Although our focus is frequently on recent events and real-time data, access to older, “historic” records is important. Business needs and demand exist for older, paper records about the millions of births, deaths, and fetal deaths that have occurred in Minnesota.

Technology provides us wonderful tools for storing data, including images of historic vital records, in safe, secure, and mostly electronic options. Still, the actual ledgers and paper documents used a century or decades ago, have value. Saving paper is exactly what the State Archives specializes in and why the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is an important partner in the system of vital records.

The State Archives Department at MNHS identifies, collects, and preserves the historically valuable records of almost 4,000 units of state and local government in Minnesota. These records, generated from the territorial period to the present day, document the fundamental events and aspects of our lives, both routine and extraordinary. Records at the State Archives include birth certificates (dated 1900-2001) and death certificates (dated 1908-1997).

These government records are stored in St. Paul in an air filtered, temperature and humidity controlled, extremely well organized, secure site. Paper records are indexed and their exact location is known in the more than 90,000 boxes that sit on 20-shelf high racks in rows—some only accessible by fork-lift. Retrieval of a box containing a specific document from within the storage area - takes only minutes for MNHS staff. However, the birth records have been digitally imaged, and the death records have been microfilmed. There is no public access to the originals.

In late October, staff from the Office of Vital Records were given a guided behind-the- scenes tour at MNHS by Minnesota State Archivist Shawn Rounds, Anjanette Schussler, Government Records Assistant, and Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist. These extremely knowledgeable and helpful individuals oriented OVR staff and explained the careful management of records. They are protective custodians of Minnesota’s historic records and they have a unique role in assuring the public’s access to these documents. OVR’s tour also included the Gale Family Library at the History Center, where genealogists, researchers, novelists and the public can view historic records and order non-certified copies for immediate issue.

Record storage at Minnesota Historical Society

State Archivist Shawn Rounds leads staff from the Office of Vital Records on a behind- the-scenes tour at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Vital Statistics for Cause of Death in Minnesota 1887-1891—top three causes of death were: Tuberculosis of the Lungs 1,244, Old Age 1,243, and Diarrhoeal Diseases of Children 1,073.

Graphic of top three causes of death

Vital Records staff often consult MNHS staff when searching for older digitized records, older actual certificates, and when entering, correcting or issuing them in MR&C.  Rounds explains, “We consider the Office of Vital Records to be one of our most important partners in government. Vital records are fundamental to the history of our state, so we work closely with OVR staff to ensure that records are properly saved, searchable, and accessible.”

When records are transferred to the State Archives, they lose their data classification, but MNHS protects private and confidential data until the records become public, for instance with the 100 year restriction on birth records after an adoption. The public has access to non-restricted images, but not to the original paper copies of these records. MNHS refers customers to OVR for certified copies and for information on restrictions and alterations.

Besides storing original paper records, MNHS also has over 12,000 reels of government records microfilm, 70 terabytes of digital records, and many other collections, including artwork, photography, books, newspapers, and three dimensional objects such as those on display in the current exhibit, Suburbia. Records accepted by MNHS must be preserved forever (in perpetuity). According to Rounds, as MNHS runs out of space, they will “start a mass digitization of much of the content” with the focus on digitization being for access – not for preservation. Formats for long term preservation of content will continue to expand, as storage facilities have expanded from salt mines and caves such as in Kansas and Pennsylvania, to buildings with microfilm and digitization.

For more information about the State Archives and the Minnesota History Center, visit MNHS online.

Review death records before ordering certificates—check Cause of Death information

Medical certifiers such as physicians, medical examiners, and coroners register information about the cause and manner of death for more than 41,500 decedents in Minnesota every year. Most of these records get filed in the electronic vital record system (MR&C) timely and routinely. In fact, medical certifiers register the health information on 51 percent of the records within three days of the fact of death being registered.

As part of its effort to improve quality, the Office of Vital Records (OVR) examines the death records that are filed the previous day. Staff review the cause and manner of death before OVR sends the records to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics for ICD-10 Coding (International Classification of Disease, 10th Revision).

Behind the scenes, OVR staff correct obvious spelling errors and remove unnecessary punctuation from Cause of death – Parts I and II in MR&C. This review assures that more families receive death certificates without misspelled causes of death and more records can be quickly and accurately assigned ICD-10 codes.

During these reviews, OVR identified a significant problem that can result from copying and pasting text from one application such as Microsoft Word into MR&C or using dragon transcription software. When a medical certifier or staff assistant does this, unique and odd characters may appear in the cause of death fields; these are examples that were recently identified:

  • ÿ¿¿CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE-verified to be Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • MIXED ALZHEIMER'S âéâéâéâé┐┐éâéVASCULAR DEMENTIA-verified to be Mixed Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia.


OVR encourages medical certifiers and their staff assistants to review their entries in MR&C. Proof read the cause of death information for accuracy. Make necessary edits before leaving the record.  Likewise, OVR cautions funeral establishments to review the entire death record and to ask informants to review data they provide before placing orders for certificates.

Separating the real unknowns from barriers to getting complete data

As part of its contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Minnesota along with other jurisdictions across the United States, sends vital records data stripped of identifying information to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). This de-identified data is used for statistics and a variety of health research efforts, disease surveillance, and assessing community health status.

NCHS reviews the data and provides feedback to the reporting jurisdictions about data item responses that vary significantly from the U.S. average and what is expected to be reported for a particular data item. OVR takes the NCHS feedback and verifies the accuracy with the providers of the original information and reports back to NCHS. Differences between what is expected and reported may indicate a growing trend or an area where provider education or correction is needed.

Data reported as ‘unknown’ on records is always under review. ‘Unknown’ may be reported when the information for the data item is not available at the time the vital event is being registered and the record is being entered. Or data may be reported as unknown because an informant did not know or refused to provide the information.

If information becomes available after a vital record is created, the record should be updated and the unknown data item corrected.

Professionals who register vital events should encourage informants to provide data if they know it. We need to work together to dispel misperceptions and misunderstandings. It is important to explain the value and use of the data being collected and encourage parents of newborns and informants for decedents to provide answers so that we record complete and accurate data. Worksheets are data collection tools that alone don’t include the background information and compelling reasons for data collection. By explaining why a question is being asked or why the data is being collected, you may make the difference between an unknown answer and a definitive answer.

For example, by collecting race and education information, we help identify health inequities. Other vital records information may influence funding for services and programs in a community. Understanding why we ask something and explaining how information is used includes people in the process and allows them the opportunity to influence public health and to benefit from their contribution.

Record completion tips

Use MR&C’s reports and work queues located under the Tasks menu to check for records pending completion or that are in an ‘unfinished’ status.

Birth and Fetal Death: Both the Chronological Birth Log Report and Chronological Fetal Death Log Report may help determine if all birth records and fetal death reports are filed.  Comparing these reports with hospital logs could help to find missing or incomplete records. 

Death:  Comparing the Chronological death log report with your files may help determine if all death records are filed at a funeral home. The Pending cause of death-funeral homes work queue identifies records needing cause of death. If the record has not been filed after the first contact with the medical certifier, follow-up by phone to encourage completion or to find another medical certifier who will provide the cause of death. Contacting clinic managers, risk managers, the records department or the medical director at a facility may also help bring a death record to completion.

As partners in registration of vital records, your role in collecting and providing vital record information is crucial. The data you provide informs public health and improves lives both locally and nationally. Thank you for the important work you do.

Did you know that Minnesota has Birth and Death Certificates Exclusively for Veterans?

November is a month to recognize those who have served our country. It is a great time to thank our U.S. Troops and Veterans for their service, dedication and commitment to our country. Minnesota Statute 197.63 VITAL RECORDS, CERTIFIED COPIES allows for birth and death certificates to be issued without a charge for veterans.

This law allows a veteran, the surviving spouse or next of kin of a veteran, service officers of a veteran’s organization chartered by the Congress of the United States, or the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive no-cost certificates to be used for veterans’ related services and benefits.

 VA certificates have limited use and no restrictions on the number of certificates that can be requested. Those who meet the tangible interest requirement can request a VA birth or death certificate from any of Minnesota’s 110 issuance offices.  Last year 8,654 VA death certificates were issued in Minnesota.


November 15-21: Governor Dayton has proclaimed November 15-21 as “Fraud Awareness and Prevention Week in the State of Minnesota.” As part of Minnesota's vital records system, you have a role and responsibility in preventing fraud when registering events and issuing certificates, and in securing data in and outside of the MR&C System.

November 24: THE FIVE R'S OF DEATH DOCUMENTATION: Rules, Requirements, and Resources for Recording and Registering Minnesota Deaths. Professional development for funeral directors and funeral establishment staff.

December 3: OVR guest speaker at University of Minnesota Mortuary Science Student Program.

December 8: Rochester area meeting for funeral directors. For more information, please contact Shaun G. Heath, Anatomy Assistant / Bequest Program Coordinator. Mayo
Department of Anatomy
Office: (507) 284-2693
Pager: (507) 293-5118

OVR seeking experienced professionals to join the state team

The Office of Vital Records will be adding new staff soon. Watch for future postings. OVR will be hiring a Field Representative to help train users of the MR&C System, educate audiences, and build awareness of the statewide vital records system. Someone with vital records knowledge and experience is preferred. OVR will also be hiring a help-desk team to handle all incoming communications and inquiries. These new help desk positions will provide the first point of customer contact and will allow OVR to centralize the response to incoming phone lines and emails with a highly qualified and informed help desk team. Three positions are estimated to be needed to provide sufficient resources to handle the number of calls and other incoming communications at OVR.


State Registrar
Molly Mulcahy Crawford

Deputy State Registrar
Heidi Granlund

Issuance Unit Supervisor and Anti-Fraud Coordinator
Brenda Shinaul

Registration & Amendments Supervisor
Krista Bauer

Adoptions & Birth Amendments
Birth Certificates
Death Amendments
Death Certificates
Local Issuance Help
MR&C Help