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.
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.
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.
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
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:
- Ã¿Â¿Â¿CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE-verified to be Chronic Obstructive
MIXED ALZHEIMER'S ├â┬┐├é┬┐├â┬┐├é┬┐├â├é┬┐├â┬┐├é┬┐┐├é┬┐├â┬┐├é┬┐VASCULAR 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.
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
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’
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.