May 2019 Vital Records News

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Vital Records News

May 2019

Preserving Minnesota’s Vital Records

Vital Records stacks at MNHS

Vital records held by Minnesota’s local governments are especially unique. Minnesota counties have recorded and preserved birth and death records since 1870, and marriage records since the organization of each county to the present. The state’s townships and municipalities recorded births and deaths from 1870 to 1953, when state law was changed, eliminating their requirement to register births and deaths. With 87 counties, nearly 1,800 townships and over 800 municipalities recording vital information, that’s a lot of records! 

Meanwhile, it was in the early 1900s that the Minnesota Health Department started to record births (1900) and deaths (1908). More information about the Minnesota Department of Health /Office of Vital Records is available at Office of Vital Records.

More and more vital record information may be found online, but Minnesota’s local governments preserve this information in its original form, on microfilm, and increasingly in digital format. Birth, death, marriage and divorce records are permanent records that have ongoing historical and legal value. This information is valuable during the lifetime of the people it is about, as well as for their descendants, and others for various types of research. 

Birth, death and marriage records are often created and preserved by Minnesota’s county recorders or vital records offices. Divorce cases are civil cases, and are a record of the counties’ district courts. In accordance with state law, access to a birth record may be restricted for up to 100 years if the birth was a nonmarital birth or if an adoption occurred. Death and marriage records are unrestricted records. The same is true for divorce records unless the court has sealed the file, or there was non-disclosure settlement as part of the divorce judgment.

Vital records can be at risk because of their age, document type, and storage conditions. Paper records must be handled with care, and may contain document types such as oversize bound volumes or fragile paper documents that may be difficult to store and use. Where records are stored must be seriously considered - avoid storage rooms where the humidity and temperature can wildly fluctuate. A temperature of 65 degrees and 50% relative humidity is recommended for preserving paper records. Storing and preserving microfilmed and digitized records have different standards and requirements; State Archives staff can provide advice. If counties have digitized or imaged old paper vital records or ledgers, State Archives staff can work with county offices to transfer custody of those historical records to the Minnesota Historical Society.

For decades, the State Archives of the Minnesota Historical Society has collected vital records. These records are preserved in their original form, on microfilm, and in digital form. The State Archives continues to receive township and municipal birth and death records, and Minnesota’s district courts have routinely transferred their civil case files (which include divorce cases) that pre-date 1950. Find more information about the State Archives collection, resources and staff contacts at Minnesota State Archives.

Traditionally, Minnesota counties have maintained their birth, death and marriage records, but the records are eligible for transfer to the State Archives. State law requiring restricted access to nonmarital birth and adoption records is enforced by the State Archives. More information about vital records preserved in the State Archives is detailed in the Minnesota Historical Society Library’s research guide at Vital Records: Marriage, Birth, & Death: Overview.

Questions or comments?  Contact Charles Rodgers, Minnesota State Archives at; telephone 651.259.3266.

OVR Help Desk responds within an hour

To improve customer support, the Office of Vital Records (OVR) invested in a call center tool in early March. The software helps distribute calls to the five-person team, prioritize customer needs, and track outcomes.

Since implementation two months ago, the Help Desk:

  • Answered 6,869 calls (on track for more than 41,000 calls a year!)
  • Spent an average of 3:04 minutes with each customer (5:38 for Spanish language calls)
  • Assisted more public than partners - 76% of the calls were from customers asking about getting certificates and documents
  • Served partners and professionals with needs related to MR&C (34%), provided user support (11%), local issuance support (7%), and other callers with an assortment of topics

Callers have to “press a number” before being routed to Help Desk personnel. “Pressing a number” alerts Help Desk personnel to the type of call – Spanish language speaker, member of the public, MR&C user, vital records office, etc.

OVR continues to monitor data about the numbers of calls, caller types, call length, and the kinds of questions callers ask in order to allocate resources to meet customer service needs.

Local issuance training June 10, 2019

Vital records professionals have an opportunity to participate in local issuance training offered by the Minnesota Department of Health, Office of Vital Records (OVR). The session is on Monday, June 10, 2019, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Madden’s Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota, in collaboration with the Minnesota County Recorders Association (MCRA) Summer Conference.

The Vitals Session includes:

  • Archival preservation and records transfer—Charles Rodgers from the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) will provide a general overview of historical records, including marriage and divorce records, the relationship between MNHS and the Office of Vital Records, information on transferring records, and how county vital records offices can help customers connect with historical records through MNHS.
  • Investigations and use of certifications—Angela Newton from the Minneapolis Passport Agency will talk about how certificate information is used by Passport Agencies, how the information is verified, and expectations for vital records professionals.
  • Preventing fraud and security risks—A subject-matter-expert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will discuss fraud and security, investigations, what law enforcement needs on identification documents and tips for interacting with sovereign citizens, including what and when to report to the FBI, and what the FBI does with the reported information.
  • Updates from the Office of Vital Records.

If you want to attend the MCRA Summer Conference and the MCRA Vitals Session, you must register for both.

  1. Register with MCRA and pay the registration fee at Summer Conference News and Updates and,
  2. Register with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Learning Center.

To register for the MCRA Vitals Session only, go to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Learning Center website (link is above). There is no fee to attend just the Vitals Session.

For registration instructions, see this GovDelivery email:  Vitals Session at Minnesota County Recorders Association Summer Conference.

Authorized representative


Over the years, as the Office of Vital Records (OVR) has reviewed the Vital Records Act in Minnesota Statutes, our interpretation or understanding of the law has changed.

In December 2018, OVR updated the “authorized representative” lines on the certified birth (line 19) and death certificate (line 17) applications. See the applications on the County Vital Records Office Forms page.

When a person requests a certificate using “authorized representative” as the tangible interest:

  1. The authorized representative must complete the application as the requester.
  2. The authorized representative must have a signed statement from the person who has tangible interest (the signer). The statement must include:
    • Information to identify the vital record (example: name of subject).
    • The signer’s relationship to the subject of the record (the tangible interest of the person authorizing someone else).
    • Language that indicates that the signer has given permission (authorization) for the issuance of the certificate to someone else (the authorized representative).
    • The name of the person who is the authorized representative. (The name should match the ID that the authorized representative uses when making the request).
    • The signature of the person who has tangible interest.

Two important notes:

Minnesota Statutes, section 144.225, subdivision 7, paragraph (a), clause 5 does not require a notarized signature.

Authorized representatives may not obtain confidential birth records.

See the Tangible Interest Job Aid for county vital records offices on the Reference Information webpage for additional tangible interest guidance.

NCHS fetal death public use files

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) re-released 2016 and 2017 fetal death public use files to include cause of death information. National information on fetal cause of death are now available for 2014 - 2017.

See the NCHS Vital Statistics Online Data Portal.

Funeral directors encouraged to respond to national survey

The National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH), with the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks input from funeral directors to identify and better understand how race, ethnicity, and tribal affiliation are recorded on death certificates. You can help inform this critical work by answering a few short questions. Please share your experiences and provide feedback by responding to NCUIH’s Questions...on the Practice of Completing Death Certificates survey before May 30.

If you have questions, please contact Andrew Kalweit, NCUIH Research Associate at email

Contact the Office of Vital Records