Vermont Vital Records: An Overview
In Vermont, statewide vital registration began in 1857, when the General Assembly passed a bill requiring that towns report to the Secretary of State all births, marriages, and deaths occurring in their jurisdiction. Prior to that time, some towns kept such records in order to resolve questions concerning the distribution and inheritance of property. Vital records, particularly death records, gradually became recognized as an important tool in studying the location and spread of epidemics. In 1896, the Legislature transferred responsibility for the vital statistics system to the newly formed Board of Health, the forerunner of the Vermont Department of Health. The Health Department has retained this responsibility to the present day.
Until recently, the Vermont vital records system included six types of vital events: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, fetal deaths, and abortions. In 2000, with the passage of Act 91, the establishment and dissolution of civil unions and reciprocal beneficiaries relationships were added to the list.
When a birth occurs, the physician, midwife, or other birth attendant is required to complete a birth certificate and file it with the town clerk in the town of birth within 10 days. For hospital births, it is usually the medical records staff who complete the birth certificate. The completed birth certificate is recorded and filed in the town where the birth took place, and a certified copy is sent to the Health Department.
Although a physician is responsible for filing the death certificate, the job may be, and often is, delegated to the funeral director. Most of the information needed to complete the death certificate is obtained from the family of the deceased. A physician, however, must complete the cause of death information and sign the death certificate. The funeral director files the completed certificate with the town clerk who sends a certified copy to the Health Department.
Marriage and Civil Unions
When a couple wishes to marry or establish a civil union in Vermont, they provide a town clerk with the information needed to complete the license. The couple takes the license to an officiant who signs and dates it and returns it to the town clerk. The town clerk records and files the certificate, and sends a certified copy to the Health Department.
A reciprocal beneficiaries relationship occurs when two people who are eligible to form such a relationship present a signed, notarized Declaration and Certificate of Establishment of Reciprocal Beneficiaries Relationship to the Health Department and pay a filing fee. Either party can end the relationship by paying a fee and filing a signed, notarized Declaration and Certificate of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiaries Relationship. A reciprocal beneficiaries relationship automatically terminates by law if either party enters into a valid civil union or marriage.
Divorce and Dissolution
A divorce certificate or certificate dissolving a civil union is initiated by a lawyer or other individual handling the divorce or dissolution. The certificate is filed with the court as part of the divorce or dissolution proceedings. The court keeps the certificate until the decree becomes final, usually three months after the court hearing. When the decree is final, the court clerk signs the certificate and sends it to the Health Department for filing.
Fetal Deaths and Abortions
Reports of fetal death and induced termination of pregnancy (abortion) are sent directly to the Health Department by the physician, hospital, or clinic that performs the procedure. By law, these reports are for statistical purposes only, are not public records, and are destroyed after five years.
In addition to receiving copies of vital records from Vermont town clerks, the Health Department also receives copies of certificates of all Vermont resident births and deaths that occur in other states and in Canada. This allows the Department to do statistical analyses of vital events involving Vermont residents even if the birth or death occurred outside of the state. Health Department staff code and enter all vital records received into a computerized database, and send a data file containing some of the information from the records to the National Center for Health Statistics to become part of a national database.