|The symbols of vital records. Vital Records Collage. users Jane41 and DiltsGD, 30 Sep 2010. Digital image. FamilySearch wiki. http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/File:Vital_Records_Collage.JPG|
Every state and territory in the United States has its own unique history and timespan of generating vital records and making them available. It is necessary to contact the particular state or territory when you want vital records that are not already available online (although more and more do become available through free and fee sites). There is no U.S. Federal department that has centralized these vital records, with the exception of records taken through an embassy or consulate for Americans living abroad.
The Division of Vital Statistics, part of the CDC/National Center for Health Statistics, maintains an easy to use index of states and territories called Where to Write for Vital Records that gives the basic facts on how much each vital record type costs, where to contact for more info, time range of available records, and which entity that holds/generates the records. The pages are updated as needed.
The FamilySearch.org wiki article United States Vital Records goes a step farther, with more background information on each state,why and when records were created, and their availability. In fact, FamilySearch.org's Creation of Records is a nice summary on why it is important to understand how and why a record is created in the first place, and how it can improve your research.
Ancestry.com has a list of states and territories in their U.S. Birth, Marriage, and Death Records wiki article, based on Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. This link is best used if you have a subscription to Ancestry, though, as it links to many of Ancestry's vital records databases, although the information from the Red Book is very helpful in general for understanding the following records and resources across the U.S.:
Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Archives, Libraries, and Societies
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