A bureau of vital statistics is a government agency that, at minimum, keeps records of births and deaths within its jurisdiction. Depending on local policy, a bureau of vital statistics may also record and track both marriages and divorces. In addition to serving as a repository for these records, a bureau of vital statistics may also publish birth, death, and marriage indexes and supply important statistical information to other government bodies, schools, and research institutes. Many vital statistics agencies also issue copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates to those who need and request them.
When a child is born, his birth is typically registered with the appropriate government office, which issues him a birth certificate. A similar process takes place when a person dies, marries, or divorces. In some cases, this data is taken directly by the pertinent bureau of vital statistics, or it is taken by a local agency or courthouse that then usually forwards the information to the vital records bureau. The information contained in these records can be recorded, indexed, and made available to social policy researchers as well as others with an interest in the conditions and behavior of an area's citizens or residents. For example, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can use the National Vital Statistics System, supplied by state bureaus of vital statistics, to track the rates of teen pregnancy and fetal death.
For private citizens who do not have an interest in public or health care policy, a bureau of vital statistics can be a source of important identity and genealogy information. If a person needs a certified or official copy of a birth or death certificate, she must usually request it from her bureau of vital statistics. Some bureaus of vital statistics may also distribute marriage and divorce certificates, though this is not true in all places, as these certificates may be held at local courthouses or county clerk offices. Still, the bureau of vital statistics may keep lists of marriages and divorces, also known as indexes, that can be searched by those who need to confirm a marriage or divorce but do not actually need a certificate copy. In recent times, many bureaus of vital statistics in the United States have begun to partner with third-party companies to fulfill online requests for certified copies of birth, death, and marriage certificates.