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Searching For Vital Records at the GFO

Searching For Vital Records at the GFO


There are three key dates for each individual: a birth date, a death date, and a marriage date (if applicable). The civil records generated by these events are called vital records.

Vital records contain varying amounts of information. At a minimum, you will find:

  • Date of birth, death, or marriage
  • Location of that event
  • Names of the people involved

Each state has a vital record office where birth, death, and marriage certificates can be ordered. For on-line information about these offices, go to

Two reference works on the "Ready Reference" bookcase will tell you where to locate vital records in other states.

  1. The Handy Book for Genealogists, United States of America. Eighth Edition. Logan, Utah: The Everton Publishers, 1991.
  2. Kemp, Thomas J. International Vital Records Handbook. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994.

Published vital records and their indexes at the Forum library may be in book or microform (film or fiche). Check the library catalog for the state you are researching.

Background Information for Oregon Birth, Death, Marriage, and Divorce Records

You can obtain Oregon records from the Oregon Vital Records office for the following years:

  • Births, 1903 to the present
  • Marriages, 1906 to the present
  • Deaths, 1903 to the present
  • Divorces, 1925 to the present

Vital records can be ordered online, by mail, phone or in person.  The fees vary.  You can check out regulations and get order forms at Oregon Public Health Authority - Ordering a Vital Record.

Important Note: Oregon birth certificates and indexes, less than 100 years old, are closed to the public. You can order birth certificates if you can prove you are an immediate family member. Further, you must have the full name listed on the certificate, birth date, place of birth, and parents' full names. Marriage, divorce, and death certificates at Oregon Vital Records have a 50-year closure law. (Marriage and divorce records less than 50 years old may be obtained from county governments.)

Multnomah County and Portland Certificates at the Forum Library:

Original Multnomah County marriage certificates from 1855 through 1920 are in bound volumes in the Forum's Rare Book Room. An index to the 1855 to 1910 ledgers is on this website.

Early Portland death certificates have been microfilmed by the Oregon State Archives as "City of Portland Death Certificates, 1862-1902." The eight reels are in the Oregon section of the microfilm cabinet, and a digital index is on this website.

Oregon, Washington, and California Death Indexes at the Forum Library:

A death index is a list of names of people who have died and their death date. They give you the information that you need to order a certificate from the proper vital records office. Oregon, Washington, and California death indexes are in the Forum microfilm cabinets. In addition, partial California, Oregon, and Washington death indexes are on

Oregon: 1903–1970 (on microfilm) 1971–1992 (on microfiche).

Oregon death indexes are arranged alphabetically in five or ten-year groupings. The name of the deceased, the death date, and county of death are given. Recent years give birth dates. The county is designated by a two-digit code, and a code sheet is on the wall in the microfilm cabinet.

Important Note: Early Portland deaths are not listed in the Oregon Death Index. The City of Portland kept a separate death register called the Chronologic Index to City of Portland Deaths, 1864–1917. (On 4 reels in the microfilm cabinet.) The title implies death information dating back to 1864, but only a few deaths go back that far. The year 1881 is the actual start of the index. As the title suggests, this is not an alphabetic index but a listing by month and year. This means you need to know the date

Washington: 1907–1987 (on microfilm).

The Washington death indexes are arranged by the Soundex system with all names that sound alike grouped together.

California: 1980–1984 (on microfiche).

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) contains names of people who received Social Security benefits and who died. Generally, deaths before 1960 are not on the Index The SSDI is on CD, and the Forum's CD ends with the year 1992. An on-line version is at

Oregon Marriage and Divorce Indexes at the Forum Library:

Oregon marriage and divorce indexes are in the microfilm and microfiche cabinets.

Marriage; 1906–1924; 1946–1960; 1966–1970 (microfilm); 1971–1989 (microfiche).

Divorce, 1971–1989 (microfiche), listed by groom's name.

Oregon Birth Indexes at the Forum Library:

Important Note: The Oregon Birth Index is closed to the public. A separate register of early Portland births has been microfilmed as "Health Division, Center for Health Statistics. Chronologic Index to City of Portland Births, 1864–1917." A set of the films is in the Forum's microfilm cabinet. This "index" is arranged by date. You need to know the date of birth or be prepared to scroll through the index.

Substitutes for Vital Records


When you have an actual or approximate death date, you can look for an obituary for a person. Obituaries offer interesting facts about the individual, tell the burial place, and list surviving family members.

Important Note: The Forum does not have a newspaper obituary collection. It does have a set of "The Portland Newspaper Index" on microfiche. This contains citations for obituaries. The obits are mainly from Portland newspapers and mainly from the 1920s to the 1980s. If you find something yo want to look up, go to one of the area libraries that has the Portland Oregonian on microfilm. The closest one is Multnomah County Library —801 SW 10th Street in downtown Portland

Other newspaper indexes at the Forum:

W.P.A. Newspaper Index. Oregon Spectator Index, 1846–1854.

Cemetery and Funeral Home Records

Cemeteries are a favorite source of information for genealogists.  Tombstone inscriptions may contain birth and death dates and interesting data about the person. To find where someone is buried, look at the person's death certificate or ask relatives if they remember which cemetery was involved.

Funeral home records may contain the following information: name of deceased, birth and death dates, names of parents, name of spouse, and the names of children or other relatives. The bits of data regarding the funeral service: such as, the address where the family car was sent, the songs performed, the clothes used by the deceased, may seem minor to some, but to genealogists they are stuff of which stories are made.

Important Note: The Forum does NOT have a master burial list, showing where every burial in the city, the county, or the state, is located. Many of the cemeteries around the Portland area are still operating cemeteries, and they keep their own records. Fourteen pioneer cemeteries are maintained by Oregon Metro. Those records are kept at the Metro Office, 600 NE Grand Ave., Portland, OR 97232. Phone: 503-797-1709.

An index to Oregon cemeteries was prepared in 1978 by the Oregon Department of Transportation as Oregon Cemetery Survey Salem: Department of Transportation, 1978.

This was followed with an update by Dean Byrd: Oregon Burial Site Guide. Portland: Binford & Mort, 2001.

Often, cemeteries and funeral homes will provide a copy of a death record. See the following books on the Ready Reference shelf:

  • Kot, Elizabeth G. United States Cemetery Address Book. Vallejo, California: Indices Publishing, 1994.
  • American Blue Book of Funeral Directors, 1990–1991.
  • National Yellow Book of Funeral Directors, 1990. Youngstown, Ohio: Nomis Publishing, 1990.


By Connie Lenzen, CG

February 2010