As far as U.S. civil jurisdictions are concerned, the earliest records are usually marriage records, followed by death records and then birth records. Although in some Eastern states, the records can go back hundreds of years, as you go west, the dates become later and later when keeping birth and death records was mandated by law.
Here are an examples of a pages from the FamilySearch Research Wiki that talk about the availability marriage, birth and death records.
United States Vital Records - has a link to every state's vital records page explaining when the records became available.
United States Birth Records
United States Marriage Records
Remember that the Research Wiki has a page for every state and most countries of the world with links to articles about the availability of their vital records.
Sometimes, there are compilations of vital records in the form of various indexes. In looking at the ancestral line I am working on, the Springthorpes, and moving beyond census records, the first othere records that I find are associated with birth, marriage and death. In the case of Frances Ann Thomas (b. 1864, d. 1950) Arizona had several records that I found through FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. These sources included the following:
- Arizona Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death, Frances Ann Christensen, State File No. 3956, Registrar's No. 49, 17 August 1950.
- Western States Marriage Index, 1809-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Western States Marriage Index. Brigham Young University–Idaho.
- Arizona Marriage Collection, 1864-1982, Upper Snake River Family History Center and Ricks College (Rexburg, Idaho) and Ancestry.com. Arizona Marriage Collection, 1864-1982 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Since Frances was born in 1864, this was long before any birth records were recorded from a civil jurisdictional standpoint. Any birth information would have to be found elsewhere. General registration for births did not begin and no government agencies in Utah were required by law to record birth before 1898. Though not required to do so, Salt Lake City and Ogden began registering births in 1890 and Park City began registering births in 1892. State registration of births began in 1905 and were generally complied with by 1917.
Evidence concerning Frances' birth, of course, appear in the Census records as well as the marriage and death record. The records I have examined so far in this exercise give me ample evidence of the date of her birth and the identity of her parents and siblings. But we are not through with our investigations as yet.
Before moving on to other records, we should never forget that there are other death records, mainly from mortuaries and cemeteries. In the case of Frances Ann Thomas (Christensen) we have a gravemarker in the St. Johns, Apache, Arizona Westside Cemetery found on FindAGrave.com. The entries in FindAGrave.com sometimes gives additional information from other researchers. In this case, there is a link to the online death certificate and other burials.
You probably have guessed that this exercise in research was pre-staged. I already had most of this information in my files, but the point here is that I moving on with the research up the Springthorpe line to answer some unresolved questions. But to do so, I must build my case from the ground up, so to speak. I need to make sure we are on firm ground with each member of the line before moving on to the next generation.
If you would like to jump ahead and see the extent of some of the research and items about Frances Ann Thomas, please go to TheAncestorFiles.blogspot.com and look in the left-hand column for her name. You will find 11 articles written by my daughter Amy summarizing the life of this ancestor.