A Guide to South Carolina Vital Statistics

Vital statistics such as birth, marriage, and death records are important sources for genealogists, and the South Carolina Room offers several resources for finding these records.  It is important for researchers to know that the State of South Carolina did not require birth and death certificates until 1915, and marriage certificates did not become mandatory state-wide in 1911.  This absence of state-required records cancomplicate genealogy projects, but there are several alternate resources that genealogists can use to obtain older vital records.

City or County Records

Although the state-wide effort to keep vital statistics began later, individual areas may have older records.  Generally, the more urban the area that an ancestor came from, the better chance of the locale having kept vital records.  For example, death records for the City of Charleston date back to 1821 and are available in the SC Room, as well as birth records from 1877 to 1927.  Marriage records for Charleston County are available on microfilm from 1877 to 1922.  An index to County marriages from 1879 to present is also available online at http://www3.charlestoncounty.org/surfer/group2?ref=Marriage.

Cemetery Inscriptions

These are an invaluable source finding vital dates, especially for persons from rural areas, or from counties whose earlier records have been destroyed over time.  The SC Room contains many books of tombstone inscriptions from all over the state for both individual churches and entire county surveys, such as Berkeley or Cherokee County.

Newspapers and Bound Volumes

Once a researcher has obtained a death date, they can then check newspapers from the time in case an obituary or notice was posted.  The periodicals department and SC Room at the Main Library have newspapers on microfilm dating back to 1732.  There are also books that researchers have compiled that include marriage or death records gleaned from papers and other various records, which can save time, especially when no death date is available as a starting point.  The books are also helpful for areas outside of Charleston that the library does not have newspaper collections from.  An example is of a bound resource is Horry County Marriages Abstracted from Newspapers, 1861-1912.

Church Records

Although few churches have a complete run of historic records, church archives are another avenue to vital statistics (as well as confirmations and baptisms) that predate state record keeping.  These records are sometimes housed in bound volumes and on microfilm that are available in the room.  One such source isSouth Carolina Lowcountry Church Records, which is a large microfiche set of local surviving church records that was compiled by the Works Progress Administration.  Many small churches have not published their records, so genealogists may also want to contact individual institutions on their own.


Charleston County Library has a subscription to Ancestry.com, a genealogical database, which patrons are welcome to come in and use.  Ancestry has census records and a Social Security Death Index for the entire U.S., as well as marriage records for individual locations, and the database is searchable by name.    *Ancestry is not all inclusive, and much of the information in church records, books, local records, etc. has not been added yet.

*Please note that vital statistics after 1915 are available for purchase from the Division of Vital Records, DHEC, and are not available in the SC Room, (although the State Board of Health SC Death Index from 1915-1949 can be viewed here on film). The fee was $12 per record as of October, 2007.  Records can be purchased with the following contact information:  Division of Vital Records. 2600 Bull St.  Columbia, SC 29201.  1-803-898-3630.  Charleston County Death Records post-1915 can also be obtained at: Charleston County Health Department.  Perimeter Drive, Suite 600.  4050 Bridgeview Dr.  North Charleston, SC 29405.  843-740-0801.

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