California vital records date back to at least 1905 with some counties having records farther back to 1824 (particularly Monterey County). Getting copies of these records is easier than in most other states.
Restrictions on California Vital Records
California has a different system for regulating vital records compared to other states that just limit by time or age. Instead, they use 1 type of vital record that is considered a legal piece of identification (authorized) and those that are not legal and used for genealogy purposes (informational). Anyone can order an informational copy of a California vital record for anyone else, with no restriction. Only immediate relatives can get authorized copies, but if you are doing a genealogy study than the informational ones are just fine. The contain the same information in either case, but the informational copy will have a clear watermark that says it is not legal for ID.
How to Order California Vital Records
You can place an order to get a copy of a California vital record from either the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento, or at any county recorders office (where the birth took place). The application forms can be downloaded from their website (search for birth or death records). Once you’ve filled out the relevant info on the record you want, and your own contact information, you can mail it to:
California Department of Public Health
Vital Records MS 5103
PO Box 997410
Sacramento CA 95899-7410
Along with the completed application form, you will need to include the current search fees as well It costs $16 for a birth record and $12 for a death record at the moment. These fees can be paid by check, made out to the Office of Vital Records, and it is not refunded if they can’t find the California vital record you are after. If you are ordering an authorized copy, you have to include a notarized statement as your identity and need for the documents.
Records that were issued since 1981 can usually be retrieved and returned to you within 2 weeks, but anything older than that will take more than 2 months for a response.
Because the records are freely accessible to anyone, there are many genealogy websites that have searchable indexes where you can look to see if records exist. The indexes are helpful but they won’t contain the actual record info. You will still need to make your application for that.