What are public Records, Anyway?

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Public records. There is a tendency to use this blanket term to define various types of documents, and it tends to get confusing. Let's try to clarify what is important to us as consumers and where we should go when we require documented information for any one of the mentioned purposes.

When referring to personal public records of the general public, we refer to anything and everything ever officially recorded about a specific individual. Typically, the kinds of documentation that may exist and be available for anyone's perusal, include:

1. Vital records, which encompass:
a. Birth and death certificates, as well as
b. Marriage and divorce records.

Vital records can be obtained from the Office of the County Clerk and state health departments. Always try searching closer to home, on the county level first; you are more likely to find more accurate information.

2. Court records, which may include both civil and criminal litigation.
a. Civil records typically address grievances of a financial nature, such as bankruptcy, tax or creditor lien, etc.
b. Criminal records, of course, include any history of felonies and/or misdemeanors ever committed.

If interested in searching court records, they most likely reside in the Office of the Clerk of Courts; criminal records may also be requested from the local police department, which also often maintains sex offender registries.

3. Then there are real estate records that report every property transaction: sales purchases, gifts - any time a deed is executed for one reason or another. Normally the Register of Deeds maintains these types of public records, but in smaller counties, everything originates at the County Clerk's Office.

So, when in doubt, always start your search there. Good luck with your search!


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