West Virginia Public Records
Located in the Appalachian region of the United States, West Virginia was one of only two states to form during the American Civil War. While classified as part of the South, it borders Ohio and Pennsylvania to the north, with its capital and largest city being Charleston. The state is known for its mountains and coal mining industry and, with just 1.8 million residents, is the 38th most populous in the U.S. West Virginia does make it possible for the public to obtain government records in the state.
West Virginia Public Records Laws
The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1977 and can be found in Chapter 29B of the West Virginia Code. There have been several amendments over the past several decades, with some significant language changes in 1992 for the inclusion of electronic records and again in 2002 to exempt more security-related data in response to the events of 9/11.
Under the law, “every person” may have access to public records in West Virginia and this includes individuals, corporations, and associations. The purpose for the request of the records generally doesn’t matter except when it comes to requests from inmates. There are no restrictions on the use of records once obtained although courts may limit the use of personal information.
Records that are covered under the law include all records from every “public body” in the state, including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Records that are not subject to the law, or that are exempt, include:
- Trade secrets
- Personal information
- Test questions
- National security records
- Internal memoranda or letters
- Other records exempt by statute
West Virginia Criminal Records, Arrest Records and Background Checks
Background checks in the State of West Virginia are the responsibility of the West Virginia State Police but have been contracted out to an online third party: IdentiGo.com. This company handles all fingerprint services and background checks on behalf of the state, and these are used for such things as licensing, pre-employment, and housing matters. As these are fingerprint-based checks, consent is required to request a criminal record.
West Virginia Jail and Inmate Records
To find out information about the correctional facilities in West Virginia, search for an inmate, or learn about victim services, you can visit the state Department of Corrections website. If you wish to locate an offender in the West Virginia system, you can search on the DOC Offender Search page with either a DOC Number or a name. Results will return the inmates location, list of offenses, and projected release date. If your search does not return results, you may also wish to search on the West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority site, as it brings up results for regional jails as opposed to the state prison system.
West Virginia Court Records
Any information on courts in the state of West Virginia can be found on its administrator of the courts website. The only online search available is through its WV State Law Library, which is limited. Access to specific court records will need to go through the clerk of the court at the courthouse where the case was heard.
West Virginia Vital Records
If you need a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate in West Virginia, you can request these from the Vital Registration Office of West Virginia’s Health Statistics Center. There are three ways to request these documents:
- In Person: You can receive same-day walk in service at the central office located at 350 Capitol Street in downtown Charleston.
- By Mail: Simply download and complete the proper form and return it with copies of required documentation to: Vital Registration, Room 165, 350 Capitol Street, Charleston, WV 25301-3701
- Online: Please your order and payment through VitalCheck.com.
The records that you are able to obtain via these methods and the required documentation will depend on the type of certificate that you are requesting.
- Birth Certificates – Birth certificates are available from 1917 to present, and you must either be a person of record on the document, a member of the immediate family, a legal guardian, or an authorized representative to make a request.
- Death Certificates – Death certificates are available from 1917 to present. After 50 years, the certificate is public record. If it has been less than 50 years, these are only available to a surviving relative who has a direct or tangible interest in the record, or their legal representative.
- Marriage Certificates – Marriage certificates are available from 1964 to present. If 50 years have passed, these are public record. If it has been less than 50 years, these are available only to the parties named, their adult children, grandchildren, or legal representatives.
After 1851, divorce proceedings in West Virginia were recorded by the clerk of the circuit court in the county where the divorce occurred. This is where you will need to request a copy of your divorce certificate. Divorces are not public record until 50 years after the divorce was granted.