Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
By definition a public records is a record created by a public (government) authority and made available to the general public such as birth, marriage, death, tax, and land records. In spite of their being public, certain privacy laws may apply, restricting access to public records to the individual of record, immediate family members, or other approved parties, for a specific period of time.
Public records are of value to genealogists as primary source records, created at or very near the time an event occurred. Public records are important for the types of information they contain. Not only do they document a specific event for a specific individual, but they may also provide information and/or clues on family members and friends, establish relationships, pinpoint people within a time and place, and within a historical context. Public records are generally available at public records buildings within the respective city, county, or state; they may also be available through local libraries and archives. Today, many public records have been microfilmed, digitized, and made available at large genealogical libraries and on Internet. Where possible, researchers should make every effort to see or obtain an exact copy of the original record, as indexes and other secondary documents are subject to a greater degree of error in transcription, and because one may find clues on the document itself that may not make it into a transcription.