The current system of civil birth and death registration in Maryland was initiated exclusively within the city of Baltimore, controlled by the Baltimore City Health Department, Bureau of Vital Statistics, in 1875. The relative success of this program led the state Board of Health to initiate a statewide program in 1898. This program was assumed by the state Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics when it was constituted in 1910 to replace the original Board of Health. In 1951, this agency was renamed the Division of Vital Records and Statistics, and in 1969, the department itself was renamed the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Throughout this period, the vital registration program for Baltimore City remained separate from that of the counties. In 1972, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Division of Vital Records assumed control of birth and death registration for the entire state, including Baltimore City.
The state of Maryland restricts access to death certificates for ten (10) years, to birth certificates for one hundred (100) years. The restriction on birth certificates can be overridden with proof of death, in the form of a death certificate.
Prior to the passage of these modern vital records laws, there were prior attempts to record births and deaths. The earliest of these came during the late seventeenth century; an act of the General Assembly in 1654 required the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, with the Clerk of the County Court. There was very little compliance with this law, however, and another act of the Assembly in 1695 transferred this responsibility to the clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church (the Church of England or Anglican Church), the official church at that time in the colony of Maryland. The vital registrations for this short time period only remain extant for four Maryland counties: Charles, Kent, Somerset, and Talbot. Some of the registers continue for several years beyond 1695, well into the early 18thcentury.
A second attempt at civil vital registration occurred at the time of the Civil War. An Act passed by the General Assembly in 1865 required that each county Circuit Court keep record of births, deaths, and marriages. Compliance with the law by citizens was unfortunately very poor, and the extant records reflect this negligence. Relatively few births were actually recorded from this time until the passing of the 1898 law.
Births/baptisms and deaths/burials during those periods of Maryland history not covered by these three phases of civil registration often appear in the church records of the time, particularly within the Protestant Episcopal and Friends (Quaker) communities.