V is for vital records: birth, marriage, and death records. In some ways these records are a family historian's best friend. They offer names of individuals plus dates and locations of the events for which they were created, and sometimes plenty of other information, too. (Click on the image below to enlarge and view three vital records.)
The years when vital records were first created vary from country to country and state to state. Often marriages in the U.S. were the first to be recorded, sometimes as early as 1800. Births and deaths were recorded at the county level in some states beginning in the 1860s, then moving to the state level in the early 1900s.
A search on the internet will help you find when and where to search for these records. FamilySearch and ancestry.com have indexed many vital records. FamilySearch's wiki provides more information about birth records, marriage records, and death records. FamilySearch also provides an excellent page about U.S. Vital Records, including what you may find in a record, how to analyze what you find, and links to information about vital records for each state.
If you are new to family history, I encourage you to begin with vital records (as well as census records) to help you find your ancestors. If you're not new to searching for ancestors, I'm sure you already know the worth of vital records
This post was written as a contribution to Family History Through the Alphabet challenge created by Alona Tester of Genealogy & History News. Thank you, Alona.