Rhode Island Public Records
Like many states, Rhode Island has two acts that govern access to public information: the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act and the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act. Working together, these acts provide Rhode Islanders with a high level of access to public records.
The Rhode Island Open Meetings Act, which is located in Rhode Island General Laws §§ 42-46-1, legislates how public meetings are conducted, including defining a public meeting and decreeing a default rule of open access to public meetings. Meetings that may be exempt under the law include: student records, student disciplinary hearings, litigation, security, real estate transactions, school committees, collective bargaining, and some personnel matters.
The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act, Rhode Island General Laws §§ 38-2-1, covers access to public records held, created by, or maintained by government bodies in Rhode Island. It has an expansive view of what is a considered a public record, with a presumption in favor of disclosure and very few exemptions. While anyone can request public records and is not required to provide a statement of purpose for the records, it is illegal to use that information to solicit for commercial purposes or to obtain a commercial advantage over the party furnishing that information to the public body.
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Public & Vital Records for Counties in Rhode Island
More About Rhode Island
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States. Located on the Eastern Seaboard, the state is the second most densely populated, but, because of its small size, is still only the 43rd most populous state. The official name of Rhode Island is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Providence is the state’s capital and its most populated city.
Rhode Island’s economy was once heavily dependent on the fishing industry. In modern Rhode Island, its biggest industries are health services, tourism, and manufacturing.
Public Records in RI
Rhode Island does not have a single gateway site or organization to access public records throughout the state. Instead, state public records are held by the agency or organization that creates, maintains, or controls the records. While public records are readily available on-line or in person at these agencies, the lack of a central database can make finding the records more difficult.
Throughout the United States, you are likely to encounter three different types of property records. These are land records, deed records, and tax records. Land records, also known as land grant records are a specific type of property record that records when the property first passed out of government control and to a private holder. In colonial states like Rhode Island, many of these original land grants occurred before Rhode Island was ever even part of the United States. Deed records also describe conveyances and encumbrances on property, but refer specifically to transactions between private individuals or after property transferred from public to private ownership. In addition to deeds, deed records generally contain mortgages, liens, and other documents impacting the ownership of land. Finally, tax records, also known as property tax records, generally describe ownership of land, any improvements to the land, the amount of property tax due on the land, and whether or not the taxes are current.
In Rhode Island, the Office of the Secretary of State is in charge of handling land records. They have a catalog of conveyances from 1642 to 1796. In addition to conveyances from the British government, the colonial government, or the early U.S government, these records may also contain information about conveyances from Native Americans to early settlers.
Property Tax Records
In Rhode Island, the Property Tax Assessor is responsible for maintaining property tax records. To find out information about property taxes, you need to contact the Assessor in the municipality in which the property is.
In Rhode Island, each town or city maintains its own land records. You can search some of these municipal land records online, but not all of them. Some searches require visiting the town hall or city hall.
RI Vital Records
The Rhode Island Department of Health is responsible for maintaining vital statistics for the state. Vital statistics refer to events that give information about a state’s population and includes things like deaths, births, and marriages. Rhode Island partners with VitalChek to allow people to access these records online.
You may request a birth record for yourself, a relative, or a person for whom you have a legal interest. You can order them online or by phone through VitalChek, which offers 24/7 service. The cost is $35 per order, with additional fees for rush orders. You can use debit cards, credit cards, and checks to use VitalChek. You can also go in person to the Rhode Island Department of Health's (RIDOH) Center for Vital Records or any city or town clerk's office. The cost is less expensive in person, starting at $22 for the first copy and $18 for each extra copy purchased the same day. Searching for a record is free is you go in person. You can pay with cash, check, or money order in person. You can also order by mail, which is $25 for the first copy and $18 for each extra copy. Mail-in orders can be paid by check or money order
To obtain a copy of a death certificate, you must be related to the person you are requesting the certificate for or a legal representative. You can request death certificates for parents, siblings, guardians, or authorized agents. You can order in person or by mail through the Rhode Island Department of Health's (RIDOH). You may also order online or by phone through VitalChek.
Marriage certificates are considered private, not public, records. Therefore, you must be related to the person you are requesting the certificate for or a legal representative and provide a reason for your request. You can order them online or on the phone through VitalChek, or by mail or in person from the Rhode Island Department of Health's (RIDOH).
In Rhode Island, divorce records are not part of vital statistics. To obtain divorce records, you need to get them from the clerk of the court in which the divorce was granted.
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RI State Agency Websites
- Attorney General
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- State Archives
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