How her years of work has helped Virginians discover their family history: 'She's never failed to help'

Posted at 8:41 PM, Feb 01, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Over the course of almost 17 years, Virginia State Registrar Janet M. Rainey signed off on just about every birth certificate, death certificate, marriage license, or divorce record made in Virginia, an estimated total of about 2 million signatures coming from the Virginia Department of Health's Office of Vital Records.

She spent countless hours with VDH, starting back in 1975 when she was just 19 years old.

Since then, she's scoured through thousands of record books like those found in her office's "vault," containing hardbacks dating as far back as 1912, pulling information to help Virginians find out where they may have been born.

In the process, Rainey became close to families looking for answers, often helping people cope with what may be uncovered through her research.

"When people had a need to have to show their birth record, that's when a lot of discoveries were made for a lot of families," Rainey said. "We're on that side of trying to ease them into what they're going to get in the mail."

Over the course of her tenure, she helped Virginians change their gender identities on their birth certificate and record same-sex marriage.

Up until her last day on January 31, she worked to help those who identify as Native Americans correct their family members' race on birth certificates, labeled as "Colored," at the insistence of Virginia's first State Registrar, Walter Plecker.

"Believe it or not, I ended up sending an email to a daughter. She had sent in, just last week, about her father, 84 years old and he had been trying to correct it, and he just gave up on it," Rainey said. "I told her, I said, 'It's a simple process, basically. I'll send you the document that needs to be signed. And it would be my honor to amend your father's birth record before I retire on February 1."

Her last day in the office brought celebratory tears from coworkers, highlighting her kindness and empathy toward those trying to discover more about their family history.

Rainey's "wingman," a coworker named Michelle, said she was the ultimate mentor.

"Because she's known and she knows people, she's never failed to help whoever would ask. That's what we're going to miss."



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