State Registrar Retires After Nearly a Half Century of Service to the Commonwealth
Janet M. Rainey worked to ensure equity in the issuance of vital records, righting wrongs to Native Americans
During her nearly half century working for Virginia’s Vital Records unit, State Registrar Janet M. Rainey has had a front row seat to historical, cultural, societal and technological change impacting the state’s collection and dissemination of information about births, deaths, marriages and divorces.
Rainey, 66, is retiring from the Virginia Department of Health on January 31. During her tenure, she helped the agency evolve from a paper-based system to one that makes records accessible electronically at dozens of Local Health Departments and DMV offices. She helped fulfill legislative mandates on genealogical research and death reporting. She assisted hundreds of Native Americans who sought to correct birth certificates which labeled them as “Colored” at the insistence of avowed white supremacist Walter Plecker, Virginia’s first State Registrar of vital records. She made sure marriage reporting forms reflected legalization of same sex marriage, helped citizens navigate the process to record unrecorded and home births and found new ways to simplify processes to record all vital records.
“Ms. Rainey’s dedication to ensuring the integrity and security of Virginia vital records has benefited all Virginians. Hundreds of thousands of vital records requests are processed every year, and she and her team have worked tirelessly to make that process accessible,” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH. “She has also worked with stakeholder groups and legislators on special initiatives, including a decades-long effort to correct Native American birth certificates. Thank you, Janet, for your service to Virginia, and congratulations and best wishes on your retirement.”
Her accomplishments include:
- Overseeing a contract with Ancestry.com to, in accordance with legislation, make thousands of records available to people researching their family trees.
- Overseeing the implementation of the issuance of vital records though DMV offices. By the end of 2021, Virginia DMV offices had issued more than a million certified copies of vital records.
- The creation of the state’s Electronic Death Registration System. Rainey worked with funeral directors’ associations and other stakeholders, including medical certifiers and medical examiners to ensure the system met the needs of all who participate in the filing of death certificates.
- Oversaw the creation of Virginia’s electronic birth certificate system, created a process for mothers to request a copy of their child’s birth certificate while in the hospital and bypass the ID requirement.
The Office of Vital Records produces nearly 300,000 copies of vital records a year and there are more than one million vital records issued throughout the entire Virginia system of vital records which includes issuance at Local Health Departments and DMV.
Thanks to Rainey’s efforts, nearly all the records are automated and nearly all are available electronically.
As a young and curious newcomer in 1975 to the then Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Rainey worked as a clerk/typist. Her tools were pencils, ink pens and hundreds of record books that had to be searched by hand.
Her curiosity caught the attention of then State Registrar Rusty Booker, who taught her how the office worked. Five years passed before she realized it.
“I didn’t even know it until I got my five-year certificate saying I had been here for five years,” Rainey said. “Knowing myself, if I didn’t have a passion for this job, probably I would have left before five years.”
Rainey eventually went to work in the Special Services Unit, responsible for amending and creating vital records, rising to become the unit’s supervisor. While she was there, she filled in for every other supervisor position in the office.
Rainey went on to become the Assistant State Registrar. In 2004, she became the acting Director and State Registrar and was named State Registrar in 2006. Rainey is only the state’s sixth registrar since 1912.
Thanks to her mentor, Rainey found a passion for the job and advises young people who are seeking a career to do the same. “Know what it is that you want,” Rainey said. “It may take two or three times to find the career you want. But be passionate about it.”
Through the years, Rainey has continued to personally help Virginians find and correct their records, most recently assisting an 88-year-old whose birth was never recorded. She later received a letter of thanks, one of hundreds over the years.
She’s proud of that work and of rising from a low-paid clerk to the title of State Registrar.
“People will chase the dollar more so than the career,” Rainey said. “Sometimes our careers may not pay a top dollar that we want, but it’s something that you can go home saying that you made a difference in somebody’s life.”
A photo of Janet M. Rainey is available upon request by media outlets. Contact Cindy Clayton at email@example.com.