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Mary Elizabeth Winblad (1895-1987) birth certificate

A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. Outside the United States, the term "birth certificate" refers to a certification of the original birth record. In the United States, the term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document or to a certification thereof. In most jurisdictions, the birth certificate is prima facie evidence that the birth occurred.


The documentation of births is a practice widely held throughout human civilization, especially in China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia. The original purpose of birth registration was for tax purposes and for the determination of available military manpower. Births were initially registered with churches, who maintained registers of births. This practice continued into the 19th century. The compulsory registration of births with governmental agencies is a practice that originated in the United Kingdommarker in 1853.

Most countries have statutes and laws that regulate the registration of births. In all countries, it is the responsibility of the mother's physician, midwife, hospital administrator, or the parents of the child to see that the birth is properly registered with the appropriate government agency.

The actual record of birth is stored with a government agency. That agency will issue certified copies or representations of the original birth record upon request, which can be used to apply for government benefits, such as passports. The certification is signed and/or sealed by the registrar or other custodian of birth records, who is commissioned by the government.

Birth certificates outside the United States

A Soviet birth certificate from 1972.
The registration of births, marriages and deaths in the United Kingdom started in 1837, but at first there was no penalty for failing to register a birth. In the British system, all births are recorded in "registers", which have columns for various particulars of the birth, usually including the name of the child, sex, the names of the parents, the date of the birth, the location of the birth, and sometimes additional information such as the name of the attending physician, the race of the child, or the occupation of the parents. These birth registers are maintained by some government agency, who will issue certified copies or representations of the entry upon request.

Types of certified copies issued in England and Wales

Each "full" birth certificate issued is actually a certified copy of an entry from the register of births, which is held by the local Register office and at the General Register Office, Southport, pursuant to the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1953. The full certificate is an exact copy of the entry, showing the child's surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, place of birth, the parent(s) name(s), their address and occupations at the time of registration. Full certificates are required for most legal purposes.

In addition, one can obtain a "short" birth certificate, which is an abstract of the original entry and only includes the surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, registration district and sub-district in which the birth took place. No fee is chargeable for this certificate at the time of registration.

Birth certificates in the United States

In the U.S., the keeping of vital statistics is a state function, because it is not a power assigned by the Constitution to the federal government (under the Tenth Amendment, all powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people), and yet the federal government is extremely dependent upon this state function it lacks direct jurisdiction over, because the Fourteenth Amendment expressly grounds American citizenship upon birth in the United States (a jus soli system of citizenship).

Therefore, the federal and state governments have traditionally cooperated, to some extent, to improve vital statistics. From 1900 to 1946 the U.S. Census Bureau designed standard birth certificates, collected vital statistics on a national basis, and generally sought to improve the accuracy of vital statistics. In 1946 that responsibility was passed to the U.S. Public Health Service. Unlike the British system of recording all births in "registers", the states file an individual document for each and every birth. In most states, this document was, and still is, entitled a "Certificate of Live Birth".

In the U.S., the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics creates standard forms that are recommended for use by the individual states to document births. However, states are free to create their own forms. As a result, neither the appearance of nor the information within birth certificate forms across different states is uniform. These "forms" are completed by the attendant at birth or a hospital administrator, which are then forwarded to a local or state registrar, who stores the record and issues certified copies when requested .

Types of certified copies issued

Long forms

Sample of a long form birth certificate
Long forms, also known as certified photocopies, book copies, and photostat copies, are exact photocopies of the original birth record that was prepared by the hospital or attending physician at the time of the child's birth. The long form usually includes parents' information (address of residence, race, birth place, date of birth, etc.), additional information on the child's birthplace, and information on the doctors who assisted in the birth of the child. The long form also usually includes the signature of the doctor involved and at least one of the parents.

Long forms may become obsolete in years to come, as many states have begun to use Electronic Birth Registration systems. The use of these systems will enable information typically seen on certified copies (long forms) to be available in computer databases that typically issue short form certificates, thus eliminating the need for "hard copy" long form certificates and having all birth information stored in computer databases only. This benefits parents in many ways; registration can be completed via computer at the hospital, meaning that parents can stop by their Vital Statistics office on the way home from the hospital to purchase the birth certificate instantly. It also means that the extra cost for long form certificates will no longer be a factor.

Short forms

Sample of a short form birth certificate (certification of birth)
Short forms, known sometimes as computer certifications, are not universally available, but are cheaper than photocopies and much more easily accessible. Information is taken from the original birth record (the long form) and stored in a database that can be accessed quickly when birth certificates are needed in a short amount of time. Whereas the long form is a copy of the actual birth certificate, a short form is a document that certifies the existence of such certificate, and is given a title such as "Certification of Birth", "Certification of Live Birth", or "Certificate of Birth Registration". The short form typically includes the child's name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth, although some also include the names of the child's parents. When the certification does include the names of the parents, it can be used in lieu of a long form birth certificate in almost all circumstances . Nearly all states in the U.S. issue short forms certifications, on both state and local levels .

Other forms

In addition to short forms and long forms, many registration authorities also have wallet-sized short form birth certifications available, and apostille/exemplified certifications which are hand signed by the registrar and are to be used when being presented before the government of a foreign country, pursuant to the 1961 Hague Convention. Other registration authorities will even issue commemorative certificates, many of which are legal certifications of birth..

Most hospitals in the U.S. issue a souvenir birth certificate which typically includes the footprints of the newborn. However, these birth certificates are not legally accepted as proof of age or citizenship, and are frequently rejected by the Bureau of Consular Affairs during passport applications. Many Americans believe the souvenir records to be their official birth certificates, when in reality they hold little legal value..

Birth certificates in cases of adoptions

In the United States and Canada, when a person is legally adopted, the government will seal the original birth certificate, and will issue a replacement birth certificate noting the information of the adoptive parents, and the adoptive names of the child. In those cases, unlike others, adopted individuals are not granted access to their own original birth certificates upon request. Laws vary depending on state or province. Some places, such as Oregon, allow adopted people unrestriced access to their own original birth certificates, whereas some places, the certificate is available only if the biological parents have given their explicit permission, or - as in British Columbia and Alberta, if neither biological parent has placed a veto. Other places do not allow adopted people access to their own original birth certificates under any circumstances.

See also


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