The information contained on official state-issued birth certificates or birth records includes the names of both parents, their occupations, addresses, and ethnic origin, and the child's sex, given name, date, time and place of birth. Other information may include the existence of siblings and their ages. Official birth documents are stamped with the seal of the records keeper in the place of birth and kept under lock and key.
These documents are created 3.9 million times a year, one for each child born in the U.S.
For children adopted from other countries by U.S. citizens, a document similar to a birth certificate is issued. It is called a Certificate of Foreign Birth.
Uses for Birth Records
Vital statistics like birth records are used in many ways: to track national and regional health conditions, study mortality rates and causes, to record educational outcomes and to predict population growth and related government revenue.
Individuals likely think of their birth records in terms of gaining government documentation like work permits, social security cards, passports, and admission to schools. The documents are used throughout one's life for identification purposes, as the basis of one's status as a citizen and proof of eligibility for the benefits derived from such. Upon the death of a parent, birth records are also used to claim inheritances or insurance.
Types of birth records
In the United States, local town, city or county clerks are generally the official in charge of birth records, and individuals born after 1960 need to contact that office for an official birth certificate. However, there are different types of birth records and access to most are restricted to direct family members.
The long form birth certificate includes all of the information listed above, including parents' names, occupations, and information on siblings. It is needed to execute legal action like adoption.
The short form birth certificate is an abstract, or summary version of the long form document, usually just containing the name, date, and place of birth. It is acceptable for many general uses from obtaining driver's licenses to school registration.
Certified copies of birth certificates are stamped and signed by the legal authority that controls access to such records. Certified copies may be necessary for government uses.
The words Exemplified and Apostille are sometimes applied to birth records, particularly those necessary for a transaction with a foreign government. Exemplified is a triple-certification of authenticity, requiring both a clerk and a judge to attest to the legitimacy of the document. Apostille is a further certification of authenticating signatures, and both are generally attached to the original document or certificate as an additional page.
Birth Records Statistics Infographic
Restrictions on obtaining records
It is difficult - and possibly illegal - to obtain the birth records of a living person who is not a direct family member. Most vital records clerks restrict access to the birth records of anyone born within 100 years, requiring written, notarized permission from the individual whose records are requested and will only provide that document to a close family member (parent, child, spouse etc.). Records more than 100 years old are usually considered public documents and may be accessed through the state's archives.
Changes in birth records
The rise of DNA testing may call into question one of the data points on a birth certificate: paternity. Of the nearly 4 million births in the U.S. each year, about 40 percent are to unwed women. While the father of record (whether married to the mother or not) is usually - but not always -- named on the birth certificate, the availability of DNA testing could change that. Currently about 300,000 DNA tests are performed each year. Simple, commercially available DNA tests may alter birth certificates more often in coming years with the proliferation of this scientific proof of paternity which can then be used to demand financial support and prove lineage. The Supreme Court in the mid-1980s upheld the right of minors under 18 to sue for paternity when the state of Pennsylvania attempted to limit the window on paternity to six years.
While individuals over the age of 18 are permitted to change their legal names with a judge's permission (after a check to ensure it's not being done to defraud anyone), the name on one's birth certificate does not change.