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How to Find a Birth Record?
What are Birth Records in the United States?
A birth record is the registration or recording of a child's birth. It establishes a legal record of where a child was born and who the parents are. A birth record is required for an individual to obtain a birth certificate. The recording of birth is considered a fundamental human right that helps ensure that a child's rights are upheld, such as rights to protection from violence, and essential social services like justice and health care.
Birth records are a vital component of public health. Understanding data contained in birth records may affect clinical practice, health policies, and efficient resource allocation. The information collected for birth records helps the United States government decide where and how to spend money, and what areas to focus on for development programs.
County and state jurisdictions began keeping birth records at varying times as required in each state. Hence, you must check the local state laws to determine when the earliest birth records are available. Before civil authorities began recording birth information in the United States, birth records were commonly recorded by local churches and religious institutions. The quality of data collated by these sources was relatively poor and incomplete when compared to the information contained in today's birth records.
In several states in the United States, birth records are confidential for a period of up to 100 years or more, while access to more recent records may require proof that the requesters are direct descendants of the person whose records are sought.
In a situation where no record was filed at the time of a person's birth, the individual, in some jurisdictions, may request a delayed registration of birth by showing proof of birth as recorded in a census, church record, or by testimony from a person who witnessed the birth. Delayed registrations did not become common in the United States until after 1937 when the Social Security Administration (SSA) required proof of birth.
Today, a birth record is important for many things. When applying for social security or a driver's license, an individual must possess a birth record. A birth record serves as proof of an individual's age, citizenship status, and identity. It is necessary to apply for a passport, enroll in schools, gain employment, or apply for other benefits. In essence, a birth record establishes who you are and gives an individual access to the rights and privileges, and the obligations of citizenship.
Typically, a United States birth record contains:
- Ages of parents
- Child’s birth order
- Child's gender
- Date of birth
- Family’s home address
- Full name of the child
- Hospital or name of a medical attendant
- Maiden name for the mother
- Names of both parents
- Occupation of parents
- Parents' approximate years of birth
- Parents' birthplaces
- Place of birth
- Race of child
How to Find and Request Birth Records Online?
Ordering a birth record online is the simplest way to obtain a birth record. This way, you can avoid wait times possible with physical requests and place your order from any location. If you have all the required information handy, you can complete an online order within 10 minutes. Different states have varying request procedures and processing times, but some have forms available on the local vital records websites.
Once the form is completed, you can request to receive birth certificates in the mail. It is recommended that you submit your application quickly and allow for extra 2-3 days to ensure that you meet any deadlines and receive a response as soon as possible. Note that nominal fees may apply to obtain birth records in jurisdictions where online provisions are available. Proof of identification may also be required. Payments for online orders are typically accepted through credit or debit cards. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover Cards are all commonly accepted.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
· The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
· The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
How to Get Birth Records?
Custodians of birth records in the United States make birth records available to requesters through in-person and mail requests. Regardless of the means chosen to obtain a record, a requester will be required to pay the applicable fees and provide proper identification. In some states, requesters must provide an ID from a list of acceptable IDs. In other states, there are two types of IDs accepted - primary and secondary. In such states, requesters may provide one form of primary ID or two forms of secondary IDs. Typically, one of the documents provided for secondary ID must show the current address of the requester.
Commonly accepted forms of primary IDs include:
- Alien registration receipt or permanent resident card
- Certificate of U.S. citizenship
- Jail temporary inmate ID
- Department of Corrections ID card
- Temporary driver's license or state ID
- Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
- Foreign passport
- Government work ID
- Job Corps ID
- Photo driver's license or photo ID car (DMV U.S. only)
- School, University or College ID card
- Temporary resident card
- U.S. B1/B2 visa card with I-94
- U.S. certification of naturalization
- U.S. citizenship ID card (I-197)
- U.S. Military ID card
- U.S. passport
- U.S. Merchant Mariner ID/Book
Commonly accepted forms of secondary ID include:
- Court order of adoption or name change
- Craft or trade license
- Divorce decree (U.S. only)
- Hospital birth worksheet (for infants under 6-months)
- Hunting or fishing license
- IRS-TIN card
- Marriage license (U.S. only)
- Medicare card
- Foreign or international driving license (with photo)
- Mexican voter registration card
- Motor vehicle registration or title (U.S. only)
- Pilot license
- Selective Service Card (U.S. only)
- Social Security Card (U.S. only)
- State or federal prison or correctional card
- Weapon or gun permit (U.S. only)
- A work ID, paycheck stub (within 3 months), or W-2 (last tax year)
If a person named on a record cannot provide acceptable identification, the individual can provide a written authorization for someone else to apply on their behalf. The authorization letter must be signed by the person named on the record and must be submitted along with the application. The application must also include the representative's identification.
Several states also allow requesters to obtain heirloom certificates for specific fees. An heirloom birth certificate is a commemorative certificate. It is usually printed on special types of papers but cannot be used as proof of birth or to serve other legal purposes. Birth record requesters who need an apostille on their certified copies of birth records can obtain such typically from the Secretary of State in the state of the request. Note that appropriate fees apply for obtaining apostille copies of birth records.
To obtain a birth certificate for persons born to American parents abroad, you can obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). Typically, persons born to American parents abroad have their births registered with the countrys' United States embassies or consulates. You can obtain a copy of the CBRA from the United States Department of State. Depending on the country, a vital records office in the nation may also list the birth.
For persons who cannot have their CBRA located by the Department of State or were born on Military bases abroad, they may contact the hospitals where births occurred to obtain birth records. Note that a child born in a foreign country and adopted by a United States citizen will not receive a U.S. birth certificate. In such instances, copies of birth records can only be obtained in the countries where births occurred. Contact the nearest foreign embassy or consulate to obtain a birth certificate.
How to Get a United States Birth Record in Person?
Applying for a birth record in person is often the fastest means to get a birth record. First, you must physically visit the vital records office where the birth was registered, which requires that you live in or near the state in which you were born.
You also need to take into consideration how busy or understaffed the office is and that wait times apply. Wait lines may take a few minutes or few hours during peak request periods, hence you may need to block out a large chunk of your day when applying in person. Applying in person can be quite rewarding, with the possibility of getting your birth certificate on the same day.
Verify the location and open hours of local vital records offices from their websites before visiting. Go along with the appropriate fee and acceptable ID when making in-person requests.
How to Get a United States Birth Record by Mail?
Typically, to obtain a birth record by mail, the requester must complete an application for a certified copy of a birth certificate from the state where the birth occurred. The form is usually accessible on the state vital records office website. Upon completing the form, include a check or money order for the appropriate fee in your application. The majority of the states in the United States accept checks or money orders as payment methods. Check the agency or office to make checks payable to, on the appropriate state vital records website.
Ensure to include an acceptable form of identification in the application and mail complete application to the mailing address of the vital records office in the state where the birth record is maintained.
Where Can I Find Birth Records?
In the United States, all vital records are local, that is, national vital statistics are registered locally. Contrary to popular opinion, the United States Census Bureau does not keep records or indexes of birth records. These records are maintained by the vital statistics offices in the states or areas where births occur.
There are 57 vital registration jurisdictions in the United States: The 50 states, 5 territories - Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Northern Mariana Islands, the District of Columbia, and New York City. Each of these 57 jurisdictions has a direct reporting relationship with the United States National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Some of the states have centralized vital records offices, while most have local registrars who receive, register, and issue certified copies of birth records.
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics website provides information on obtaining birth records from state and territorial agencies. However, you may obtain more detailed information by visiting local Vital Records Office websites.
How to Get Birth Records From a Hospital in the United States?
Hospitals in the United States do not issue certified copies of birth certificates. However, the certificate of live birth is completed shortly after a baby is born in a hospital. The certificate of live birth is an unofficial document issued by the hospital for data entry purposes. It is used to register babies born medically alive in the United States. It is the registration form that doctors, midwives, or hospital representatives fill out when a child is born.
When a birth occurs in a hospital or other birthing facility, the assigned hospital officer or designee prepares a certificate or report, secures the required signatures, and files the certificate or report with the local or state registrar. When birth occurs at home, the healthcare professional, parents, or a family member may complete the certificate of live birth form to register the birth of the child.
Within a certain number of days, typically seven days, a person shall submit the live birth certificate to a local vital records registrar for registration. It may be submitted physically or electronically through the state-designated electronic birth registration system.
Typically, a certificate of live birth includes:
- The date of birth
- The baby’s name
- The parents’ names
- The attending doctors’ names
- The hospital where the baby was born
- The name of the person completing the birth record
- The baby’s gender, race, weight, and other health conditions
On the other hand, a certified copy of a birth certificate contains all the information above and carries a raised, multicolored, and embossed seal of the city, county, or state where the birth was registered as well as the signature of the registrar and the date the certificate was filed.
The certificate of live birth and the birth certificates are not the same documents. The certificate of live birth is submitted to obtain the birth certificate. A certificate of live birth cannot be used as proof of identity, citizenship, nor to request the issuance of identification documents. In order to have a passport, social security card, or driver's license issued, you will be required to provide a certified copy of birth certificate.
Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Birth Certificate?
Typically, birth records are only open to specific categories of persons. Birth records are available only to persons who have authorized access by state laws and supporting regulations. To obtain a birth record under a false pretense is considered a criminal offense. The following persons are commonly permitted to obtain birth records:
- Parents or legal guardians of the persons named on the birth records
- Spouses of the persons named on the birth records
- Grandparents of the persons named on the records
- Adult children and grandchildren of the person named on the record
- A legal representative of the person named on the birth record
- Any individual who has obtained an order from a competent court of law to access a birth record
How Much Does a Birth Certificate Cost?
Birth certificate costs are set by state statutes and may be subject to change during legislative sessions. The costs vary from state to state, and sometimes, among localities within a state. In Texas, a certified birth certificate costs $22, while an heirloom copy costs $60. In Louisiana and Oklahoma, a birth certificate costs $15, while in Colorado and Wisconsin, the cost is $20. In West Virginia, Arkansas, and Montana, a birth certificate costs $12. Overall, the cost for one certified copy of a birth certificate ranges between $7 and $35.
The cost for additional copies of birth certificates also varies per state. For orders made by mail, shipping fees apply. Expedited orders also cost more than standard orders. Note that third-party vendors also charge processing fees for requests processed through them.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Birth Certificate in the United States?
In-person requesters can obtain their birth records within minutes in most states. Mail requests can take between 2 to 8 weeks. Some states offer overnight services for persons who want expedited services. Note that requests may take 12 weeks or longer during peak periods such as when parents are requesting birth certificates for children starting school. Online requests may take between 4 to 8 weeks from the day of request to deliver. Such requests are delivered by mail. Rush services for persons who need to get a copy of their birth certificate as soon as possible can be processed within 5 business days.
How to Expunge Your Birth Records in the United States?
Expungement refers to the legal process of completely removing every trace of a record such that it is as though the event listed on the record never happened. There are currently no provisions to expunge birth records in the United States. A birth record is a vital statistic and is kept for many purposes. However, birth records can be sealed in the United States.
How to Seal Your Birth Records in the United States?
Sealing of birth records is an automatic process and is only permitted in the United States upon adoption or legitimation of the owners of the birth records. Upon conclusion of adoption proceedings, the original birth certificate - the one issued at birth, is sealed, making it inaccessible to the public. The original birth certificate (OBC) is replaced with an amended birth certificate indicating the adoptive parents as the legal parents of the adoptee.
The sealing of original birth records is viewed as a way to protect adoptees from any potential stigma associated with adoption. For adoptees born out of wedlock, sealing of original birth records is offered as a way to guard against possible and potentially traumatic discovery of their illegitimacy and to protect the confidentiality of birth mothers.
How to Unseal Your Birth Records in the United States?
Federal and state laws generally seal adoption records, including original birth certificates, in order to protect the anonymity of persons placing children for adoption. Original birth certificates can be vital documents in adult adoptees' quests for birth families because they contain facts such as a birth parent's name and address and the name of the hospital where the child was born.
Nearly all states have statutory provisions allowing access to non-identifying information by an adoptive parent or guardian of a minor child who has been adopted. Upon written request, adult adoptees are permitted to access non-identifying information about relatives in most states; although, the adoptees are required to have attained the age of 18 before making the requests.
Adult adoptees seeking information about their biological parents are typically required to obtain court orders requesting original birth certificates in most states. A court order is required in more than 20 states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. However, in recent times, several other states have enacted laws to allow easier access to OBCs.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, Oregon, Maine, Alaska, and Alabama allow access to OBCs at the request of adult adoptees, without having to obtain a court order and the consent of the birth parents. In Washington, Oklahoma, Ohio, New Jersey, Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, Delaware, and Colorado, adult adoptees can access OBCs except where the birth parents specifically requested that the information be not released.
Many states, while permitting requesters to obtain OBCs, impose certain restrictions. For instance, Northern Mariana Islands, Mississippi, and Idaho allow access when all parties consent to the release of the information. Other states limit access to adoptees born in certain years. Some states deliberately delay access in order to prepare the birth parents for the possibility of contact with the children they placed for adoption.
To access an OBC, contact the clerk in the county where the adoption occurred and ask how to obtain the certificate. County clerks can be quite helpful in educating requesters on the local rules regarding obtaining sealed birth records. You may need to get a petition form to petition the court for the record and pay applicable fees. The county clerks can also help in providing the required forms.
Once a court date is set, you will need to attend a court proceeding where you need to explain why you need access to your adoption record information. Most judges will require emergency and not personal reasons to open sealed adoption records. Medical reasons are usually the most common reasons why judges grant requests for OBCs. If your request is granted, the judge may give you immediate access or request that you obtain the information through a confidential intermediary.