Birth certificate

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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. The term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document certifying the circumstances of the birth or to a certified copy of or representation of the ensuing registration of that birth. Depending on the jurisdiction, a record of birth might or might not contain verification of the event by such as a midwife or doctor.

History and contemporary times[edit]

A Soviet birth certificate from 1972.

The documentation of births is a practice widely held throughout human civilization, especially in China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia. The original purpose of vital statistics 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.[1] The compulsory registration of births with governmental agencies is a practice that originated in the United Kingdom in 1853.[2]

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.

The right of every child to a name and nationality, and the responsibility of national governments to achieve this are contained in Articles 7 and 8 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: "The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality..." (CRC Article 7) and "States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations..." (CRC Article 8).[3]

"'s a small paper but it actually establishes who you are and gives access to the rights and the privileges, and the obligations, of citizenship" - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, February 2005.[4]

Despite 191 countries ratifying the Convention, the births of millions of children worldwide go unregistered. By their very nature, data concerning unregistered children are approximate; however, it was estimated in 2008 that 51 million babies – more than two fifths of those born worldwide – were not registered at birth.[5] This phenomenon disproportionately impacts indigenous populations and even in many developed countries, contributes to difficulties in fully accessing civic rights.[6]

Birth registration opens the door to rights to children and adults which many other human beings take for granted: to prove their age; to prove their nationality; to receive healthcare; to go to school; to take exams; to be adopted; to protection from under-age military service or conscription; to marry; to open a bank account; to hold a driving licence; to obtain a passport; to inherit money or property; and to vote or stand for elected office.[7]

There are many reasons why births go unregistered, including social and cultural beliefs and attitudes; alternative documents and naming ceremonies; remote areas, poor infrastructure; economic barriers; lack of office staff, equipment and training; legal and political restrictions; fear of discrimination and persecution; war, conflict and unrest or simply the fact that there is no system in place.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

Retrospective registration may be necessary where there is a backlog of children whose births have gone unregistered. In Senegal, the government is facilitating retrospective registration through free local court hearings and the number of unregistered children has fallen considerably as a result. In Sierra Leone, the government gave the National Office of Births and Deaths special permission to issue birth certificates to children over seven. In Bolivia, there was a successful three-year amnesty for the free registration of young people aged between 12 and 18.[13]

Statelessness, or the lack of effective nationality, impacts the daily lives of some 11-12 million people around the world. Perhaps those who suffer most are stateless infants, children, and youth. Though born and raised in their parents’ country of habitual residence, they lack formal recognition of their existence.[14]


In Canada, the issuance of birth certificates is a function of the provinces or territories.[15]

Agencies or various ministers are in charge of issuing birth certificates:[16]

  • Alberta - Department of Vital Statistics (Service Alberta)
  • British Columbia - Vital Statistics Agency (Ministry of Health)
  • Manitoba - Vital Statistics Agency (Ministry of Healthy Living, Seniors and Consumer Affairs/Consumer and Corporate Affairs)
  • New Brunswick - Vital Statistics (Service New Brunswick)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador - Vital Statistics Government Services (Service NL)
  • Northwest Territories - Vital Statistics (Department of Health and Social Services - Health Services Administration Division)
  • Nova Scotia - Registrar General Dvision of Vital Statistics (Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations)
  • Nunavut - Registrar General of Vital Statistics (Nunavut Health and Social Services)
  • Ontario - Office of Registrar General-Service Ontario (Ministry of Government Services)
  • Prince Edward Island - Vital Statistics (Health and Social Services)
  • Quebec - Director of Civil State (Minister of Justice)
  • Saskatchewan - Vital Statistics-Information Service Corporation (Department of Health)
  • Yukon - Vital Statistics (Ministry of Health and Social Services - Health Services)

Types of certified copies issued[edit]

There are two types of birth certificates issued:

  • Long form - legal size or two page form with details of the person, their parents', place of birth, certification by the parents, signature and stamp of the issuing agency or department. Recent forms are in English and French.
  • Short form or card - provides name, birth date, place of birth, date of registration, date of issue, registration number, certificate number, signature of registrar general

England and Wales[edit]

In England and Wales, the description "birth certificate" is used to describe a certified copy of an entry in the birth register.[17]

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales started on 1 July 1837.[18] Registration was not compulsory until 1875, following the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1874, which made registration of a birth the responsibility of those present at the birth.[19]

When a birth is registered, the details are entered into the register book at the local register office for the district in which the birth took place and is retained permanently in the local register office. A copy of each entry in the birth register is sent to the General Register Office (GRO).[20]

Pre-1837 birth and baptism records[edit]

Before the government's registration system was created, evidence of births and/or baptisms (and also marriages and death or burials) was dependent on the events being recorded in the records of the Church of England or in those of other various churches – not all of which maintained such records or all types of those records. Copies of such records are not issued by the General Register Office; but can be obtained from these churches, or from the local or national archive, which usually now keeps the records in original or copy form.

Types of certified copies issued in England and Wales[edit]

Specimen England and Wales Long Birth Certificate

There are two types of birth certificates:

A full certificate is a copy of the original entry in the birth register, giving all the recorded details.[21] Information includes; name, sex, date and place of birth of the child, father's name, place of birth and occupation, mother's name, place of birth, maiden name and occupation. Certificates for births before 1969 do not show the details of the parents' place of birth and registration, before 1984 does not show mothers occupation and births before 1911 do not show the mothers maiden name.[22]

The short certificate shows the child’s full name, sex, date and place of birth. It does not give any particulars of the parents; therefore it is not proof of parentage. A short birth certificate is issued, free of charge, at the time of registration.[21]

Both versions of certificate can be used in the verification of identity by acting as a support to other information or documentation provided. Where proof of parentage is required only a full certificate will be accepted.[23]

The original registrations are required by law[24] to be issued in the form of certified copies to any person who identifies an index entry and pays the prescribed fee. They can be ordered by registered users from the General Register Office Certificate Ordering Service or by postal or telephone ordering from the General Register Office or by post or in person from local registrars. If the birth was registered within the past 50 years detailed information is required before a certificate will be issued.[25]

United States[edit]

In the U.S., the issuance of birth certificates is a function of the states,[26] even though birthplace is a determinant of American citizenship.[27][28]

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.[29]

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.[30] As a result, neither the appearance nor the information content of birth certificate forms is uniform across states. 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 upon request.[1]

Types of certified copies issued[edit]

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, as of 2000 there were more than 6,000 entities issuing birth certificates. The Inspector General report states that according to staff at the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Forensics Document Laboratory the number of legitimate birth certificate versions in use exceeded 14,000.[31]

Acceptance of short forms[edit]

In the case of applying for a US passport, not all legitimate government-issued birth certificates are acceptable:

A certified birth certificate has a registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within 1 year of your birth. Please note, some short (abstract) versions of birth certificates may not be acceptable for passport purposes.

Beginning April 1, 2011, all birth certificates must also include the full names of the applicant's parent(s).[32]

The US State Department has paid close attention to abstract certificates from both Texas and California. There have been reports of a high instance of midwife registration fraud along the border region between Texas and Mexico,[33][34] and the Texas abstract certificate form does not list the name or occupation of the attendant. The California Abstract of Birth did not include an embossed seal, was no longer considered a secure document, and have not been issued in California since 2001.

Q. I have a "Certified Abstract" that I obtained in the 1990s. I am now being told it is not sufficient (e.g. passports), and I need to get a full embossed certificate. What should I do?

A. California law allowed for the issuance of abstracts for a period. Due to the increase of fraud, outside agencies became stricter in the forms of vital records they would accept, so State law was changed so abstracts are no longer issued. Unfortunately, that means you will probably need to replace any abstracts with a newer full certified copy. If you have an abstract issued from our office, please contact us to discuss replacement.[35]

Other forms[edit]

Most hospitals in the U.S. issue a souvenir birth certificate which may include 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[citation needed] the souvenir records to be their official birth certificates, when in reality they hold little legal value.[36]

Birth certificates in cases of adoptions[edit]

In the United States, when an adoption is finalized, the government seals the original birth certificate and will issue a replacement birth certificate substituting the individual's birth name with the name selected by the adoptive parents, and replacing the birth parents' names with the adoptive parents. In those cases, adopted individuals are not granted access to their own original birth certificates upon request. Laws vary depending on the state where the birth was originally registered and the adoption was finalized. Some states allow adopted people unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates, while in others the certificate is available only if the biological parents have given their permission or a petition has been granted by the court of jurisdiction. Other jurisdictions do not allow adopted people access to their own original birth certificates under any circumstances.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vital Records Registration Handbook (Jacksonville, FL: Florida Office of Vital Statistics, 2007) 7.
  2. ^ "About Us" (UK General Registry Office), accessed August 2009,[dead link].
  3. ^ Convention on the Rights of the Child (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1989), accessed 17 May 2011.
  4. ^ Universal Birth Registration — A Universal Responsibility (Woking: Plan International, 2005).
  5. ^ "UNICEF SOWC Report" ( accessed 17 February 2011.
  6. ^ Paula Gerba, "Making Indigenous Australians 'disappear': Problems arising from our birth registration systems," Alternative Law Journal 34, no. 3 (2009): |157–162,[dead link].
  7. ^ a b Count Every Child (Plan, 2009).
  8. ^ The 'Rights' Start to Life, (New York: UNICEF).
  9. ^ "Fact sheets," (International Council of Nurses, 21 May 2010).
  10. ^ UNICEF (2007) Birth Registration and Armed Conflict, (Florence: Innocenti Research Centre, 2007).
  11. ^ Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) on Children and HIV and AIDS Working Group on Civil Registration, Birth and Death Registration in the Context of HIV and AIDS in Eastern and Southern Africa: Human's First and Last Right (Plan, 2008).
  12. ^ "Birth Registration: A Topic Proposed for an Executive Committee Conclusion on International Protection," (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 9 February 2010).
  13. ^ Simon Heap and Claire Cody, "The Universal Birth Registration Campaign," Forced Migration Review, no. 32 (2009): 20-22.
  14. ^ Futures Denied: Statelessness Among Infants, Children and Youth (Refugees International, 2008).
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Melanie Lee (14 January 2011). "GRO information on birth certificates in England and Wales" (pdf). General Registre Office. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "Civil Registration in England and Wales". Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  19. ^ "Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1874". Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  20. ^ "Offical information on births, marriages and deaths". General Register Office. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "Register a Birth". Government UK. 14 July 2015. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  22. ^ GRO (2015). "Information on a birth, marriage or death certificate". Government UK. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  23. ^ Treasury Solicitor's Department (10 March 2014). "Proof of Identity checklist for indivduals". Government UK. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  24. ^ Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1953, 1 & 2 Eliz. 2, c. 1, accessed October 2011.
  25. ^ GRO (2015). "Ordering a certificate for events which have taken place during the last 50 years". Government UK. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  26. ^ Birth Certificate Fraud (Office of Inspector General, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1988), iii.
  27. ^ |Margaret Lee, U.S. Citizenship of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, (UNT Digital Library, 12 May 2006).
  28. ^ Report of the panel to evaluate the standard U.S. certificates (Division of Vital Statistics National—Center for Health Statistics, April 2000, addenda November 2001), 60.
  29. ^ Report of the panel to evaluate the standard U.S. certificates (Division of Vital Statistics National—Center for Health Statistics, April 2000, addenda November 2001).
  30. ^ 2003 Revisions of the U.S. Standard Certificates (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last updated 27 April 2011).
  31. ^ Birth Certificate Fraud (Office of Inspector General, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1988), 11.
  32. ^ "First Time Applicants", US State Department, accessed 26 July 2011.
  33. ^ "They Say They Were Born in the U.S.A. The State Department Says Prove It", Wall Street Journal, accessed 11 January 2012.
  34. ^ "NOTICE OF FINAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT IN A CLASS ACTION, Castelano, et al. v. Clinton, et al.", US State Department, accessed 11 January 2012.
  35. ^ "FAQs - Birth, Death, and Marriage Services", Santa Clara County - Office of the Clerk-Recorder, accessed 11 January 2012.
  36. ^ Bob Rankin, "Passports Online" on Ask Bob Rankin, 2006.