What to Know About Birth Certificates

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on August 29, 2022
4 min read

In the United States, birth certificates usually consist of a Certificate of Live Birth, which is a standard form. Its purpose is to collect information and issue a recognized birth certificate that is distinguishable for all individuals. 

Why is a birth certificate so important, though? Well, here is the history of the government offering proof of where and when you were born. 

Your individual claim and verification of your citizenship are certified on your birth certificate. It establishes your identity and your kinship to your parents. The birth certificate is the most important document at several points, including entering school, getting a social security number and card, getting a passport, a driver's license, or even playing school sports. Your birth certificate will also establish your citizenship so that you qualify for employment in the U.S. 

Application for government benefits, military enlistment, pension or insurance benefits, and passports are all items you are entitled to with your U.S. birth certificate, which establishes something very important: your citizenship.

The U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth currently is set up like an application with boxed entries for inputting precise bits of information. Two pages long, the whole form consists of about 58 questions. The questions request a lot of specific details about newborns and their fathers and mothers. It establishes whether the child has a twin or twins, if they were born in a hospital or home birth, and if they have any serious health conditions.  It will also ask for demographic info about the Mom and Dad, like names, addresses, and racial and ethnic info, among other things. You will also see some questions about the Mom's prenatal journey. 

The certificate is certified by the doctor who was present at your birth or who performed an examination. The form is usually filled out by your parents, certified, then sent to the municipality that will finally issue a complete and official birth certificate document. 

Birth certificates are issued by states. A state-issued certificate is usually very different than the Standard Certificate of Live Birth form. The official certificate looks more formal, is thicker, and has the municipality that issued it, sealed and stamped in an obvious place.  Some states issue a watermark, or a state official might sign it. 

On the birth certificate copy, you will find only basic information. Your official birth certificate will have your name, birth place, birth date, and other essential information. Your mother and father’s information is on there as well, like names, birth date, address, and occupation listed. Depending on your state, usually, the birth certificate documents are certified with an embossed seal and signed. If your birth certificate is needed for identification purposes, it must include a certified raised seal to be deemed valid. 

The U.S. has a decentralized system, so a standard set-up of all birth certificates is not required to be issued to individuals. The federal government only offers the standard birth certificate application form, the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth. Once that information is collected, a state is free to generate its own documents for birth certification to be delivered to families. 

Per the 1959 Model State Vital Statics Act, state-issued birth certificate guidelines and the standard certificate of live birth must be periodically updated. It is estimated by the National Center for Health Statistics that 14,000 different documents of birth are still floating around in the U.S., though.

In the U.S., there is no national birth registry. You may see a federal registry in other nations like the United Kingdom. Individual states issue birth certificates and are mandated to report vital statistics data to the federal government annually. If U.S. citizens have a baby out of the country, the data is monitored by the U.S. Department of State.

In each state, birth certificate management can be further differentiated, with collected data and certification issued at a municipal level. Birth-certified information is submitted to the municipality from the hospital of birth by doctors, midwives, parents, or doctors via an electronic or paper form. Once the municipality processes the information, the birth certificate is printed, and the parents can get it. The data is used on the state level and federal level to understand population diversity, birth trends, health, and demographics. 

If the parents of a newborn are not married, the dad's name can be completed on the birth certificate if both sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity. If you are not married to your child’s father or not tied to the biological father, paternity for the baby must be established by Acknowledgement of Paternity. This form is purely voluntary. 

The establishment of paternity is the means by which you legally determine the paternity of dads of children born to unmarried parents. All children have a biological father, but if that father is not married to the children's mom, legally, they may not be recognized or accepted as the legal father. Until the father is established legally, in some states, he may have no rights or responsibilities to the child.  

Legally determining the paternity of children of unborn parents helps give them the same rights and the same benefits as children of married parents. 

When you are requesting copies of a certificate of birth, the protocols are pretty much the same as requesting changes. The replacement request can be done online on the website containing your state's vital records. If you don’t know the site, google “your state” birth certificate replacement or request, and this should take you to the site for the department of health, secretary of state, or office of vital records. 

Follow the directions listed there and be prepared to possibly pay a fee.