What to Know About U.S. Birth Certificates

Woman asking about everything she need to know about U.S birth certificate

There are so many different formats for U.S. birth certificates, and even a few different types, so we’ve put together a guide to all things birth certificate related. In this article, we’ll cover all the details about birth certificate copies and answer some common questions like:

What exactly is a U.S. birth certificate?

What do birth certificates look like?

What is the purpose of a birth certificate?

So keep reading to learn the answers to all of those questions and more.

What is a birth certificate?

In short, a U.S. birth certificate is a government-issued document that is used to officially register a child’s birth. While birth certificates can be used for many things, their essential purpose is to serve as proof of identity and citizenship.

When a child is born in the United States, the first official document they receive is nearly always a U.S. birth certificate. However, this is not their original birth certificate. The original is always kept on file at the Vital Records Office where it was created. All you can get is certified copies of your birth certificate.

It’s important to keep a copy of your birth certificate on hand. So, if your birth certificate has been lost or stolen, or you just don’t have a copy, it’s easy to order a certified U.S. birth certificate copy online.

What does a U.S. birth certificate look like?

It may seem like asking what an certified, government-issued birth certificate looks like would be a simple question. However, it does not have a simple answer.

While the application form for a birth certificate is standard across the U.S., there is no nation or federal registry for U.S. births.

Birth certificates are issued at the state level, and each state, county, and city can use their own format for birth certificates that they issue. They just have to follow a few basic federal guidelines.

As a result, there are approximately 14,000 different birth certificate formats that can be or have been issued in the United States.

For more information on what state-issued birth certificates commonly looks like, you can check: What information is on a Birth Certificate?

What is a Certificate of Live Birth?

As we mentioned earlier, there is a standard application you must submit to apply for a new birth certificate for your newborn. It’s called the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth.

It must be submitted either electronically or by mail to the Vital Records Office for the state, county, or city where the child was born, either by the:

  • Baby’s parents
  • Doctor or midwife attending the birth
  • Hospital or maternity center where the child was born

The Vital Records Office will use the form to create a new U.S. birth certificate. The original will be kept on file, and a certified copy will be sent to the parents.

Difference between a Birth Certificate and a Certificate of Live Birth

The Certificate of Live Birth simply verifies that the child was born and considered medically alive, and it used to collect the information used to create a new birth certificate.

While the birth certificate serves as proof as the individual’s identity, date of birth, citizenship, place of birth, and parentage.

A Certificate of Live Birth asks for the:

  • Baby’s full, legal name
  • Baby’s date, place, and time of birth
  • Baby’s gender, race, weight, length, and whether it was a single or multiple birth
  • Parents’ names
  • Attending doctors’ names
  • Name of the hospital or facility where the baby was born
  • Name of the person filling out the birth record

Since the information will be used to create the official birth certificate, it’s important to double check the completed form and make sure there are no errors before it is submitted. It’s much easier to correct a mistake on the application form than it is to fix an error on the official birth certificate.

After the Certificate of Live Birth is submitted and processed, the birth will be officially recorded and a birth certificate issued. However, the original U.S. Birth Certificate is permanently kept on file at the Vital Records Office where it was created.

What information is on a birth certificate?

It depends on the type of birth certificate. There are long-form birth certificates and short-form birth certificates (also known as abstract, informational, or heirloom birth certificates). The information included on a birth certificate varies by state, and information varies based on the type of birth certificate, as well.

Long-Form Birth Certificates – commonly called Official Birth Certificates, since they are the type you need to prove your identity or citizenship

Short-Form Birth Certificates – are not legally valid, contain less information, and are generally only used as keepsakes or for genealogical purposes

You can find more details on the differences between long form and short form copies here.

What can a birth certificate be used for?

An official, government-issued U.S. birth certificate can be used to prove the certificate holder’s:

  • Age and date of birth
  • Citizenship status
  • Identity

You may need a certified birth certificate copy when you are required to prove your age, citizenship, or identity. For example, a U.S. birth certificate is commonly required when applying for other kinds of IDs, including a:

There are many other situations where you may need to provide a certified copy of your birth certificate. For example, to:

  • Enroll yourself or your child in school
  • Start a new job
  • Open a bank account
  • Apply for a mortgage or loan
  • Prove a familial relationship
  • Apply for government assistance or social programs
  • Sign up your child for a sport
  • Enroll in a health insurance plan

How do I get an official copy of my birth certificate?

If you are asked to provide an official birth certificate, they are asking for a certified U.S. Birth Certificate copy.

A certified copy is an authorized, exact copy of the original, which is always kept on file at the Vital Records Office where you were born.

You can only get a certified Birth Certificate copy from the Vital Records Office that has the original. However, it’s easy to do online. All you have to do is complete a short online form and mail it to the Vital Records Office, along with proof of your identity (if required). They will process your application and mail the certified copy of your birth certificate to your home.

If you already have a copy of your birth certificate, but you aren’t sure if it’s certified, you can check out our article on how to determine whether your U.S. birth certificate is official.

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