Birth record laws vary by state, but if you are building a family tree or want to discover or connect with distant family members, we can help you determine the best way to access their birth records.
In most states, you can get a copy of any of your immediate family member’s U.S. birth certificate, you just need to know a few basic details about them.
If you have more information, it will be easier to access a relative’s birth records. However, the following basic information is a good start:
- Full name – as it appears on their vital record.
- Date of birth – the age of the record will determine whether the birth record is public or closed)
- Place of birth – knowing the birth state will help you determine the application process and requirements to apply for the birth certificate
Differences between public and closed birth records
If you know your relative’s birth state, you can determine whether their birth records are public or closed. This is very important, since the process to access closed records is much different than the process to find public records. If the records are closed or private, then you may not be able to access them at all, or you may only be able to apply for a copy that contains limited information. While this may seem inconvenient, closed records exist to protect privacy and prevent identity theft.
Birth record laws are little different in each state, however, nearly all states keep their birth records private for 75 years. While death certificates typically remain closed for 25 years. After that time has passed, they become public records, which anyone can easily access.
However, if the records you need are still closed, then they can only be accessed by eligible individuals, usually immediate family members. If you do qualify to access the records, you can get a birth certificate copy easily online.
Keep in mind that some states, such as Illinois, require applicants to provide a valid, government-issued ID to prove their relationship to the certificate holder, when applying for another person’s birth certificate. For example, if you need to get a copy of your parent’s birth certificate, you can include a certified copy of your own birth certificate. Since certified birth certificate copies include the parents’ information, this will prove that the person on record is your parent.
How to find public birth records
Most public records, such as birth certificates, are created, filed, and stored at the corresponding office in the city, county, or state where the event happened.
The following resources can help you locate public records:
- National Vital Records Archives: https://www.archives.gov/research/vital-records
- State Department of Public Health where the event was recorded (find out here who to contact for vital records)
- Genealogy websites like Ancestry.com or Familysearch.org
- Other online services that aggregate public records from a wide range of sources (usually for a fee)
If a birth record is public, you should be able to access the birth certificate online at no cost. However, printed copies may carry a fee. The same goes for death certificates.
If you need an official copy of a birth certificate, you can order a certified birth certificate copy online, as long as you know the individual’s basic information and you are eligible to apply.
How long are birth records kept?
Depending on the state, the Vital Records Office will keep birth records on file for anywhere from 80-120 years.
However, more recent records are usually closed and can only be accessed by immediate family members or individuals with a proven tangible interest.
There are fewer restrictions for accessing older records, and they are typically kept in the state archives. For records dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, you may want to try your local historical society.
When were birth records first recorded in the U.S.?
It depends on the state, but most U.S. states started recording births and deaths in the early 1900s. However, some states have maintained records since as far back as the 1600s.
Birth records are generally kept by the state Department of Health where the birth took place.
The following table shows when each state started recording birth, death, marriage, and divorce records. If you need an earlier record, you can contact the city where the record was filed.
|Oldest Vital Records Available in Each State|
|State||Birth Records||Death Records||Marriage Records||Divorce Records|
|Alabama||January 1908||January 1908||August 1936||January 1950|
|Alaska||The 1890s (events before 1930 may not been registered)||The 1890s (events before 1930 may not been registered)||The 1890s (events before 1930 may not been registered)||1950|
|Arizona||July 1909||July 1909|
|Arkansas||February 1914, (some Little Rock and Fort Smith records from 1881)||February 1914, (some Little Rock and Fort Smith records from 1881)||1917||1923|
|California||July 1905||July 1905||Only available from 1905-2001 and 2010 to present||Only available from 1962 to June, 1984|
|Connecticut||July 1, 1897||July 1, 1897||July 1, 1897||July 1, 1897|
|District of Columbia||1874||1855||1810||1810|
|Florida||1917 (some records available from 1850 and later)||1917 (some records available from 1850 and later)||June 6, 1927||June 6, 1927|
|Georgia||January 1919||January 1919||June 9, 1952|
|Hawaii||1909||1896||1909||From July 1951 to December 2002|
|Idaho||July 1911||July 1911||May 1947||May 1947|
|Illinois||January 1916||January 1916||January 1962||January 1962|
|Indiana||October 1907||January 1900||1958|
|Iowa||July 1880||July 1880||July 1880|
|Kansas||July 1911||July 1911||May 1913||July 1951|
|Kentucky||January 1911||January 1911||June 1958||June 1958|
|Maryland||January 1875||1969||January 1990||January, 1992|
|Minnesota||January 1900||January 1908|
|Mississippi||1912||1912||Records available from January 1926 to July 1, 1938, and since January 1942||January 1926|
|Missouri||January 1910||January 1910||July 1948||July 1948|
|Montana||1907||1907||July 1943||July 1943|
|Nebraska||1904||1904||January 1909||January 1909|
|Nevada||July 1911||July 1911||January 1968||January 1968|
|New Mexico||1920 (some records available from 1880 and later)||1920 (some records available from 1880 and later)|
|New York State||1880||1881||1881||January 1963|
|New York City||1910||1949||1950|
|North Carolina||October 1913||1930||1962||1958|
|North Dakota||1870||July 1893|
|Ohio||December 20, 1908||January 1, 1964|
|Oklahoma||October 1908||October 1908|
|Pennsylvania||January, 1906||January, 1906|
|South Carolina||January 1915||January 1915||July 1950||July 1962|
|South Dakota||July 1905||July 1905||July 1905||July 1905|
|Tennessee||January 1914||Records only available for 50 years.||Records only available for 50 years.||Records only available for 50 years.|
|Texas||1903||1903||January 1966||January 1968|
|Vermont||State office has records for the last five years.||State office has records for the last five years.||State office has records for the last five years.||State office has records for the last five years.|
|Virginia||January 1853 to December 1896 and since June 14, 1912||January 1853 to December 1896 and since June 14, 1912||January 1853||January 1918|
|Washington||July 1, 1907||July 1, 1907||January 1968||January 1968|
|Wisconsin||October 1907||October 1907||October 1907||October 1907|
|Wyoming||July 1909||Records only available for 50 years.||Records only available for 50 years.||Records only available for 50 years.|