Home > Guide to Birth Records
Birth records offer vital information about anyone who was born within the United States. The dates on these records vary by state, with some states offering information that extends back centuries. Birth certificate searches are an integral part of a successful genealogical project. These documents also become necessary for identification purposes, from everything from applying for a passport to enrolling in public school. No matter what your reasons for launching a birth records search, you can rest assured there are a wealth of resources available online and through various government offices for finding and retrieving these documents.
Types of Birth Records
The two main types of birth records available today are official birth certificates and birth indexes. An official birth certificate typically comes with a raised seal from the government office where it was issued. This document is the one that can be used as identification for public school enrollment, passports or any other official business where a birth certificate is required.
The birth index offers online public records that are relatively easy to find and retrieve. Unlike official birth records, which typically require a fee to obtain, birth indexes are considered free public records that can simply be downloaded and printed from your personal computer. Birth indexes come in handy for those conducting genealogical searches, as they provide the necessary information about an individual without requiring the researcher to jump through extra hoops or pay a fee. And while official birth records may have restricted access, birth indexes are typically available to members of the general public.
Information Found in Records
The information contained within birth records can vary from state to state. Although the federal government now requires all states to document births in the state through official records, how these records are presented and stored is a decision for the state government. In most cases, birth records will include the name of the individual, the names of both parents (if that information is available) and the date and location of the birth. Some will also list the time of birth and the hospital where the baby was born.
Locations for Birth Records
Birth records can be found through a variety of locations, offering plenty of choices for those in the thick of a public records search. One of the most common locations for birth records is at the state health department, which allows interested parties to find the documents they are looking for with just a name, approximate date of birth and the state where the person was born.
Birth records may also be found through county clerk’s offices, particularly records that date back many generations.
State archives may also be the place to find the oldest birth certificates on record. In some states, these documents may be centuries old.
Additional information on locations for birth records across the country can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Restriction to Birth Records Access
Because birth certificates are considered legitimate forms of identification for many purposes, access to these official documents is restricted to protect the persons on these records. Every state varies in terms of their restriction rules, but most limit access to these documents for the first 50 to 100 years after the birth. During this window, access is granted to the person on the document, the parents of the person, or other immediate family members. Legal representatives of any of these individuals can also gain access to birth records with the appropriate court documentation. Birth indexes are always available to the general public and can often be accessed online from any location and at any time.
Because these records are restricted in most areas, those requesting the information will need to provide additional documentation to gain access to the files. Proper identification, such as a passport or driver’s license, will need to be submitted with the document request. The person making the request may also need to provide proof of relationship with the person on the document.
Online Birth Records Search
The easiest way to find birth records today is through an online public records search. This can be performed through an online service specifically geared to helping people find public records of all kinds. Some state offices also provide their own online search tools to help interested individuals find public records within that state. Many of these searches yield free public records that can be obtained by simply downloading and printing the document. However, if an official copy of the certificate is required, it usually has to be requested from the appropriate state office directly, and a fee is commonly assessed for the service.