Birth records are an essential tool, and quite possibly the foundation of genealogy research. Birth records are official documents which by any measure prove our connections to our ancestors. Birth records can be difficult to find, however, and by preparing carefully, you can maximize your chances of locating the birth records for your ancestors.
In order to find a birth record, you first need some essential information about the person, specifically their full name and their place and date of birth. Ironically, you're not relying on the birth certificate to tell you this information, but to verify what you have already discovered through other research. A birth certificate provides you with not only final verification of your information, but is also the stepping stone to the further past by providing information on the parents of the person on the birth certificate. Birth certificates often contain valuable information of the parents, including both names, and their birthplaces.
In America, birth records have been recorded since the late 19th century and are typically found in the city or town where the person was born. Varying information was recorded in birth registers and later certificates, starting at the earliest with only a name and date. More recently birth certificates contain rich information about not only the child, but the child's parents as well, including their age, birthplaces, and how many children they have had at the time. Each state has differing places where birth records are found.
Guidelines for Requesting Birth Certificates
Following the following guidelines with each request will give you the best possible outcome.
Keep your letters short. Don't include lots of requests and do not include details of your family tree. Remember, there's a regular person on the other end of this request, probably working in a one or two person town clerk's office. They're busy, and the last thing they want to open a letter that's overwhelming. And be patient with your request.
Provide complete information on an individual and event for which you need documents. Include all names that may have been used, include nicknames, alternate spellings, etc. List dates and type of events as completely and accurately as possible. If you don't know the exact date, specify the span of several years.
Unless you already know the exact cost of a document, do not send a specific amount of money in cash or check. You may want to send a signed, blank check. If you do this, write under the space for the dollar amount something like
Not to exceed $20.00, or whatever amount is appropriate. If you're not comfortable doing that, give them a call. If they don't accept telephone calls, you can request a quote of cost in the first letter and then when you receive that, you can send a check for the exact amount.
Always provide a self addressed stamped envelope.
Most states restrict access to birth certificates to the following individuals, and require a signed release for access. See the individual state pages for details:
- Person Named on the Certificate
- Mother or Father (or Legal Guardian)
- Husband or Wife of Person Named on Certificate
- Son or Daughter of Person Named on Certificate
- Sister or Brother of Person Named on Certificate
- Legal Representative of an Authorized Person
- Individuals with a legitimate and legal reason to search for genealogical purposes.
When requesting a birth certificate, you should be prepared to provide the following information with your request:
- Full name of person at birth
- Date of birth
- Hospital of birth
- County or city of birth
- Full maiden name of mother
- Full name of Father
- Your relationship to the person whose certificate you are requesting
- Your picture ID
- Your reason for searching for this Document
- Any additional information that you may think is pertinent. (But don't provide excessive information.)
Start your search at the state level to discover what marriage information is available and with which government office, city, county, or state. Also, due to privacy concerns, many states restrict access to birth record information, especially for individuals who are still living. Check with the local clerk office for their regulations and information. Choose from the states below to begin your search.