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Birth Certificates and 27 Other Places to Look for Birth Data

When you explore your genealogy, one of the first things you need to know about a person is the birth date. The birthplace helps too, of course. There are many places to find this information, and most of them have additional useful data. We’ll look at some of the possibilities here.

birth records

A birth certificate, a birth register, and a birth announcement

BIRTH CERTIFICATES

In the modern world the official birth record is the birth certificate or “certificate of live birth.” As such, it is a “primary source,” usually created near the time of the birth, by someone who was present. It may come in a different forms, such as a short form for public information and a long form with more details. Its availability and the information it contains vary widely from place to place and in different times, but it’s common to find much more than the name, date, and place. Here’s a partial list of what else you might see:

  • the baby’s gender
  • parents’ names, including the mother’s maiden name
  • parents’ ages or birth dates (or approximate years of birth)
  • parents’ birthplaces
  • parents’ address (which can lead you to census records)
  • information about the baby’s siblings
  • parents’ occupations
  • grandparents’ names
  • the baby’s race
  • the family’s religious affiliation

In some cases, birth certificates may be corrected or amended years later to show legal name changes or even, in some jurisdictions, gender changes. Sooner or later, you’ll also encounter “delayed registrations,” which are birth certificates created long after the birth and on the basis of other evidence.

IT’S COMPLICATED

Obtaining a birth certificate is complicated. Every nation or other jurisdiction has its own rules, practices, fees, and timelines. As if that weren’t enough, the names of the offices and departments where one inquires vary widely, too. However, among the English-speaking nations I’ve checked, all this is just many variations on the same themes.

Here are three examples from the United States, where birth certificates are obtained from state governments. I’ll give you enough details to give you the flavor of the experience, but don’t worry if your head spins a little. There’s no quiz at the end of this blog post.

Hawaii’s Department of Health has been inundated in recent years by requests for US President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, to the point that they have a whole page at their web site devoted to him. Otherwise, things are typical. Many birth certificates can be ordered online, but some must be ordered by mail or fax or in person. Certified copies (useful for official identification) are available only for yourself and immediate family members. Non-certified or “genealogical” copies (for information, not identification) are available on similar terms, unless the birth was at least 75 years ago, in which case anyone can request a copy — but only by mail.

In Colorado, where I was born, birth certificates are available from the Center for Health and Environmental Information and Statistics. Records become public 100 years after the birth, unless the person is known to be still alive. Before then, proof is required of a close relationship. A spouse must provide a marriage certificate. A parent must be listed on the birth certificate requested. Grandparents and great-grandparents must provide other birth certificates showing the relationship. Siblings must provide a birth certificate showing at least one of the same parents. In-laws, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins can only obtain birth certificates that are 50 years old or more, and then only if they produce the individual’s death certificate. Unrelated genealogists must provide a signed, notarized release from an immediate family member, as well as proof of the family member’s relationship, and then the issued certificate will be stamped “for genealogical use only.”

In New York, where two of my children were born, only the child or a parent named on the certificate can obtain a certified copy without a court order. Genealogical copies are available after 75 years, if the person is known to be deceased, but this time period is waived for direct-line descendants of the person whose record is requested — given proof, of course.

Some jurisdictions will search for a birth certificate, if the precise date is unknown. For example, as of the time of this publication, New York Department of Health will search up to a three-year span for no extra charge. A larger search requires an additional fee. Requests must be made by mail, and processing may take up to eight months.

These are just three examples, of course. The easiest way to find out what’s available, from where, and on what terms is to do an Internet search to find the responsible office’s web site. (Use a search term like “Colorado birth certificates”; don’t try to guess the office’s name.) There you should find a wealth of detail, including what information you’ll be required to provide, as well as the applicable fees.

OTHER PLACES TO LOOK FOR BIRTH RECORDS

Did I mention that getting birth certificates from government offices is complicated? Privacy laws, growing concern for identity theft, and bureaucracy itself pretty much guarantee it won’t ever be easy. The good news is, there are many other places to get a person’s birth information. In fact, you might need at least one other source before you have enough data to request a birth certificate, if that’s what you want.

Concord Massachusetts Births Marriages and Deaths 1635-1850

A page from Concord Massachusetts Births, Marriages, and Deaths 1635-1850, available at FamilyLink

Some of these sources are more reliable than others. In general, the closer the record-keeper’s relationship is to the individual, and the sooner the record is made after the birth, the more likely it is to be accurate.

Siblings or other close relatives might remember a person’s birth date.

Church and municipal records often record births. A christening date in church records can be a useful substitute for a missing birth date.

Newspapers often run birth announcements.

Family Bibles and family histories may contain birth information.

Personal journals, diaries, histories and scrapbooks may record births, among many other things.

Official marriage records often list birth dates, or at least current ages or ages at next birthdays.

Death certificates, obituaries, newspaper articles and death announcements, mortuary records, cemetery records, funeral programs, and tombstones often give birth dates.

Census records commonly list either age or year of birth.

Many military, pension, probate, land, property, immigration, and emigration records have at least a birth year or age, and may have a complete birth date.

Somewhere in a box, a folder, or a drawer — perhaps in an attic — you may find an assortment of other personal documents, including forms of identification, such as driver licenses and passports, and other government documents containing a birth date, such as my Selective Service letter, as in the image.

Personal documents

My passport, my driver license, and a Selective Service document

AT FAMILYLINK

That’s 27 different record types in addition to birth certificates, by my count. At FamilyLink you can search most of these. For your siblings, the family Bible, that scrapbook Aunt Tillie kept, and whatever you may find in the attic, you’re on your own. Enjoy the adventure!

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32 Responses to “Birth Certificates and 27 Other Places to Look for Birth Data”

  1. Melina Bouchard says:

    Grandmother. Her mother Lalamase(?) Bouchare died when my grandmother was 13. Unable to trace birth records for either of them. Help me if you can please.

  2. Could you please send me a copy of my certificate. Thanks Don Frame

  3. Angie says:

    Hi my name is Angie gunn and I am looking for my late mothers death certificate and her ssn number. If you can help me find them her name was valentine Gunn born on November 1 1963 past away on September 6 1995

  4. pauline rigoni says:

    Please un subscriber me as i requested this the first night i sign up for free trial found your site very hard to use and i sign DON’T authorize you to take any money out of aaccount please act on this immediately thanks Pauline

  5. JOSIP KOSAC says:

    Would you have any data in near future from Croatia. thank you Joe.

  6. Virginia Guyon Fry says:

    I am looking for information about my paternal great grandfather – Robert Fry. He was born in Devon, England around 1850, and emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand, where he married Sarah ( born Stone). One of his sons, Hugh Guyon Fry, was my grandfather.

  7. Gillian Taylor says:

    It’s much much easier with English certificates! Provided you’ve got the details of when and where the event was registered (through research on a leading genealogy site) you can order copies of any birth, death or marriage cert since civil registration began in 1837. Order and pay online, http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/, and it arrives a week or two later. No questions asked, for people living as well as deceaed.

  8. Lillian Irene Wiseman says:

    She was born June 21,1921

  9. J.Graham says:

    I have found over the past number pf years that MOST of the genealogical sites, such as this one and Ancestry.com are MAINLY U.S. of A. information. To access anything outside the U.S. one must subscribe to a group in the country where one’s Ancestors came from. Even Ancestry.ca is useless unless your Ancestors came from elsewhere back about 1800 or so.

  10. I was adopted in 1940, but my birth certificate is like my adopted parents had us. We were born in Illinois, not California.
    Both my biological and adopted parents are now deceased, so I would like my original birth certificate from Illinois. I do
    not know the city. Biological name was Vera Corrine Algiers and my sister (also deceased) was Edith Eleanor Algiers. Our parents were Vera C. and Benjamin W. Algiers. We were adopted in California from the Children’s Home Society of Los
    Angeles. If more information is needed please contact me at my e mail address jpjwvjaj@msn.com. I would like to get
    a copy of my and my twin sister’s birthday certificate. Maiden name was Algiers & (Nickel adopted maiden name).Married name of Johnson
    Thank you. Jane Johnson

  11. Deirdre Holt says:

    Good day,

    I wonder if it would be possible for you to let me know, if I have a name and date of birth, is it possible to find out the country of birth and if the person is still alive?

    Best regards
    Deirdre

  12. Sonja Grobler says:

    Charmaine Botha (d.ob. 1962.08.30) looking for biological mother Louisa Wilhelmina Botha, age 68/69

  13. Mary Hendrix says:

    Im looking for an original birth certificate with my original name before adoption. Many people are giving many discrepancies since both my adopted parents are deceased. need family medical history.

  14. Francis John Solowinski says:

    Is it true that I am related to Oward Carter, the man whom found King TUT

  15. Great as all this info may be for some. This is of no use to me. To be able to find my birth father i would need a bit more than i have been ‘privileged’ to know. It took the best part of my life so far and several drinks for me to pluck up the courage to push my mother for a name! All she gave me was a namre and a rough idea of where she thought he was living at the time of my conception.

  16. Patricia says:

    Thank you for that very useful article. I hadn’t realised the extent of differences of civil record keeping and accessibility across different countries. I would like to add something though if I may, concerning Parish records in the U.K. They generally only record the date of baptism, not the birth. While people were generally baptised very shortly after birth, sometimes it can have happened much later. I found this out researching my ancestors in Cumberland. For a short period, in addition to the date of baptism the birth date and mother’s maiden name were recorded. Imagine my surprise when I found the range of ages of the ‘babies’ from two weeks old to 14 years old!.

    It had been a whole family group christening in 1806 as revealed by the maiden names of all the mothers. Which leads me to a request for info.

    Does any one know if this was common and, could it have had anything to do with church taxes or fees that had been introduced. I do know that in the 1830’s multi marriage ceremonies took place in order to share the costs.

  17. L.M.LEWRY says:

    you cannot trace my family tree.grandmother got pregnant by boy friend.my dad given her husbands surname.dad had no idea who his father was.both dad and his mum passed away now.

  18. Shaun Lynch says:

    Hi,

    I am asking if you could help with any information about Family Links, I am trying to find family members, who live in Liverpool, England, Great Britain on my Mothers side, family members who are alive? My mothers maiden name was McCoy. Looking for her sisters, Joan Johnson and Christine Goodman. If you can help or find any information that could be useful, I would be grateful.

    Thanks.

  19. victoria rayson says:

    info on Dorothy may Mcintyre nee hagerty born in penang
    18th may 1886
    have not been able to find it anywhere been to penang on holiday been to churches and b d m gov no luck
    hope you can help regards victoria

  20. birth certifacate for janaury 16 1914-or 1915.

  21. terry kelly says:

    Am looking for an aunt whose last name was Briardy and who married a gentleman with last name of Sullivan. Her siblings were Hanetta, Ellen, Rose , Joseph, Ester and John Briardy She is suposedly buried in the cemetert in Leadville, Colorado. Not sure if interned in St. Joseph’s or Evergreen Cemeteries.

  22. Jean Benitz says:

    I have reason to believe that my birth record was falsified (I had a powerful politician in the family who could do that,
    and am wondering where else I could go. jean edgar benitz

  23. John Parolin says:

    I am a paid member at “Family Link”, so, why am I being asked to become a member on a free trial pop-up?

  24. Gloria Tharpe says:

    Thank you for the information of at least 27 places to find info besides birth certificates. It is extremely hard finding my paternal grandmother and her parents and siblings on anything but the 1900 and 1910 census. Strange because my grandmother lived until 1928 and had five children and a husband who are listed in census and city directories for those other years. She lived with them, but where is she? On their birth certificates, she and my grandfather never used the same form of their first or middle names. They are driving me crazy!!! My grandfather was John Leonard Willis, Sr. He was always called “Leon”, even when I came along. My grandmother was Elinor May Ross Willis. On paper she is called “May”, Mary and Elinora, including her children’s birth certificates. I don’t understand why their names are not the same on their children’s birth certificates, but, rather a derivative of those names.

  25. I have the birth date of my grt grandfather, no father’s name but mother’s name and place of birth.
    No success finding his mother, as her name Ann is so common.

  26. David Rodeback says:

    It’s possible you are not logged in. If this problem persists when you are logged in, please contact us by e-mail, either at the phone number listed at FamilyLink.com or at support@familylink.com.

  27. David Rodeback says:

    We have some records for living people, in family trees from around the world and elsewhere. All are accessible with ordinary searches, so it’s probably worth a try. Good luck!

  28. David Rodeback says:

    Our collections have long been stronger in data for the US than for other countries, but we have gradually expanded to numerous other nations. We now have family tree data from around the world, and we just barely added over 950 million records from dozens of countries, mostly Europe, the UK, Mexico, and South America. Many of these databases go back several centuries.

  29. David Rodeback says:

    We have family tree data from around the world, virtually every nation. I can’t quantify it precisely, but some of that is from Croatia. I’m not aware of other collections from there at present, but please check back every six months or so.

  30. David Rodeback says:

    Sorry, our collections are primarily for genealogical purposes and include relatively few records for the living. You should contact the appropriate government office for the data you need about yourself.

  31. looking for birthcertificate for my daughter Tanya ann carr born 31 may 1966 ,of parents Terry alan carr & telma alberta carr ne. steinbakk. At time of birth was living at 18 woodlands road,walthamstow,london e17

  32. Jean Benitz says:

    Ii am not sure of my birth certificate. I may have been born in Montreal either around March 19th, 1931 or January 26 1932. The name would have been Margaret Jean Turnbull. Father Alan Turnbull and the Mother’s name: Margaret Jardine Edgar Turnbull. He died and she gave me up and I am trying to trace the family. Jean Benitz.

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