Are Birth Certificates Public?

If your birth certificate has gone missing or has been damaged, you already know that you need to ask for a replacement as soon as possible, since birth certificates are essential documents for several bureaucratic procedures in the U.S., such as signing a work contract or applying for your passport.

For this reason, generally and if you haven’t been adopted through a sealed procedure, you can fairly easily obtain a copy of your own birth certificate.

However, birth records other than your own are restricted, and often even impossible to access for the general public. The same goes for other vital records like death and marriage certificates.

Keep reading to find out about the rules on birth records and how to access them.

Are Vital Records Open to the Public?

No, a great number of vital records are not open to the public in the USA. For the majority of states, you will be able to successfully request a birth certificate with the state’s office of vital records only if you are the person named in the record or have a significant relationship with them.

Eligible people who may request someone’s else birth certificate include, for example:

  • The parents named on the birth certificate
  • The legal guardians of the certificate’s subject, whose parental rights have been established by a court of law
  • The grandparents of the person named on the certificate
  • The children of the person whose birth is recorded on the certificate (if older than 18 years of age)
  • The siblings of the person named on the certificate
  • The spouse of the certificate holder
  • The legal representative of the person named on the certificate
  • A representative of a government agency carrying out official business
  • A person holding a signed authorization from the certificate holder

The individual other than the certificate holder requesting access must provide proof of relationship with the person named on the certificate. Depending on the nature of the relationship, this may include other vital records, such as a certificate of marriage.

Please note that the above list is not exhaustive and does not apply to all states. If you are considering requesting someone else’s vital records, you should first check your eligibility with the relevant government office in the state where the birth or other recorded event occurred.

When Can the Public Access Birth Certificates?

There are exceptions to the rule and some certificates are available for public consultation.

This is the case, for example, for genealogy birth certificates, which are the records of births that occurred over 80 years ago. These are usually kept in state archives or public libraries and can be consulted freely for research purposes or, for example, to retrace one’s family tree.

Other genealogy vital records include:

  • Records of marriages occurred more than 50 years ago
  • Deaths recorded over 40 years ago

Moreover, several states allow the general public to access informational copies of vital records. These documents have been edited to leave out all sensitive information and cannot be used for legal purposes in the U.S. but are still useful, for example, for research purposes.

How to Access a Birth Certificate

In order to retrieve a birth certificate, you first need to figure out what type of certificate you need.

Are you going to use it for legal purposes? If that is the case, you will need an official, authorized copy.

If you just need it for research purposes, you may want to get an informational copy, or you may even be after a genealogy record (depending on the year it was filed.)

Next, you must find out where the record is kept. Official, non-genealogical vital records are usually kept and issued by the Vital Records office of your state’s Department of Health.

These records can be obtained online by eligible applicants. All you need to do is fill out the online application form, collect the relevant supporting documentation (such as proof of ID and relationship with the certificate’s subject, if relevant) and mail your request together with the application fee. You will receive the certified copy of the record directly in the mail at home.

For older records, you may have to physically go to the relevant archive or library, or may be able to browse them online.