Are Birth Certificates Public Records? State-by-State Rules

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.

Public Access to Birth Certificates by State

Each state sets criteria for allowing a birth certificate to become public or making sure it remains confidential.

Birth certificates are available to certain authorized individuals, public or not.

If you are able to obtain yours or someone else’s birth certificate, make sure you have the correct information.

Any non-authorized person needs to wait a certain number of years until the record is made public. The amount of years is determined by the state.

Review your state’s access to birth records in the table below.

State Access to birth record Statute
Alabama Becomes a non-restricted public record 125 years after birth. § 22-9A-21(f)
Alaska Becomes public 100 years after birth. § AS 18.50.310(a), (f)
Arizona Becomes public 75 years after birth.

It can be accessed by genealogists in certain circumstances.

§ R9-19-403
Arkansas Becomes public 100 years after birth.

It is only made public on the grounds of research.

§ 20-18-304(a)
California It is a public record, not including medical and family information. § 102430
Colorado It is made public to someone directly interested in the certificate. § 25-2-117(1)
Connecticut Can only be made public after at least 100 years. § 7-51
Delaware Becomes public 72 years after birth. 16 Del. C. § 3110(f)
District of Columbia Becomes public after 125 years. § 7–231.24.
Florida Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 63.162(4) (2020)
Georgia Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 511-1-3
Hawaii Become public 115 years after birth. § 338-1
Idaho Become public 100 years after birth. § 39-270(e)
Illinois Public only to the person on the document and immediate family. § 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a)
Indiana Is not made public. § 16-37-2-9
Iowa It can only be made public to provide information to locate a child who requires immunizations. § 144.13
Kansas Become public 70 years after birth. § K.S.A. 45-221(a)
Kentucky Become public 100 years after birth. § 213.131(2)
Louisiana It is not made public. § 40:41(C)(1)-(2)
Maine Becomes public 75 years after birth. § 2706
Maryland It is not made public. § 4-101(j)
Massachusetts It is a public record, except for out-of-wedlock births. § G.L. c. 46, § 2A
Michigan Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 368-1978-2-28
Minnesota It is a public record. § 144.225, subd. 2(a)
Mississippi It is not made public. § 41-57-2
Missouri It is not made public. § 10-10.090
Montana The birth is immediately made public. The entire record can be disclosed 30 years later. § 50-15-122(5)(a)
Nebraska It is a public record available to anyone with “proper purpose”. § 71-612
Nevada It is not made public. § NAC 440.120
New Hampshire It is not made public. § 5-C:9 (2014)
New Jersey It is made public only to the person named on the certificate or their parent, sibling, child, or grandchild 18 years of age or older. § N.J.A.C. 8:2-2.1
New Mexico Becomes public 100 years after birth or 50 years after death. § 24-14-27(C)
New York Is not made public. § 4174
North Carolina Uncertified birth certificates are accessible to the public. § 130a-93
North Dakota Becomes public 125 years after birth. § 23-02.1-27
Ohio It is a public record. If the certificate is altered, the original won’t be accessible. § 3705.09
Oklahoma Becomes public 125 years after birth. § 63 O.S. § 1-323(A)
Oregon Becomes public 100 years after birth. § ORS 432.350
Pennsylvania It is made public to someone with an evident interest in the certificate. § 450.804
Rhode Island Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 3-3-23(d)
South Carolina Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 44-63-80
South Dakota It is not made public. § 34-25-1
Tennessee Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 68-3-205
Texas Becomes public 75 years after birth. § 552.115
Utah Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 26-2-22(4)(a)
Vermont It is a public record. § 5002
Virginia Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 32. 1-271
Washington It is a public record. There is a confidential section only available to authorized persons. § RCW70.58A
West Virginia Is not made public. § 16-5-27
Wisconsin It is a public record apart from all sensitive information.

Only authorized individuals may access any sensitive information.

§ 69.21(2)(d)
Wyoming Becomes public 100 years after birth. § 35-1-427

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.

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