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As an American citizen, you will need your vital records (like your birth certificate) on several occasions. They are essential documents, often required to complete bureaucratic and legal processes.
It is important that you keep your vital records safe at all times and apply for a replacement should one of your documents go lost or damaged.
Vital records are records of important life events kept by the Government. In the United States, they include:
Different authorities and institutions in the United States started gathering vital statistics at different times and in different forms. It was not a uniform process.
Individuals carrying out genealogical research can check several sources for early forms of vital records, such as (among others):
In the 20th century, states started setting up vital statistics registration systems and passing laws to regulate vital records. Nowadays, vital records are kept and issued by each state’s central Vital Records office (usually part of the state’s Department of Health) as well as county clerk offices.
American citizens may need their vital records several times in their lifetime. Different forms of vital records serve different legal purposes — for example, birth certificates are required to apply for a US passport while divorce decrees may have to be provided to obtain a new marriage license.
Here are just some of the uses of vital records in the US:
Vital records can go lost, for example, during a natural disaster or when moving houses. Some people are not issued their vital records (like their birth certificate) in the first place, for example because they were not born in a hospital or public facility and their birth was never officially registered. As we have seen above, however, vital records are extremely important documents and the moment you figure out that you are missing one, you should take action.
Here are things you can do when you realize that your documents have gone missing:
To request a certified copy of a vital record:
Your vital record document will arrive in the mail at your home address.
Vital Records are issued by the Vital Records office of the state where the life event was registered. To obtain an official copy of your vital record, you will be asked to prove your identity, usually with the help of other relevant documents. Make sure that you know the requirements before you start your vital record application.
Remember: even though you want to keep your vital records safe, laminating them is never a good idea since this often means invalidating them for official use as the document’s security features are lost in the laminating process.
You can photocopy your own vital records but these copies will not be considered valid for official use. The best thing to do to protect your vital records is to store them in a safe place.