Mary Elizabeth Winblad (1895-1987) birth certificate
A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. The term “birth certificate” can refer to either the original document or a certified copy of or representation of the original record of birth.
History and contemporary times
The documentation of births is a practice widely held throughout human civilization, especially in China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia. The original purpose of birth registration was for tax purposes and for the determination of available military manpower. Births were initially registered with churches, who maintained registers of births. This practice continued into the 19th century. The compulsory registration of births with governmental agencies is a practice that originated in the United Kingdom in 1853.
Most countries have statutes and laws that regulate the registration of births. In all countries, it is the responsibility of the mother’s physician, midwife, hospital administrator, or the parents of the child to see that the birth is properly registered with the appropriategovernment agency.
The actual record of birth is stored with a government agency. That agency will issue certified copies or representations of the original birth record upon request, which can be used to apply for government benefits, such as passports. The certification is signed and/or sealed by the registrar or other custodian of birth records, who is commissioned by the government.
The right of every child to a name and nationality, and the responsibility of national governments to achieve this are contained in Articles 7 and 8 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: “All children have the right to a legally registered name, and nationality” (CRC Article 7) and “Governments should respect children’s right to a name, a nationality and family ties” (CRC Article 8).
Despite 191 countries ratifying the Convention, the births of millions of children worldwide go unregistered. By their very nature, data concerning unregistered children are approximate; however, it was estimated in 2008 that 51 million babies – more than two fifths of those born worldwide – were not registered at birth. This phenomenon disproportionately impacts indigenous populations and even in many developed countries, contributes to difficulties in fully accessing civic rights.
Birth registration opens the door to rights to children and adults which many other human beings take for granted: to prove their age; to prove their nationality; to receive healthcare; to go to school; to take exams; to be adopted; to protection from under-age military service or conscription; to marry; open a bank account; to hold a driving licence; to obtain a passport; to inherit money or property; and to vote or stand for elected office.
There are many reasons why births go unregistered, including social and cultural beliefs and attitudes; alternative documents and naming ceremonies; remote areas, poor infrastructure; economic barriers; lack of office staff, equipment and training; legal and political restrictions; fear of discrimination and persecution; war, conflict and unrest or simply the fact that there is no system in place. 
Retrospective registration may be necessary where there is a backlog of children whose births have gone unregistered. In Senegal, the government is facilitating retrospective registration through free local court hearings and the number of unregistered children has fallen considerably as a result. In Sierra Leone, the government gave the National Office of Births and Deaths special permission to issue birth certificates to children over seven. In Bolivia, there was a successful three-year amnesty for the free registration of young people aged between 12 and 18.
Statelessness, or the lack of effective nationality, impacts the daily lives of some 11-12 million people around the world. Perhaps those who suffer most are stateless infants, children, and youth. Though born and raised in their parents’ country of habitual residence, they lack formal recognition of their existence.
Birth certificates in the United Kingdom
A Soviet birth certificate from 1972.
The registration of births, marriages and deaths in the United Kingdom started in 1837, but at first there was no penalty for failing to register a birth. In the British system, all births are recorded in “registers”, which have columns for various particulars of the birth, usually including the name of the child, sex, the names of the parents, the date of the birth, the location of the birth, and sometimes additional information such as the name of the attending physician, the race of the child, or the occupation of the parents. These birth registers are maintained by some government agency, who will issue certified copies or representations of the entry upon request.
Before the government’s registration system birth or more precisely baptism (and also marriage and death) certificates were created by a current incumbent priest providing certified true copies of entries in parish registers.
Types of certified copies issued in England and Wales
Each “full” birth certificate issued is actually a certified copy of an entry from the register of births, which is held by the local Register office and at the General Register Office, Southport, pursuant to the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1953. The full certificate is an exact copy of the entry, showing the child’s surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, place of birth, the parent(s) name(s), their address and occupations at the time of registration. Full certificates are required for most legal purposes.
In addition, one can obtain a “short” birth certificate, which is an abstract of the original entry and only includes the surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, registration district and sub-district in which the birth took place. No fee is chargeable for this certificate at the time of registration. These documents are public records and copies can be purchased upon provision of all relevant information.
Birth certificates in the United States
The federal and state governments have traditionally cooperated to some extent to improve vital statistics. From 1900 to 1946 the U.S. Census Bureau designed standard birth certificates, collected vital statistics on a national basis, and generally sought to improve the accuracy of vital statistics. In 1946 that responsibility was passed to the U.S. Public Health Service. Unlike the British system of recording all births in “registers”, the states file an individual document for each and every birth. In most states this document is entitled a “Certificate of Live Birth”.
The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics creates standard forms that are recommended for use by the individual states to document births. However, states are free to create their own forms. As a result, neither the appearance nor the information content of birth certificate forms is uniform across states. These forms are completed by the attendant at birth or a hospital administrator, which are then forwarded to a local or state registrar, who stores the record and issues certified copies when requested.
Types of certified copies issued
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, as of 2000 there were more than 6,000 entities issuing birth certificates. The Inspector General report states that according to staff at the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Forensics Document Laboratory the number of legitimate birth certificate versions in use exceeded 14,000. 
Acceptance of short forms
In the case of applying for a US passport, not all legitimate birth certificates are acceptable:
A certified birth certificate has a registrar’s raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar’s signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar’s office, which must be within 1 year of your birth. Please note, some short (abstract) versions of birth certificates may not be acceptable for passport purposes.
Beginning April 1, 2011, all birth certificates must also include the full names of the applicant’s parent(s).
Most hospitals in the U.S. issue a souvenir birth certificate which typically includes the footprints of the newborn. However, these birth certificates are not legally accepted as proof of age or citizenship, and are frequently rejected by the Bureau of Consular Affairs during passport applications. Many Americans believe the souvenir records to be their official birth certificates, when in reality they hold little legal value.
Birth certificates in cases of adoptions
In the United States and Canada, when a person is legally adopted, the government will seal the original birth certificate, and will issue a replacement birth certificate noting the information of the adoptive parents, and the adoptive names of the child. In those cases, adopted individuals are not granted access to their own original birth certificates upon request. Laws vary depending on state or province. Some places allow adopted people unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates, whereas in others the certificate is available only if the biological parents have given their permission. Other places do not allow adopted people access to their own original birth certificates under any circumstances.
Birth registration in Ancient Rome
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Two separate processes of birth registrations existed in Roman Egypt: one process for Roman citizens that was conducted in Latin, and another process for Greco-Egyptians that was conducted in Greek. These two processes were in legal terms, totally unrelated.
There are 21 available birth registration documents of Roman citizens. The standard pattern of the birth registrations included the date of birth. For legitimate children, the date was a profession of their birth. However, for illegitimate children, the date of birth was more complex and less authoritative since it was either as originally recorded or as copied from the public register.
Completing birth registrations in Roman society were not compulsory. Whereas penalties for failure to register in the census existed, no known penalties existed in regard to birth registrations. In terms of Roman law, individuals who did not register their birth were neither penalized nor disadvantaged: there are imperial rescripts (a written answer of a Roman emperor to a query or petition in writing) that state that the failure to register children should not deprive them or their right to legitimacy, and there are recorded statements of Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian that inform an individual that “It is a well-established rule of law that though a declaration of birth has been lost, your status is not adversely affected.”
Birth registrations could be used as proof of age; however, from historical evidence, it is clear that they were not regarded as sufficient proof in themselves. Oral and written evidence could be used as proof of age. For instance, Emperor Hadrian stated in a rescript that when the age of an individual was at issue, all proofs of age should be furnished and a decision reached based on the most credible evidence. In another case, the Roman jurist Modestinus concluded that in order to prove one’s age for exemption of certain responsibilities, “age is proved either by notices of birth or by other customary (lawful) evidence.”
Thus, Roman jurists negligibly utilized birth registrations due to their lack of permanent legal value. Instead, the prominent legal practice of Classical Roman jurists was responsa prudentium, or “answers of the learned ones.” Responsa prudentium was the body of legal opinion that gradually became authoritative from the accumulation of views of many successive generations of Roman lawyers. This resulted in the classical principle of the freedom of the judge to evaluate the legitimacy of the evidence. Birth registrations did not serve an essential or conclusive purpose in Roman society.
There are 34 available birth registration documents of Greco-Egyptian citizens that span some 270 years. With the initiative of the father or another close relative, standard birth registrations included the name and current age of the individual concerned and was addressed to an official.
Greco-Egyptian birth registrations were not compulsory and were more of a certification of status than proof of birth. The census eliminated the need of birth registrations because the information gathered from birth registrations merely supplemented the information from the census. Age was particularly important for determining who was liable to pay the poll tax at the age of 14 years. Birth registrations could provide the age of the individual; however, the census was held every 14 years to ensure that no one escaped the tax and also provided this information. The census was more efficient and thorough than the system of birth registrations in Greco-Egyptian society, and government officials relied on the information from the census far more than birth registrations.