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In the U.S., the issuance of birth certificates is a State function. The federal government depends upon this state function because birthplace is a determinant of American citizenship.

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

  • Long forms
  • Short forms

Long Forms:

Long forms, also known as certified photocopies, book copies, and photostat copies, are exact photocopies of the original birth record that was prepared by the hospital or attending physician at the time of the child’s birth. The long form usually includes parents’ information (address of residence, race, birth place, date of birth, etc.), additional information on the child’s birthplace, and information on the doctors who assisted in the birth of the child. The long form also usually includes the signature of the doctor involved and at least one of the parents.

Many states have begun to use Electronic Birth Registration systems. These systems enable information typically seen on certified copies (long forms) to be available in computer databases, thus eliminating the need for “hard copy” long form certificates and having all birth information stored in computer databases only.

Short Forms:

Short forms, known sometimes as computer certifications, are not universally available, but are less expensive and more readily accessible. Information is taken from the original birth record (the long form) and stored in a database that can be accessed quickly when birth certificates are needed in a short amount of time. Whereas the long form is a copy of the actual birth certificate, a short form is a document that certifies the existence of such certificate, and is given a title such as “Certification of Birth”, “Certification of Live Birth”, or “Certificate of Birth Registration.” The short form typically includes the child’s name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth, although some also include the names of the child’s parents. When the certification does include the names of the parents, it can be used in lieu of a long form birth certificate in almost all circumstances. Nearly all states in the U.S. issue short forms certifications, on both state and local levels.

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