by Sara

Birth records can be found in many forms, but birth certificates remain the most restricted to genealogists. A living person’s birth certificate will not be posted online, unless that person or another family member has scanned it and made it available online. And we recommend that you do not post your birth certificate on the Internet, even on websites like Facebook, Ancestry trees or elsewhere, due to the high risk of identity theft. Hospitals, doctors, government officials, and businesses are prohibited from publishing full birth certificates for the living online because of privacy laws.

If you need to order a copy of your own birth certificate, you must contact (in person, by telephone or mail) either the official state vital records office or the county health department in the state or county where you were born. You may also order a copy online via the Better Business Bureau accredited website, Vitalchek. Each state has differing laws, but generally speaking, the person named on the certificate, his/her parents, other close relatives, or his legal representative are the only persons authorized to request a copy of a living person’s birth certificate. Adopted persons seeking copies of their original birth certificate should consult our guide to Adoption Research for more information on how to begin their search.

For deceased individuals, privacy laws vary from state to state concerning who can access historical birth certificates. In Indiana, the law states that anyone can request the birth certificate for a person who was born 75 or more years ago and is now deceased (with proof of death provided). Only close relatives or legal representatives can request birth certificates for deceased persons born less than 75 years ago. Keep in mind that some states did not start issuing birth certificates until the early twentieth century; so if you are seeking birth records from the nineteenth century and earlier, you may need to look at other sources such as church records as alternatives. To learn more about state laws regarding birth record availability, consult a reference book such as Ancestry’s Red Book or Handybook for Genealogists, or the Where to Write for Vital Records website from the Centers for Disease Control.

Other sources of historical birth records include online databases, compiled books, and microtext in local libraries. A few states have begun posting historical birth certificates from the late 1800s and early 1900s online on genealogical websites such as Ancestry or FamilySearch, but Indiana is not one of those states. Other states such as California, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas have released indexes to birth records for individuals born up to and including the 1990s, which would include living persons. These indexes are available on Ancestry or FamilySearch as well. They often provide limited information abstracted from the original birth certificate, such as the child’s name, date of birth and birth location, but they do not include all the information from a full birth certificate. The Genealogy Center has many print, online, and microtext indexes to historical birth records from a variety of states. We also have copies of most Allen County, Indiana birth records from 1887 to 1920, and Fort Wayne birth records from 1882 to 1920 on microtext.

Caution should be exercised when attempting to order copies of birth certificates over the Internet. Many websites claim to offer “birth records” in exchange for a large fee, but actually will send you reports compiled from telephone directories and voter registration databases, instead of the official birth certificates. Do not fall for this false advertising and do not pay such sites any money unless you know exactly what you are getting in return. Only order birth certificates from a reputable source, such as from the state vital records office or county health department, following the links on the Where to Write for Vital Records website, or using the VitalChek website.