How to Locate a Birth Record

by Liza Blau

Obtaining a birth record is crucial if you need a passport or other government identification. Or you may wish to obtain a family member's birth record to learn more about your heritage and family history. Keep in mind that birth records weren't kept in the United States until the early 1900s. Birth records usually contain the name of the baby, the full names of both parents, the date of birth and the city or the county where the birth took place. Locating a birth record is possible if you at least know the city where the person was born, her birth name and the approximate year of her birth.

Gather as much information as you can about the individual whose birth record you are seeking. If you don't have his exact birthday, try to find the approximate year he was born. Look for his birth information on other vital records, such as marriage, divorce and spouse death certificates. Or look up his birth information on the website BirthDataBase.com, which provides birth data free-of-charge.

Contact the vital records office in the city or county where the person was born--not the hospital. Hospitals aren't authorized to issue official copies of birth records. Look in the birth city's phone book to find the county office, and the county office will direct you to the vital records office. Or check the website, RecordsProject.com, to find contact information for the vital records office in every city in the United States.

Write a letter to the appropriate vital records office requesting the birth record. Make only one or two birth record requests at one time, and don't include confusing or contradictory family information. Legibly print or type the name of the person whose birth record you're seeking, and her sex, date and place of birth, the hospital where their birth took place and her mother's maiden name. List other names she might have been called, including nicknames, and possible alternative spellings of her first and last name. If you don't know the person's exact birthday, list the span of years you want searched. Include an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope), and proper payment for the birth record, which is usually between $15 and $50.

Expect the birth record between four and eight weeks after mailing in your request, depending on that vital records office's backlog of requests.

Tip

  • check If you need a birth record immediately, many vital records offices provide walk-in services.