Your birth certificate is a primary form of identification and proof of citizenship in the US. Not having an official copy of your birth certificate or your child’s birth certificate makes it difficult to get a driver’s license, state identification or passport. Most schools require you to show a certified birth certificate when you enroll your child in school for the first time, to make sure he or she is the right age to start kindergarten. If you need a copy of a birth certificate for any legal reason, it needs to be an authorized or official copy, not an informational or heirloom copy.
Certified vs. Informational Birth Certificates
The major difference between an authorized, official birth certificate copy and an informational birth certificate copy is how it can be used. If you need to prove your own or your child’s identity or age, an official certificate is needed. An informational copy is simply to let you know that someone was born in a state, city or county, and is usually used in genealogy or family history, but not for legal reasons. Some states, such as Texas, offer heirloom copies, which are meant to be keepsakes or to celebrate state pride. You can hang an heirloom copy on the wall, but you can’t bring it along to the DMV when you apply for a driver’s license.
Another big difference between an official birth certificate and an informational certificate is who can request and receive the certificate. In most states, only the person named on the certificate, a member of his or her immediate family or an attorney can order a certified birth certificate. People who don’t meet the legal requirements for a certified birth certificate can typically request a non-official, informational or heirloom
Look for the Seal
If you already have a copy of your own or your child’s birth record but aren’t sure if it’s an official one or not, one of the easiest ways to tell is to look for a seal on the certificate itself. Official birth certificates all have a government seal on them. Depending on which state, county or city issued the certificate, the seal might be raised or embossed, multicolored, or impressed into the paper. In addition to an official seal, the birth certificate should have the signature of the state, county or city registrar on it.
Look at the Details
When applying for a passport, the copy of a birth certificate being used needs to have a number of specific details printed on it for it to be valid. An official birth certificate should include the full name of the individual, as well as his or her date and place of birth. As of 2011, the copy of a birth certificate used to apply for a passport in the US also needs to include the full names of the person’s parent(s).
Another important detail to look for on a certified birth certificate is the date it was filed. If the certificate doesn’t have a filing date or wasn’t filed within a year of the birth, you can’t use it to apply for a passport, as official identification, or as proof of citizenship.
When ordering your own birth certificate, or your child’s, the reason you specify for needing the certificate will usually dictate the type of certificate to order. So, be sure to specify the proper reason you need the certificate when ordering to ensure that it contains all of the information required for your purposes.