Birth Certificates 101

Birth Certificates 101: 

A Tutorial

What Exactly is a Birth Certificate?

Many people don’t know enough about Birth Certificates to know if President Obama has released a legal official birth certificate or not. That’s were we come in. Here’s a tutorial about what the term “Birth Certificate” really means.  If you don’t believe what we’ve written here, come on over to the lively forum and argue with us! We swear, it will be fun as long (as you are polite)! Enter The Fogbow Forum  

Claim: A COLB is different from a Birth Certificate. A Birth Certificate isn’t a birth certification isn’t a certificate of birth.

Many people have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the birth documents are. A Birth Certificate birth certificate is a document produced by a government that certifies that the facts listed on it are correct. 

An original birth certificate (or original birth record) is the actual document that is kept on file in a state or county registry of vital records. The original birth certificate never leaves that archive. Any “birth certificate” that anyone has is actually a copy of their original birth certificate. If it has a raised, multi-colored, or holographic seal and the signature of a registry official, it is a certified copy with the same legal value as the original.  

In most states, the most common by far actual proof of birth document is a form called a Certificate (or Certification) of Live Birth. The alternative document is a Certificate of Still Birth. Almost all births have one or the other. They are both Birth Certificates. Most states (including Hawaii) also have a Certificate of Foreign Birth for foreign adopted children. Hawaii currently also has a Delayed Certificate of Live Birth and once had a Certificate of Hawaiian Birth. These special cases will be discussed below.   

All states base their proof of birth documentation on the U.S. STANDARD CERTIFICATE OF LIVE BIRTH designed and issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC collects and issues data on all births in the US through the National Vital Statistics Systems, which has been in existence since 1909. Notice that the standard form is “Certificate of Live Birth,” whether it is a very long document or an abstract. Much of what appears on the original birth record isn’t on any document released to the public. This is the so-called vault copy, or long-form. 

When a child is born, the hospital fills out a standard form and sends it to the state or county. (The hospital doesn’t keep birth records in a central place, governments do.) At the same time, they issue souvenir copy to the parents with footprints, etc: that one isn’t a legal document.  The State enters the information into their records system. When someone requests a certified birth certificate, a clerk goes to the records system, produces a copy, then stamps and seals the copy with a raised seal, and sends it to the requester. The actual process and the document produced has changed over the years as technology has reached Vital Records Departments. 

  1. Pre-mid 1970s in Hawaii, generating a certified copy of a birth certificate meant going to the paper files, photocopying the actual paper document, stamping, sealing, and sending. These, the famous Nordyke Twins Birth Certificates, were issued in 1966 for 1961 births.  Notice they sayCertificate of Live Birth at the top. Here’s another. Here’s a blank version.
  2. In the mid 1970’s in Hawaii, this changed to the clerk going to the file, typing SOME of the info onto a form, then stamping, sealing, and sending. There was no signature, no hospital, much less info, but still enough information to establish who, what, where, and when of the birth. This was also a Certificate of Live Birth. Here’s one example. 
  3.  In the early 2000’s, this changed to a computerized system. The data on the original paper documents was entered into the electronic system and the papers were archived in long-term storage. After 2001, a clerk would go to the electronic system, check that the data was correct, produce a computer-printed form with the same info as the 1970’s form, then stamp, seal, and send. THIS IS THE ONLY document that Hawaii now issues as their proof of birth in Hawaii. When you send in your $10, this is what you get. You can no longer get a certified copy of the original. It has the same legal value as the original or certified copies issued in the past. This is the form that Obama posted online, and that Factcheck and others examined. This is also called a Certificate of Live Birth. Here’s an example. 

All three of these documents are the same thing. They are COPIES of what appears in the official files. All are stamped with a signature of the appropriate official, and sealed with a raised seal. Only the official original document filed with the Department of Health or Vital Records is a true birth certificate and that never leaves the department. After all, if you have the original and lose it, how would you get another? 

Instead, the Registrar or other designated official certifies copies of the original. The certified copy is “prima facie” evidence of a birth in the jurisdiction named. All of these documents have enough information on it to get a US Passport, a driver’s license, and a Social Security card. (See our page onLegal Requirements.) Some states’ COLBs have the LESS info on it than the Hawaii COLB. The souvenir version that the hospital gives out with footprints, etc. isn’t legal for these purposes. 

Send for a new birth certificate from your own state. Chances are it has less information on it than Hawaiian one. 2/3 of the states have gone to similar shorter versions. Many states no longer offer an option for the original longer format. The State of Hawaii (as do all states) periodically change layouts, borders, data field, etc. to match federal guidelines and ID theft concerns. That’s why the former forms often don’t exist anymore.   

The State of Hawaii Vital Records Regulatons

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.

Claim: A birth certificate must have the hospital and the doctor’s signature on it. Only babies born in hospitals get birth certificates.

Hospital, doctor, etc. on a document are not needed to prove birth in Hawaii or any other state in the US — that’s what the state does. They collect that info at the time, verify what they need to, and keep the data forever. That’s what the proof of birth system is designed to do — provide certified documents that still protect the privacy of individuals.  The document must show date, time, place of birth (usually the city or county), and name. It needs to have when the document was filed or accepted with the registrar. (Less than a week after the birth in Obama’s case.) Plus it must have the seal and signature stamp of the registrar. 

The notion that only babies born in a hospital have/had long-forms is ludicrous. ALL babies born in Hawaii as well as other states had complete birth records filed with the state, county, or city vital records office. Non-hospital births had additional paperwork supporting the record (witness statements, investigative reports, etc), but the records were certainly kept. All the fields on the form were as relevant for home births as they were for hospital births. The information required changed over the years, but births in the same year have the same info.

Notice that on the older birth certificates, the fields for location say:

  • Place of Birth: City, Town, or Rural Location
  • Name of Hospital or Institution (if not in hospital or institution, give street address)

A birth at home or on a beach wouldn’t need a special form; the existing forms are designed for all births recorded in a timely fashion.

For unattended births, the standard procedure is:

Section  7. Birth Registration

(c) When a birth occurs outside an institution,

(1) the certificate shall be prepared and filed by one of the following in the indicated order of priority, in accordance with regulations promulgated by the State Agency:

(a) the physician in attendance at or immediately after the birth, or in the absence of such a person;

(b) any other person in attendance at or immediately after the birth, or in the absence of such a person;

(c) the father, the mother, or, in the absence of the father and the inability of the mother, the person in charge of the premises where the birth occurred.

(2) the State Agency shall by regulation determine what evidence may be required to establish the facts of birth.

As we discuss on our page “All About President Obama’s Birth Certificate,” unattended births in Hawaii required more than a simple signature to be issued a birth certificate. They required an investigation by the Department of Health to ensure that a baby was actually born and to get the details for the original birth certificate. That took longer than 5 days. In 1961, there were only 14 non-hospital births in the city of Honolulu. Any report of a non-hospital birth would be unusual. (See the US Census) 

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.

Claim: Hawaii has only one type of Birth Certificate

Hawaii has several different kinds of documents that are considered birth certificates. By far the most common is the Certificate of Live Birth, discussed above. There is also the Certificate of Stillbirth for those horrific tragedies. 

Hawaii currently also has a Delayed Certificate of Live Birth (for births registered more than one year from the birth, effective date 1981) and once had a Certificate of Hawaiian Birth (see below). Most states (including Hawaii) also have a Certificate of Foreign Birth for foreign adopted children. Each of these Certificates is fairly rare, requires significant paperwork and investigation, and has its own Index.

Certificate of Foreign Birth: 

The applicant shall also provide to the state registrar a copy of the adoption decree or certificate of adoption affixed with the certification by a court of competent jurisdiction in Hawaii and a copy of any investigatory report and recommendation which may have been prepared by the director of social services.If the birth occurred in a foreign country, and the child was not a citizen of the United States at the time of birth, the State Registrar shall prepare a “Certificate of Foreign Birth” as provided by Section 12(h). If the child was born in Canada, the State Registrar shall also send a copy of the certificate of adoption, report of annulment of adoption, or amendment of a decree of adoption to the appropriate registration authority in that country. If the child was born in a foreign country but was a citizen of the United States at the time of birth, the State Registrar shall not prepare a “Certificate of Foreign Birth” and shall notify the adoptive parents of the procedures for obtaining a revised birth certificate for their child through the United States Department of State….

Upon submission of the application as provided herein, the registrar shall prepare and file the Hawaii certificate of foreign birth that shall contain the following information: … The statement “This certificate is not evidence of United States citizenship for the child or the parents named above.” [Eff. FEB 19 1981] 

Because President Obama’s “Date Filed” is only 4 days later than the birth, it is a regular birth certificate and he doesn’t qualify for a Certificate of Delayed Birth, or a Certificate of Hawaiian Birth. Because his location of birth is Honolulu Hawaii, he doesn’t qualify for a Certificate of Foreign Birth.

Bloggers have received confirmation through Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) requests that Barak Obama’s name does not appear in any of these special indices, only in the regular Birth Index. In addition Maya Soetoro, President Obama’s sister, does not appear in any of the birth indexes.  (One popular theory is that Maya’s birth certificate was used to forge her brother’s COLB. This is impossible as she was never eligible for a Hawaiian Birth Certificate.) 

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.

Claim: A lady last year was able get of her long form birth certificate and provided proof of it.

A blogger born in Hawaii spoke directly to the Department of Health to see if she could get he certified long form birth certificate. She got a non-certified copy of her own vital records.  As the copy was not certified, it is not a birth certificate. 

The blogger also got a copy of her certified birth certificate with it, and showed it in the pictures. It looks just like President Obama’s. NO ONE has posted a birth certificate from Hawaii produced after 2001 that is significantly different from the one Obama posted. 

The only proof of birth in Hawaii document the state has issued from 2001 now is the Certification of Live Birth. All children born in that period only ever GOT that document. Anyone who asked for a certified copy of their birth certificate in that time frame got a Certification of Live Birth. President Obama requested copies in 2007.  If he asked for a copy today, he’d get what anyone else requests  today. 

Added 6/17/2012: On April 27, 2011, President Obama released his long form birth certificate, obtained through a special request from the State of Hawaii Department of Public Health. This document was certified by the Registrar of Vital Records.  President Obama also released the correspondence with the Director of the Department of Health which shows what he had to do to get this special document as Hawaii no longer issues certified copies of this document. 

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.

Claim: The COLB just shows a baby was born.

A document that just said a baby was born but provided no legal proof of birth would have no reason to exist. There is NO VALUE to such a certificate that didn’t also state where and when. There is no such certificate. 

Added 8/16/2012: Some birthers point to a report from the Office of the Inspector General which states: “A certified copy of a birth certificate is proof only that a birth occurred and was recorded.” (PDF here.)


This statement doesn’t mean a birth certificate has no value at all, it means that a birth certificate on its own can’t be matched to an adult individual and thus can’t be used as a method of identification. But that doesn’t mean that the data on it is meaningless — particularly when the issuing agency independently confirms that the data on the certified paper matches what’s in the actual vital record. The BC says that a birth occurred to those people, in that place, at that time, of a particular gender and a specific name. It DOESN’T say that the person presenting it is the same person as on the BC. That’s what a proof of identity does — it matches the data to the individual.


The entire OIG report is about document fraud by altering, counterfeiting, or obtaining birth certificates. It has nothing to do with any fraud related to the original birth record kept by the issuing agency unless the record is a delayed or out-of-hospital birth. Since the Hawaiian Dept. of Health has repeatedly (and under 2 administrations) said that what appears on Obama’s BC is what appears in the record, and the birth took place in a hospital less than a week before the birth was recorded, those procedural opportunities for fraud didn’t exist.

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.

Claim: The COLB isn’t even accepted for some uses in Hawaii.

The State of Hawaii also once offered a Certificate of Hawaiian Birth. It was a special document proving native Hawaiian heritage. It isn’t the same thing as a COLB. Here’s an example

The Certificate of Hawaiian Birth program was established in 1911, during the territorial era, to register a person born in Hawaii who was one year old or older and whose birth had not been previously registered in Hawaii. The Certificate of Hawaiian Birth Program was terminated in 1972, during the statehood era. Since then, births in the state that haven’t been registered within one year and have no other birth certificate now require the Certificate of Delayed Birth. 

The Hawaiian Home Lands Program’s purpose is to enable native Hawaiians to return to their lands.  Eligibility is limited to Hawaiians who can show 50% or more native Hawaiian ancestry. In order to determine who is eligible, the DHHL requires applicants to document their ancestry, including proof of birth for direct ancestors. The Birther claim arose because the DHHL did not update their web site when the DOH changed policies and stopped issuing certified copies of original birth certificates.  They have since updated their site.

Birth certificates (Certificates of Live Birth and Certifications of Live Birth) and Certificates of Hawaiian Birth are the primary documents used to determine native Hawaiian qualification.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands accepts both Certificates of Live Birth (original birth certificate) and Certifications of Live Birth because they are official government records documenting an individual’s birth.  The Certificate of Live Birth generally has more information which is useful for genealogical purposes as compared to the Certification of Live Birth which is a computer-generated printout that provides specific details of a person’s birth.  Although original birth certificates (Certificates of Live Birth) are preferred for their greater detail, the State Department of Health (DOH) no longer issues Certificates of Live Birth.  When a request is made for a copy of a birth certificate, the DOH issues a Certification of Live Birth.

The source of this rumor came from out-of-date instructions on the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands web site. The site has since been updated. 

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion. 

Claim: Hawaii had a law that you could get a Hawaiian COLB even if you weren’t born in Hawaii.

In 1982, (but NOT when Obama was born), Hawaii passed a law saying that people not born in Hawaii could get a COLB by submitting certain paperwork. This was because birth certification from some Pacific countries aren’t written in English and thus were hard to translate for everyday purposes. But the place of birth listed on these WOULD NOT be Hawaii, it would be Tokyo or Bali, where ever the birth actually took place. It wasn’t easy to get one — much documentation needed to be provided. The document was called “Certificate of Foreign Birth.”

[Spokesperson] Okubo, who said that she gets weekly questions from Obama ‘Birthers’ that are “more like threats,” explained that the certificate of live birth reproduced by Obama’s campaign should have debunked the conspiracy theories. “If you were born in Bali, for example,” Okubo explained, “you could get a certificate from the state of Hawaii saying you were born in Bali. You could not get a certificate saying you were born in Honolulu. The state has to verify a fact like that for it to appear on the certificate. But it’s become very clear that it doesn’t matter what I say. The people who are questioning this bring up all these implausible scenarios. What if the physician lied? What if the state lied? It’s just become an urban legend at this point.” (Washington Independent)

Added 8/16/2012: Sheriff Joe Arpaio made this claim at his July 17, 2012 Press Conference. The Hawaii Department of health denied that could happen: 

Hawaiian laws are similar to other states and follow federal guidelines. The CCP has misread applicable statutes. Joshua Wisch, Special Assistant to the state’s Attorney General, said in a statement Tuesday: “Regarding the latest allegations from a sheriff in Arizona, they are untrue, misinformed, and misconstrue Hawaii law. … Not only are Hawaii’s vital records some of the best managed, but they also have some of the strongest restrictions on access to prevent identity theft and fraud.  

See our Special Report on the Arpaio Investigation for more. 

Claim: A COLB doesn’t have the same information as a birth certificate.

The only differences between the two formats are that one lists whether the child was part of a multiple birth, the doctor’s signature, the hospital name and address, age/occupation/birthplace of the parents, the signature of a parent, dates related to processing, and the signature of the Registrar. NONE of that is needed to prove location of birth. 

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.


Claim: Anyone could get a COLB, they gave them away like candy.

The COLB *IS* the standard birth certificate and requires a great deal of verification. Hawaii ONLY issues COLBs anymore and has done so since the early 2000s. Anyone who is born these days gets one that looks like Obama’s, and anyone who asks for a certified copy of their BC also gets a COLB. There IS no other current form. 

You can’t get a birth certificate or COLB just by showing up with a baby. If the child is born outside a hospital, there’s official paperwork and a departmental investigation to establish the facts of birth. Since Obama’s was filed less than a week after his birth and isn’t marked as “amended”, it’s highly unlikely that he was born outside the hospital. 

See the FOGBOW FORUM for discussion.



Falsehoods Unchallenged Only Fester and Grow