Long-Form and Short-Form Birth Certificates in the United States

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Ever since President Barack Obama announced his intention to run for office in 2008, the American public became used to hearing about long-form and short-form birth certificates and why they matter. The reason for this interest in birth certificates was because a particular segment of the political ideology spectrum questioned President Obama's place of birth.

Difference Between Short-form and Long-form Birth Certificates

Over time, the Americans got to see both versions of President Obama's birth certificate. First, election campaign managers released the short-form version, then the White House released the long-form version. The short-form is essentially an abstract of the long-form certificate, and the format will vary according to directives promulgated by the health departments of each state. Essentially, both forms attest to an individual's birth and present details such as place, time and parents; the long-form certificate, however, is typically a digital image of the original paper document that carries signatures of those present at birth.

In other countries, the long-form birth certificate may be known as the original and the short-form as the copy. During the first half of the 20th century, many Latin American countries issued elaborate birth certificates that featured nice images and designs; parents were given the original as a nice keepsake while the civil registry issued either official copies or simple declarations similar to the short-form certificates in the U.S.

When Are Long-form Birth Certificates Required?

There are very few situations that call for a long-form birth certificate; one is adoption and another is immigration. State-issued identification cards and driver's licenses will not require long-form certificate; the same goes for passports and social security cards.

Both short-form and long-form birth certificates serve the same purpose: To establish legal proof of birth in the U.S. Obtaining a copy of a long-form certificate, however, may take longer than requesting its short-form counterpart. Both versions require official certification in order to attest to their validity; these certifications may include stamps, signatures or short statements to indicate that they have been reviewed by officials.

When it comes to genealogy purposes, experts in ancestry like to see images of long-form birth certificates since they tell a more complete account of the event and may also hold historical clues that are not present in short-form versions.

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