Birth certificate documents are vital records that document a child's birth. The term birth certificate in the modern world can be used to describe the original birth document or a certified copy of the original birth record.
History of Birth Documents
Some birth documentaries show different methods of keeping track of families through the generations. In ancient times births weren't registered and determining genealogy was done by word of mouth from generation to generation. Official and mandatory registration of births didn't happen until the 19th century making it a relatively new process in the history of the world.
Even though birth documentation didn't become mandatory until within the last 200 years, it was still a procedure that was commonly practiced throughout the world. The documentation process was just not in the same style it currently is. There are historical records that suggest documentation of birth was common in early Persia, Greece, China, Egypt and Rome. Not everyone's birth was documented, as can be seen from historical records, and often it was something only the wealthy or important members of the society did for their families.
The Beginning of Official Birth Documentation
Official birth registration, as well as the registration of marriages and deaths, was started in the United Kingdom in the 1830s. On July 1, 1837 the British government decreed that all births, marriages and deaths in England had to be registered by the state. Births were required to be registered with the local registrar in the district where the child was born. The local registrar would then send a copy of all birth entries to the Registrar General at the end of each yearly quarter so that there would be a local and a national record of every child born, every marriage and every death. Registering a birth cost two shilling and a sixpence. Of this fee one shilling went to the local registrar. For this price the family also received a copy of the certificate. The cost of birth documentation remained the same until 1952 many years after birth certificate documents were mandatory in 1875.
Registrars recorded the birth of each child in books with columns detailing the particulars of the birth. The name of the child was included, as well as the child's gender and the parent's names. Date of birth and location of birth were also included in the birth documents. Occasionally the name of the attending doctor, the parents' occupations and the race of the child were included in the registration. Because of all this information, early birth registration was sometimes also referred to as pregnancy documents by some lay people.
Before governmental birth registration began, most birth records were kept by various churches. Baptism certificates were a way of keeping track of who was born and when. Churches were also responsible for keeping track of deaths and marriages.
Why Government Intervention?
Churches had always kept good records of families, which can make one wonder why the governments started getting involved in keeping track of who was born and who died. Early governments, just like today's governments, charged taxes. In order to make sure the government received as much tax money as possible, it was important to keep track of who was being born and when they would be old enough to pay the government. Early birth registration was also used to help determine available military power.
Types of Certificates
Even in our modern age, it's still necessary to have paper copies of birth certificates in most countries, provinces and states. There are three types: long form, short form and wallet sized. The long form tends to provide more information and include signatures of the doctor and parent(s). Short forms are not usually considered an actual certificate, but are seen as proof that a certificate existed. Wallet forms are similar to short forms but smaller sized.
Some American states have begun to use an Electronic Birth Registration system where all birth information is only stored in computer databases eliminating the need for paper certificates.