Most countries have statutes and laws that regulate the registration of births. In all countries, it is the responsibility of the mother's physician, midwife, hospital administrator, or the parents of the child to see that the birth is properly registered with the appropriate government agency.
The actual record of birth is stored with a government agency. That agency will issue certified copies or representations of the original birth record upon request, which can be used to apply for government benefits, such as passports. The certification is signed and/or sealed by the registrar or other custodian of birth records, who is commissioned by the government.
The registration of births, marriages and deaths in the United Kingdom started in 1837, but at first there was no penalty for failing to register a birth. In the British system, all births are recorded in "registers", which have columns for various particulars of the birth, usually including the name of the child, sex, the names of the parents, the date of the birth, the location of the birth, and sometimes additional information such as the name of the attending physician, the race of the child, or the occupation of the parents. These birth registers are maintained by some government agency, who will issue certified copies or representations of the entry upon request.
In addition, one can obtain a "short" birth certificate, which is an abstract of the original entry and only includes the surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, registration district and sub-district in which the birth took place. No fee is chargeable for this certificate at the time of registration.
In the U.S., the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics creates standard forms that are recommended for use by the individual states to document births. However, states are free to create their own forms. These "forms" are completed by the attendant at birth or a hospital administrator, which are then forwarded to a local or state registrar, who stores the record and issues certified copies when requested .
Long forms, also known as certified photocopies, book copies, and photostat copies, are exact photocopies of the original birth record that was prepared by the hospital or attending physician at the time of the child's birth . The long form usually includes parents' information (address of residence, race, birth place, date of birth, etc.), additional information on the child's birthplace, and information on the doctors that assisted in the birth of the child. The long form also usually includes the signature of the doctor involved and at least one of the parents .
Long forms may become obsolete in years to come, as many states have begun to use Electronic Birth Registration systems . The use of these systems will enable information typically seen on certified copies (long forms) to be available in computer databases that typically issue short form certificates, thus eliminating the need for "hard copy" long form certificates and having all birth information stored in computer databases only. This benefits parents in many ways; registration can be completed via computer at the hospital, meaning that parents can stop by their Vital Statistics office on the way home from the hospital to purchase the birth certificate instantly . It also means that the extra cost for long form certificates will no longer be a factor.
Short forms, known sometimes as computer certifications, are not universally available, but are cheaper than photocopies and much more easily accessible. Limited information is taken from the original birth record (the long form) and stored in a database that can be accessed quickly when birth certificates are needed in a short amount of time. Whereas the long form is a copy of the actual birth certificate, a short form is a document that certifies the existence of such certificate, and is usually titled a "Certification of Birth" or "Certificate of Birth Registration". The short form typically includes the child's name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth, although some also include the names of the child's parents. When the certification does include the names of the parents, it can be used in lieu of a long form birth certificate in almost all circumstances . Nearly all states in the U.S. issue short forms certifications, on both state and local levels .
Most hospitals in the U.S. issue a souvenir birth certificate which typically includes the footprints of the newborn. However, these birth certificates are not legally accepted as proof of age or citizenship, and are frequently rejected by the Bureau of Consular Affairs during passport applications. Many Americans believe these souvenir records to be their official birth certificate, when in reality it holds little legal value .