1. Birth Certificate
As a U.S. citizen, your birth certificate may be your most important document. It proves your identity and age. You'll need it to:
Apply for a passport or government benefits
Enroll in school
Join the military
Claim pension or insurance benefits
If you need a copy, where you were born will determine how to get it.
Birth Certificate Copies: Born in the U.S.
Contact the vital records office in the state where you were born to get a copy of your birth certificate. Follow the instructions for requesting copies and paying fees. If you need a copy fast, ask about expedited service or shipping when you place your order.
Birth Certificate Copies: Americans Born Abroad
If you were born to American parents abroad, they should have registered your birth with the country's U.S. embassy or consulate. If they did, they would have received a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). You can get a copy of this report from the U.S. Department of State. Depending on the country, a vital records office in the nation may also list the birth.
If the Department of State isn’t able to locate your CRBA and you were born on a military base abroad, your parents may not have registered your birth with the U.S. embassy. In that case, you may have to contact the hospital where you were born.
Birth Certificate Copies: Born Abroad and Adopted by U.S. Parents
A child born in a foreign country and adopted by a U.S. citizen will not receive a U.S. birth certificate. The country in which you were born will have issued it. To get a copy, contact the nearest foreign embassy or consulate for that country. If you need an authenticated copy and it's not in English, ask the embassy for help to get it translated.
If you were adopted from another country by a U.S. citizen, you should have copies of your naturalization/citizenship papers. If you don't, submit an application for replacement of naturalization/citizenship form. For help, contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
2. Marriage Certificate
People often confuse a marriage license with a marriage certificate. It's usually the certificate, which proves two people are married, that you’ll need.
Marriage Licenses and Marriage Certificates
A marriage license is the piece of paper that authorizes you to get married.
A marriage certificate is a document that proves you are married.
Typically, after the ceremony, you, your spouse, and witnesses will sign the license. The person who performs your wedding ceremony will sign the license and submit it to a county office. The county will issue your marriage certificate usually within a month.
Get a New or Duplicate Marriage License
Most marriage licenses expire within 30 days to a year, depending on the issuing state.
If your license expires before you get married, you can apply for a new one.
If your license is lost or destroyed after the wedding, before it's submitted to the county, the person who officiated must take action. They should contact the office that issued your license to get a duplicate.
Get a Copy of Your Marriage Certificate
For a certified copy of your marriage certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where you were married. You'll find instructions on how to request a copy and information on any fees.
Even though the guidelines vary by state, all requests should include:
Full names of both spouses at the time of marriage
Month, day, and year of the marriage
Place of the marriage (city or town, county, and state)
Purpose for requesting the copy of the marriage certificate
Relationship to the people whose marriage certificate is being requested
Your daytime telephone number (include area code)
3. Divorce Decree and Divorce Certificate
A divorce decree is an official document from the court that grants the termination of a marriage. It includes specific details of the divorce.
A divorce certificate is issued by a state vital records office. It shows that a divorce occurred but does not state all the same information as a divorce decree. You can save time and money by determining which document you need before requesting a copy.
Get a Copy of a Divorce Decree
Contact the "county clerk's office" or "clerk of the court" for the county or city in which the divorce was granted.
Get a Copy of a Divorce Certificate
Contact the state vital records office in which the divorce was granted.
If the divorce occurred in another country and you're in the U.S., contact that country's embassy or nearest consulate. They can tell you how to get a copy of the divorce decree.
United States law does not require U.S. citizens to register a foreign divorce decree at an embassy. But if the country in which your divorce took place is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Authentication of Documents, you may bring your divorce decree to a U.S. embassy or consulate to have it certified.
4. Death Certificate
You may need to provide a copy of the death certificate of a spouse or other family member for a variety of legal reasons.
Tasks Requiring a Death Certificate
You may need a copy of the death certificate to:
Claim life insurance
Apply for a spouse’s pension and/or Social Security benefits
Apply for Medicaid benefits
Change joint bank and credit card accounts, utilities, mortgages, vehicle titles, and leases
Check to see which require a certified copy of the death certificate and which require just a photocopy.
Requesting a Death Certificate for a Death in the U.S.
You can request a certified copy of a death certificate from the vital records office of the state or territory in which the death occurred. See the instructions for that state or territory for details such as:
Address to write to
The requestor’s required identification
In addition to your state’s requirements, all requests should contain:
Full name of the person whose death certificate is being requested
Their parents' names, including maiden name of their mother
Month, day, and year of their death
Place of death (city or town, county, and state; and name of hospital, if known/applicable)
Purpose for which the copy is needed
Your relationship to the person whose record is being requested
Your daytime telephone number with area code
Requesting a Death Certificate for a Death Outside the U.S.
You will need to obtain a copy of the U.S. embassy or consulate's report of the death abroad for U.S. legal proceedings.
Any kind of above vital records issued in the United States needs to be apostilled or authenticated before its use in other countries outside the United States.
If the destination country is a member of the Hague Convention of 1961, it needs to get the Apostille from the Secretary of State. Once the apostille is completed, It is ready for use.
However, if the destination country is NOT a member of the Hague Convention of 1961, more steps are needed. Specifically, the document needs to be authenticated by the Secretary of State, the U.S. Department of State (if any), and the embassy of that destination country which is located in Washington D.C.
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