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History of the birth certificate: from inception to the future of electronic data



Enumerations of people were carried out long before the birth of Jesus. Data related to births were recorded in church registers in England as early as the 1500s. However, not until the 1902 Act of Congress was the Bureau of Census established as a permanent agency to develop birth registration areas and a standard registration system. Although all states had birth records by 1919, the use of the standardized version was not uniformly adopted until the 1930's. In the 1989 US Standard Birth Certificate revision, the format was finally uniformly adopted to include checkboxes to improve data quality and completeness. The evolution of the 12 federal birth certificate revisions is reflected in the growth of the number of items from 33 in 1900 to more than 60 items in the 2003 birth certificate. As birth registration has moved from paper to electronic, the birth certificate's potential utility has broadened, yet issues with updating the electronic format and maintaining quality data continue to evolve. Understanding the birth certificate within its historical context allows for better insight as to how it has been and will continue to be used as an important public-health document shaping medical and public policies.

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We acknowledge the assistance of Anand Lakhkar, MBBS and Agata Pluzyczka. We also thank Charles J Rothwell, MS, MBA, Joshua C Brumberg, PhD and Stephan F Brumberg, PhD for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to H L Brumberg.

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Brumberg, H., Dozor, D. & Golombek, S. History of the birth certificate: from inception to the future of electronic data. J Perinatol 32, 407–411 (2012).

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  • history of medicine
  • birth certificate
  • vital statistics

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