What happens if your birth was never registered?

This question is inspired by another thread:

–but deals with a somewhat different scenario. As opposed to simply not having a copy of one’s birth registration, what happens to someone in a modern, industrialized society whose birth wasn’t officially registered at all? Some people born as late as the 1930s in isolated areas of Appalachia or the rural South apparently never had their birth officially recorded by the government. In at least one case, a man born in southeastern Kentucky around 1937, it prevented him from getting a passport, even though he had obtained a delayed birth certificate some years earlier in order to qualify for Social Security:

Lacking any form of a government birth record (other than perhaps baptism, if the church was a state church) was, of course, the norm prior to the mid-19th century. For that matter, many Americans born even in the early 20th century also lacked state-issued documentation of their date and place of birth, but usually they managed to obtain passports, drivers’ licenses, Social Security benefits and the like without trouble. As those generations disappear, and as lacking a birth certificate becomes more and more of an anomaly in Western countries, things inevitably get tougher for people born in circumstances that precluded or placed little value on having births registered.

What about someone who couldn’t even scrape up enough evidence to get a delayed birth certificate? In other words, there are no living people who witnessed the birth, no newspaper announcement of the birth, no baptism, no supporting documents that anyone can find to verify that the person was born in a given country and is a given age. Would they become sort of de facto stateless?

The 1940 US Census is publicly available. While it’s hardly proof of birth, it would show someone with the applicant’s name was born in the 30s and in the US (place of birth was recorded). Of course it won’t serve as proof of identity, but once you’re satisfied of the person’s identity, you might be able to use that as a surrogate for a birth record, no?

Zev Steinhardt

My mother had no proof of birth. She had US parents but was probably born in Mexico in 1911. Someone somehow created a birth record for her and she got some SS before she died. In the old SSDI she was listed as having been born in Colorado.

A friend of mine is a foundling. He was literally left on the front steps of the church in a basket. He has no birth certificate (and does not know his birthday). For a while he had a baptismal certificate and used that to get things like driver’s licenses.

He used to live in Iowa, where he had a driver’s license, then moved to Minnesota for a while, where he got a driver’s license (and his Iowa license got tossed (big mistake, as it turns out)). He then moved back to Iowa, at which point he had a PROBLEM.

Iowa accepted the following as proof of identity prior to issuing driver’s licenses:

Prior Iowa driver’s license (oops)
Current Passport (expired)
Birth Certificate (none)
Military Driver’s license (none)
(one or two other things)

He had none of these. The final solution was to drive down to Kansas City and take his 80-ish mother down to the courthouse and have her talk in painstaking detail to a judge long enough for the judge to say “okay, okay, he’s your son. Here’s a birth certificate. Now go away.”

In Quebec until the Quiet Revolution it was very common only to have a baptism certificate, to the point where an informal term for birth certificate is baptistaire. These were accepted until quite recently (like 2003 or something) in place of birth certificates, and when the changeover happened there was a flurry of people (many elderly) having to get birth certificates via a simplified process.

Similar story with my grandpa: in the midst of the Great Depression his mother left his abusive father with him and started living under assumed names. I have a letter she wrote and had notarized (really wonderfully written – she was what’s known as a “character,” and you can really hear her brassy voice) attesting to all this when he needed to prove his age and records to get social security.

My mother was born in 1921 in a hospital in Ohio in well-to-do circumstances, but somehow there was no birth certificate on record. Both her parents had died by the time she was 16, but they accepted a statement from her older brother at some point to issue her a delayed birth certificate. They’d always celebrated her birthday 4/18 and she knew her age so she assumed that was her birth date.

My paternal grandfather’s family imigrated to the US from Poland when he was two years old. I’m not sure what documentation was needed for immigration in 1905, but he had no official record of his birth. When he applied for SS benefits upon retirement, his citizenship papers, school records and other things had to suffice for “proof” of his age.

My mother, born in 1933 in the mountains of east Tennessee, had no birth certificate, but did have a baptismal record. This and school records from after the family moved to Indiana were sufficient documentation of her age for SS purposes.

I’m not sure what someone in this day and age would have to go through, but there were provisions in the past for such people.

A (deadbeat) relative of mine forgot to register his child’s birth circa 2002, and it came up during a custody issue. I think they used hospital records to prove the birth of the child and belatedly registered it.

The sister of an old school friend discovered her parents had forgotten to register her birth when she was in her twenties (she’s thirty now). Not sure what she had to do to fix it, but I remember them saying it was a bit of a hassle.