If you’re like most people, you aren’t eager to spend time thinking about what would happen if you became unable to direct your own medical care because of illness, an accident, or advanced age. However, if you don’t do at least a little bit of planning — writing down your wishes about the kinds of […]
Where to Get Help
If you cannot locate certain documents to complete your planner, you can request copies of what you need from the issuing office or organization.
This section can help you order copies of:
- Birth Certificates
- Adoption records
- Baptismal records
- Marriage certificates
- Divorce, annulment, or legal separation documents
- Military records
- Citizenship documents
- Social Security cards or records, and
- Death certificates
To request a copy of a birth certificate, you usually need the following information:
- full birth name (first, middle, and last)
- date of birth, and
- city and county of birth. If you have it, it also helps to include the mother’s and father’s full names and the name of the hospital where the birth occurred. It’s easy to find online forms and instructions for ordering a birth certificate. To find out where to send your request, go to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) website at www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm and select your state.
If you don’t have online access, call the vital records office for the county where the birth occurred and ask for instructions.
Informational vs. Certified Copies
In many states, you can order copies of birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates in two forms: informational or certified. A certified copy is stamped with an official seal, warranting that the copy is an exact replica of the original certificate. You may need a certified copy for various legal transactions, including:
- Applying for a driver’s license with a certified birth certificate
- Applying for an updated passport with a certified marriage certificate, or
- Wrapping up someone’s estate with certified copies of that person’s death certificate.
In most states, you can obtain a certified copy only if you can prove that you are the person named in the document or that you have a direct relationship with that person—for example, you’re the spouse, child, or court-appointed executor.
An informational copy is useful for personal records, and, in most states, is available to anyone who requests it. You can’t use an informational copy to obtain identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.
The types of adoption records you can order depend on the circumstances of the adoption and on state law. Many adoption records are confidential and difficult to obtain—but that’s not always the case. For example, you can probably get the records of a stepparent adoption by calling the vital records office in the county where the adoption occurred.
To obtain other types of adoption records, you must work through a state agency. Start by accessing the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Search at www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad. The directory will provide contact information for adoption resources in your state.
To request a copy of baptismal records, contact the church where the baptism occurred. If you do not know the specific church, or if the church no longer exists, contact a regional office for the denomination (such as the regional diocese or presbytery).
To request a copy of a marriage certificate or a certificate of a registered domestic partnership, you usually need the following information:
- At least one spouse’s full name (first, middle, and last), and
- Date (or year) of marriage. If you have it, it can also help to include: the other spouse’s full name
- Either spouse’s city, county, and date of birth, and
- The county where the marriage occurred. It’s usually easy to find online forms and instructions for ordering a copy of a marriage certificate. Follow the instructions for ordering a birth certificate, above.
Divorce, Annulment, or Legal Separation Documents
To request a copy of a certificate of divorce, annulment, or legal separation, you usually need the following information:
- At least one spouse’s full name (first, middle, and last), and
- The date (or year) of divorce, annulment, or legal separation. If you have it, it’s helpful to include:
- Date of marriage
- The other spouse’s full name (first, middle, and last)
- Either spouse’s city, county, and date of birth
- The county where the marriage occurred, and
- The county where divorce, annulment, or legal separation occurred. You can usually obtain a copy of court documents for divorce, annulment, or legal separation by writing to the vital statistics office of the state where the event occurred. Follow the instructions for ordering a birth certificate, above.
Catholic Annulment Documents
Within the Roman Catholic Church, a couple may obtain a religious annulment after finalizing a civil divorce or annulment. To get a copy of the annulment document, contact the regional Roman Catholic diocese to find out where to send your request, as well as what information you should enclose and the amount of the fee.
How to obtain military records depends on the veteran’s date of separation from service. Below, you’ll find instructions for recent records, older records, and “historical records” (the oldest records of all).
Military records are archived 62 years after a veteran’s date of separation. (For example, in 2020, the military will archive records with a date of separation in 1958—that is, 2020 minus 62 years.) Archived records are available to the public without restriction. Records that have not yet been archived are available only to the veteran or, if the veteran is deceased, to the veteran’s next of kin—most likely a parent, remarried widow or widower, child, or sibling.
For someone separating from the Air Force, Marine Corps, or Navy on or after a date shown in the next table, records are maintained by the particular branch of service. For someone separating from the Army or Coast Guard on or after a date shown in the table, records are maintained by NARA in St. Louis. To request a service record, use the contact information shown in the table, below.
To request a record from NARA in St. Louis, go to www.archives.gov, click on Veterans’ Service Records, and follow the instructions.
If you don’t have online access, you can contact NARA by telephone or mail:
The National Archives & Records Administration
National Personnel Records Center—Military Personnel Records One Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138
When sending a request by mail, be sure to include the following information about the veteran:
- Complete name while in service
- Service number
- Social Security number
- Branch of service
- Dates of service
- Date and place of birth, and
- If known, also include place of discharge, last unit of assignment, and place of entry into the service.
Sign and date the request. Finally, if you are the next of kin requesting the record of a deceased veteran, also enclose one of the following:
- The veteran’s death certificate
- A letter from the funeral home, or
- A copy of the veteran’s published obituary
|Branch of Service||Separation Date||Office|
|Air Force||On or after 10/01/2004||Air Force Personnel Center, HQ AFPC/DPSTRP 500 C Street West, Suite 19, Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4721 www.afpc.af.mil 800-525-0102|
|Army||On or after 10/01/2002||Records maintained at U.S. Army Human Resources Command, while requests are serviced by NARA, St. Louis. See ordering information above.|
|Coast Guard||On or after 04/01/1998||Records maintained and requests serviced by NARA, St. Louis. See ordering information above.|
|Marine Corps||On or after 01/01/1999||Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps Manpower Management Records & Performance 2008 Elliot Road, Quantico, VA 22134-5030 800-268-3710|
|Navy||On or after 01/01/1995||Navy Personnel Command, PERS-313 5720 Integrity Drive, Millington, TN 38055-3120 www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc 901-874-4885|
You can apply for a replacement certificate of citizenship or naturalization if your current certificate has been lost or destroyed, or if you’ve legally changed your name. You must complete Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document. You can download the form from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website at www.uscis.gov. Type “Form N-565” in the search box at upper right, press enter, then click on the first option in the list that displays. The site will provide the form for download and instructions for submitting.
To research the naturalization of a deceased relative, visit Citizenship and Immigration Services at www.uscis.gov. Once there, see the list of topics at the bottom of the home page and click “History and Genealogy.” There, you will find information about immigration and naturalization, including how to order records.
Social Security Cards or Records
You can replace a lost or damaged Social Security card by completing Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. In many states, you may be able to request a replacement Social Security card online if you have a personal Social Security account, a state-issued identification card, and you don’t want to change any information on your Social Security card. To get started, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
If you cannot order online, you can download the form from the Social Security Administration (SSA) website at www.ssa.gov. You can also obtain it by calling 800-772-1213 or visiting your local Social Security office. (Find your local office on the SSA website or in the government listings pages of your phone book.)
To complete the application process, you’ll need an identifying document such as a driver’s license, military record, employer or school identification card, or passport. Submit your form by mail or in person. If you apply by mail or online, you must send in an original document or a certified copy. The SSA will return your document to you when your application is complete.
If you’re searching for the Social Security records of someone who has died—for example, because you’re the executor and are trying to wrap up the estate—the SSA will search its archives for a fee. For more information, call the SSA at 800-772-1213 or go to ssa.gov, type “Form711” in the search field, and press enter. Click on the Form 711 link to display the form, Request for Deceased Individual’s Social Security Record. You can complete and submit the form online, or print it and mail it (with the appropriate fee) to the SSA address provided on the form.
To request a copy of a death certificate, you usually need the following information about the deceased person:
- Full name (first, middle, and last)
- Date of death, and
- City and county of death.
If you have it, it can help to include the deceased person’s Social Security number, and date and place of birth (city and county).
It’s usually easy to find online instructions and forms for requesting copies of a death certificate. Follow the instructions for birth certificates, above.