Alabama’s Center for Health Statistics Provides More Than Just Birth and Death Certificates

The issuance of vital records certificates, along with childhood immunizations, is among the services for which the Department of Public Health is best known. The department’s Center for Health Statistics operates the Alabama vital records system and offers the important service of providing certified copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates for events that occurred in the state.

The center first began filing birth and death certificates statewide in 1908. Copies of certificates are valuable documents that might be used fraudulently to commit identity theft and other crimes, so access to most birth and death certificates is restricted. By Alabama law, birth certificates are confidential records with restricted access for 125 years from the date of birth. Death certificates are also confidential records with restricted access for 25 years from the date of death. Valid identification is required to obtain copies of restricted vital records.

Not only does the center register birth, death, marriage, and divorce records, but it is also responsible for registering fetal deaths (stillbirths), induced terminations of pregnancy, and Acknowledgments of Paternity. Nearly 200,000 vital records were registered with the center in 2022. Such registration allows data from Alabama births and deaths to be transmitted to the Social Security Administration for enumeration at birth and termination upon death, and to the National Center for Health Statistics for collection and publication, comparison among states, and determination of trends, such as maternal and infant mortality, drug overdose deaths, etc.

A uniquely beneficial service to highlight is that certified copies of vital records certificates may be obtained at any Alabama county health department on a while-you-wait basis, regardless of where in the state the event occurred. An automated vital records system called ViSION (Vital Statistics Image Oriented Network) makes this possible. While county health departments issue most certificates, requests may also be made by mail, Internet, and telephone.

The center also provides other specialized vital records services. Keepsake birth certificates, although not legal certified documents, may be ordered from the center for display and decorative purposes. Apostille and Exemplified copies of vital records, routinely required for foreign use, can also be requested from the center. The Apostille and Exemplified copies consist of an Alabama vital record signed by the State Registrar and an additional certification signed by the Alabama Secretary of State.

In addition to registering vital records and issuing certified copies, the center corrects and amends birth and death records and creates new certificates after legal actions. In 2022, the center’s Special Services Division created approximately 5,240 new birth certificates following adoption or parentage determination and amended approximately 3,030 birth certificates and 1,240 death certificates.

Statistical data compiled from vital records obtained by the center are used to help leaders form policies to improve health by identifying trends and risk factors that affect life expectancy. Special studies are done on such topics as causes of death, births to teenagers, maternal behaviors during and after pregnancy, and other health-related topics. Information is released in narrative, graphic, and tabular form through publications, newsletters, special reports, presentations, and ad hoc tabulations. Publications are available on this website by visiting the Center for Health Statistics.

Social changes and new legislation can often impact the vital records arena and the services it provides. For instance, in the coming months the center will be establishing a Certificate of Nonviable Birth which can be issued to parents upon request. The Alabama Legislature adopted the Genesis Act in the 2023 Regular Session which allows issuance of a non-certified Certificate of Nonviable Birth following a fetal death under 20 weeks gestation, when certain criteria are met.

Unquestionably, from vital records registration to correction and analysis, you see that Alabama’s Center for Health Statistics provides a multitude of services that touch the lives of Alabamians beyond just issuance of vital records certificates.

Scott Harris, M.D., M.P.H.
State Health Officer