Are Birth Records Public in Tennessee?
No. The Tennessee Public Records Act, which provides public access to government records, does not apply to vital records (records of births, annulments, deaths, divorces, and marriages) maintained in Tennessee. Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-3-205, birth records are mainly confidential. Certified copies of these records ("raised seal" documents) can only be released to specific people, such as the record holders, parents/guardians, or spouses. Legal representatives and other applicants must usually provide supporting documentation to validate their right to obtain a certified copy of a Tennessee birth certificate.
Notwithstanding, the same law allows public access to Tennessee birth records once 100 years have elapsed from a registered birth date. Microfilm copies of birth records held by the State Library and Archives or a local library are also deemed public birth records in Tennessee.
What are Birth Records in Tennessee?
A Tennessee birth record is an official document verifying that an individual's birth occurred in the State of Tennessee. It is a vital record detailing important information about the individual and serves as legal recognition of identity. Accurate and timely documentation of births is essential to high-quality vital statistics. Proper birth documentation allows governments to effectively plan and deliver adequate services and allocate resources across all development sectors. Vital statistics collected by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) revealed that 78,685 births were recorded in the State of Tennessee in 2022.
A birth record provides proof of an individual's age, citizenship, and status. It is necessary for anyone to obtain a social security number, apply for a passport, enroll in schools, get a driver's license, gain employment, or apply for other benefits.
Tennessee issues two kinds of birth certificates: The long form birth certificate and the birth verification. The long form birth certificate is a printed image of the original certificate of birth. It contains information such as the child's name, date of birth, name of the hospital, address of parents, parents' dates of birth. The certificate contains a raised seal which indicates certification.
A birth verification is only a confirmation that an event occurred and is typically used for informational purposes only. It is not a certified document and cannot be used for identification. It is a handwritten transcript of information taken from the original certificate.
Tennessee only started keeping birth records statewide in 1908. However, the larger cities in the state kept earlier birth records: Knoxville (1881); Nashville (1881); Chattanooga (1879); and Memphis (1874). These four cities also kept records of births in 1913 even though Tennessee did not maintain any birth records statewide for that year. Starting in 1935, Tennessee began issuing "delayed" birth certificates to persons born in the state before the 1908 law, and to individuals born in the state who did not have a birth certificate issued at the time of birth. Only record holders and their legal representatives can file for delayed birth certificates.
Where to Find Public Birth Records in Tennessee
The Tennessee Department of Health's Office of Vital Records is the statewide repository where individuals can find Tennessee public birth records. This office of vital statistics has information on vital events from 1908 to the present. Besides providing mail-in and walk-in services to requesters of public birth records, the state agency also works with an online vendor from which requesters can obtain information on vital events that occurred in the state, including births. Alternatively, record seekers can find public birth records at a local county health department.
How to Find and Request Birth Records Online in Tennessee
Tennessee does not provide an option for requesters to look up birth records online. However, persons interested in obtaining Tennessee birth records online can do so conveniently. Although the state does not directly accept online orders, the issuing authority contracts an independent company to provide online order service for a fee. Tennessee has only one official online vendor authorized by the state to process credit/debit card transactions for online orders.
Ordering birth certificates online is the easiest and most efficient method for obtaining birth certificates in Tennessee.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How to Get Birth Records in Tennessee
The Tennessee Department of Health provides eligible persons with access to obtain birth records in the state in person or by mail. With the introduction of an electronic issuance system in Tennessee, all county health departments can issue birth records that have been registered statewide with the Vital Records office of the Tennessee Department of Health. However, requesters are advised to call ahead before visiting the local county offices to verify work hours and other requirements that may be necessary to obtain a birth record.
A requester who has obtained a certified copy of birth certificate but needs an apostille added may send a request and the certified copy of the birth certificate to the Secretary of State along with the required fee. An apostille certifies the authenticity of the signature, seal, and position of the official who has executed, issued, or certified a copy of a public document. It enables a public document issued in one country to be recognized as valid in another country.
The request for an apostille can also be made from the start of the application process for a certified copy of birth certificate. Include one check made payable to the Tennessee Office of Vital Records for the required number of copies, and a second check of appropriate fee made payable to the Tennessee Secretary of State for the apostille. The Office of Vital Records will send copies, check, and the request to the Tennessee Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will apply the apostille and return the documents to the requester.
A white and black copy of a birth certificate that does not include a multi-colored or raised seal is not recognized as a legal document. Even if a white and black copy contains a seal, it may not be accepted as a legal copy due to the age of the document. Hence, it may be necessary to obtain a certified copy of the birth certificate.
Note: Individuals can also obtain a divorce, death, and marriage certificate from the Office of Vital Records.
How to Get Tennessee Birth Records in Person
Tennessee birth certificate applications can be submitted in person at a vital records office. Qualified applicants have the option to complete a paper order form and present proper identification at the customer service window of the State Vital Records Office in order to obtain a birth record. Unqualified applicants will be required to support their applications with documentation that proves their entitlement to the record requested at the time of application. Otherwise, they must have a qualified applicant apply. Birth record order forms are located on the counter to the left of the office entrance.
Walk-in requests are also taken in the kiosk located at the Office of Vital Records. The kiosk orders automatically verify the identity of the requester even if no IDs are presented. Applicants who fail the identification verification process will be asked to provide identification documents at the front counter once the order has been transmitted for processing.
The Office of Vital Records is located at:
1st Floor, Andrew Johnson Tower
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243
How to Get Tennessee Birth Records by Mail
Another option for submitting a Tennessee birth certificate application is by mail. To obtain the copy of an original birth certificate in Tennessee by mail, complete and sign the Application for Certified Copy of a Tennessee Certificate of Birth form. Enclose the completed form, a valid ID, and appropriate fee in a mail to:
Tennessee Vital Records
1st Floor, Andrew Johnson Tower
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243
Accepted identification documentation includes:
- A photocopy of a government-issued identification card which includes the signature of the requester
- A notarized application for a certified copy
- The mother's copy of the birth certificate issued at the hospital at the time of birth. It must be dated within the last two calendar years.
A requester may also provide one item from Category A or two items from Category B as alternate forms of identification:
- Current driver's license, including the issue and expiration date.
- Current passport
- Military I.D. card
- Alien, temporary, or permanent resident card
- Employment authorization card
- U.S. Certificate of Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship or Citizenship I.D. card
- Current pay stub or W2
- Vehicle registration with name and current address
- Voter Registration card
- Military Discharge (DD214)
- Utility Bill, Bank Statement, or deposit slip with name and current address
- Health care coverage card
- Medical record
- Application page of an insurance policy
- Signed Social Security Card
- A copy of a police report or other official documents that support theft for persons who have their I.D. stolen.
Requesters can check on their order by using the check order status tool on the Vital Records Page of the Tennessee Department of Health's website. The tool opens up an email application on the user's access device to send an email to the Customer Service Unit. The Unit requires requesters to provide details about their orders and the preferred method of contact between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the email. Requesters may call the Tennessee Vital Records at (615) 741-1763 if they have not received a response within 45 days.
Where Can I Find Birth Records in Tennessee?
The Tennessee Vital Records Office maintains confidential birth records in the state for 100 years. Beyond that period, the records are sent to the Tennessee State Library and Archives. (The Tennessee State Library and Archives also has public marriage records, death records and divorce records.) Birth records can also be obtained from the local county offices in Tennessee.
How to Get Birth Records From a Hospital in Tennessee
Tennessee hospitals do not issue certified copies of birth certificates. However, a mother will receive a copy of the birth certificate after the birth of a child at the hospital. This copy is not accepted as a legal copy. However, it may be used to satisfy identification requirements when obtaining a certified copy of birth certificate from the Vital Records Office.
Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Birth Certificate in Tennessee?
Other than a person named on a birth record, certified copies of Tennessee birth certificates can only be issued to:
- A spouse of the person named on the record
- A parent of the person named on the record
- A legal guardian or child of the person named on the record
- An authorized or legal representative acting on behalf of one of the categories of persons named above
Note that any representative acting on behalf of an eligible requester can only obtain a certified copy of birth certificate by:
- Furnishing the Vital Records Office with a photocopy of a signed government identification card of the requester and the representative; and
- Obtaining and submitting a signed statement from the person giving the Tennessee Office of Vital Records permission to release the copy to the representative.
How Much Does a Birth Certificate Cost in Tennessee?
Obtaining a birth record in person and by mail in Tennessee costs $15 for the first copy and $15 for each additional copy ordered at the same time. If a requested certificate cannot be found, the Vital Records Office issues a letter certifying that no record was found. The fee for a no record found is the same as for a certified copy. Mail orders can be paid by check or money order made payable to the “Tennessee Vital Records”.
Persons who use the kiosk in the Vital Record Office lobby to make in-person orders are charged an additional non-refundable fee of $4 as vendor fee. In-person orders can be paid by cash, credit, debit cards, or money orders at the customer service window.
Although online orders for both long form certificates and birth verification copies cost $15 each, additional fees will be collected by the independent company as vendor fees. Credit and debit cards are accepted for online transactions.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Birth Certificate in Tennessee?
Most in-person requests for Tennessee birth records are completed while the requesters wait. Note that the birth must have occurred more than 45 days before a request is placed. Mail requests typically take 6 weeks to complete. The six-week period does not include delivery time. However, when it comes to an online order, an expedited service is guaranteed. For online orders, once a birth record order is complete, it is electronically sent by the next business day to the government agency for processing. Overall, an online order may take up to three to five business days to complete.
How to Get a New Birth Certificate in Tennessee
According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-3-311, the state registrar can only create new birth certificates after an adoption, legitimation, or order of paternity. There are different requirements to get a new birth certificate in Tennessee, depending on the reason for asking the Office of Vital Records to create a new record. However, an applicant must usually submit a signed and notarized affidavit, supporting documentation, and an amendment fee. For instance, if the new birth certificate is necessitated by adoption, an adoptive parent can request a new birth certificate for their child by submitting the following to the Tennessee Office of Vital Records:
- A Certificate of Adoption form (parts I, II, and III, only)
- A certified copy of the adoption court order
- The required fee
More information about requesting new birth certificates can be obtained from the Department of Health's Certificate Correction page.
After the Department of Health files a new birth certificate, the original birth certificate and all other legal documents relating to the adoption, order of paternity, or legitimation are sealed from further public inspection, except by court order (Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-3-313).
How to Expunge Your Birth Records in Tennessee
Expunging a record means permanently removing it. In Tennessee, there is no provision to delete part or all of a birth record. This also applies to divorce, marriage, and death records.
How to Seal Your Birth Records in Tennessee
Birth records are sealed after an adoption in Tennessee. Upon the completion of an adoption proceeding, all information related to the adoption process, including the original birth certificate, is automatically sealed from public access. An amended birth certificate is then issued to replace the original certificate. This new certificate will state the adoptive parents as the legal parents of the adoptee.
No separate process is required to seal a birth record. As a result, parties concerned do not have to petition to seal adoption records in Tennessee. The only time a sealed adoption record can be unsealed is when there is a court order to that effect.
How to Unseal Your Birth Records in Tennessee
Nearly all adoptees in Tennessee who are 21 years or older have a right to obtain an original birth certificate or a pre-adoption birth certificate. The only exception applies to adoptees whose birth parents were victims of incest or rape. In such instances, written consent of the birth parents will be required to release the records.
To obtain a pre-adoption birth certificate, submit a packet containing the following items:
- A signed and completed Request for Access to Sealed Adoption Records/Release of Information and Other Services form.
- Verification of requester's identity, such as picture ID, driver's license, or passport
- Other supporting documentation that can help the Tennessee Department of Children's Services identify the record.
Submit packet by mail or electronic mail to:
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
Post Adoption Services
UBS Tower, 9th Floor
315 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243
There is a $150 fee that applies to obtain Tennessee adoption records. Once a record is received, there is a $0.25 per page copy fee. The Department also offers optional search services for adoptions that occurred after 1951. There is a $135 fee for the department to conduct a search. After the Department receives a request and determines that the record is on file, the requester will be contacted about the appropriate fee.
Each submitted request is reviewed by a post-adoption staff for eligibility. A post-adoption Program Specialist provides the requester with the next steps to continue with a request. Do not send fee or documentation before receiving instructions from the Program Specialist.
Persons eligible to obtain original birth records include:
- Adult adoptee, aged 21 or older
- An adoptee's birth, adoptive, step, or legal parent older than 21-years of age
- An adoptee’s birth or adoptive siblings, age 21 and older
- An adoptee’s lineal descendants or lineal ancestors, age 21 and older
Note that the adoptee must consent to the release of any identifying information contained in the sealed record. The process to obtain sealed records may take up to 3 months. For more inquiries or information, contact the Post Adoption Services Information Line at (615) 532-5637.
Who Signs Birth and Death Certificates in Tennessee?
Per Sections 68-3-302 and 68-3-303 of the Tennessee Code, the birth certificates of babies born in a hospital are signed by the person in charge of the birthing institution or that person's designated representative. However, if the birth occurred outside a birthing institution, then the birth certificate can be signed by a physician, anybody in attendance, the father, the mother, or the person in charge of the facility where the birth occurred.
In contrast, a physician or physician's assistant signs the death certificates of the patients they treated. Failure to sign a death certificate may lead to penalties that affect a professional's medical license. A record seeker can obtain public Tennessee death certificates from the Tennessee State Library and Archives (1908-1912 and 1914-1933) and the Shelby County Register of Deeds official websites. Requests for death certificates can also be submitted to a local registrar or the state registrar's office.