Saturday, September 06, 2008

Cook County Birth Certificates

One of these things is not like the others...

We all know what an original birth certificate looks like and what information it contains. Ditto for an amended certificate for those of us who were adopted.

Cook County, Illinois, is now issuing something brand new, a computer print out they are calling an “abstract.”In April, 2008, my cousin went down to the Cook County Department of Vital Statistics to get a copy of his son’s birth certificate. His son is not adopted. My cousin was given a computer print-out that looked just like this.


Certificate of Vital Records
Certificate of Birth
Birth Number

Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Date Filed:

Date issued:

This is to certify that this is a true and correct abstract from the official record filed with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

DAVID ORR, Cook County Clerk
[Note: This document has the embossed seal of the county court and the county clerk’s signature.]

Wanna play a game of “WHAT’S MISSING?”

My cousin certainly did. He asked the clerk what happened to all the other information. In particular, WHERE ARE THE PARENT’S NAMES? The clerk told him that if he wanted any more information, he would have to write to the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield.

I taught in the Chicago Public Schools for about a million years and I’ve registered hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of youngsters. Every registration week, the one thing that was always hammered into our heads was to be absolutely sure to get an authentic birth certificate or incur the wrath of the entire Board of Education. To register a child with a bogus certificate, from the US or any other country, was like a Class One Felony. You were in big trouble. In my day these computer print outs would not have been considered to be authentic birth certificates.

We were also under strict orders never to be fooled and take hospital certificates instead of the real thing. But you know what? Hospital certificates contain more data on them than this new shortened version being used by Cook County.

And most important of all, we had to establish that the person registering the child was indeed this child’s mother. We could do that by reading the birth certificate and then requesting ID information from the parent. Not hard to do and makes sense, don’t you think?

Chicago, being the third largest city in the United States, does a booming business in birth certificates every August and September. We are a city of immigrants whose first language is not English. Advertisements in English and Spanish appear routinely on TV and radio, in the newspapers, and even on benches and billboards - all reminding parents: “You must present your children’s birth certificate in order to register them for school."

In my day, the kindergarten rooms would be standing empty if parents carried in this latest Cook County document and tried to register their children for school.

It used to be that the Chicago public schools, together with the County, worked to make it as easy as possible for parents to get their children’s birth certificates. The quickest way was to go downtown to the Cook County Dept. of Vital Statistics and apply in person. Shucks. In Cook County, you can even get a copy of your birth certificate at any currency exchange in the county. But writing a request to the Board of Health in Springfield is a very long and cumbersome way, fraught with bureaucratic obstacles, to obtain the needed certificate in time for the opening of school. Especially for parents who do not speak much English.

I am perplexed. I really wonder why Cook County is looking for ways to shorten birth certificates by eliminating so much information from them.

Will the person who dreamed up Cook County’s short-cut to birth certificates please stand up and tell us – WHY?


Mary Lynn Fuller said...

The new Cook Co. abstract version of a birth certificate is certainly interesting. Someone with the same surname could kidnap a child and register them in a school far away from the place of birth. However, I don't know if just any school would accept this abstract - a real problem for the actual parents of a child.

It would be interesting to know if other counties in IL are doing this.

Triona Guidry said...

Is this another way for the Dept. of Public Health in Springfield to rake in more dollars? They also run the Illinois Adoption Registry And Medical Information Exchange (IARMIE). If they are charging people for this "additional information," all the stuff Cook County is mysteriously leaving off these computer printouts - and which as you point out is needed to register children for school - I bet that would be lucrative.

FWIW, when I got my kids' birth certificates from Lake County within the last few years, I got the real deal. (Can't get my own, though!)

With our state budget in crisis, you would think they would ditch all this ridiculous bureaucratic hoop-jumping. It's more expensive and certainly more annoying.

Marley Greiner said...

This was tried in Ohio for awhile. I don't know if it's still in effect, since I've not heard anything about it for a few years.

I was told that unless a birth or death certificate was specifically requested an abstract would be issued.

Ohio Vital Stats has traditionally issued abstracts of all marriage licenses fro 1948 to present. When VS moved a few years ago they stopped that. The people I know at the VS have no idea why. They were just told they would no longer be issued. The marriage index is still available, but you have to go to the county then to get a real copy of the cert.

Who knows what Chicago is up to.