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Guide to Getting a Letter of No Record and How to Use It to Get a Passport

Macy was dropped off at a hospital emergency room one cold November night by her panicked teen mom. Just hours after she was born, her mother left her with hospital staff under California's Safely Surrendered Baby Law, which allows newborns to be dropped off at any hospital emergency room to become a ward of the state --no questions asked.

Her mother didn't even leave her name. The law is designed to protect children who might otherwise be in danger of being abandoned in an uncontrolled environment, resulting in their harm or death. While Safe Haven Laws, which exist in all 50 states, are better alternatives to unwanted births than dangerous abandonment, they also leave many children with no proper birth records.

Without registered birth certificates that establish the identity and citizenship of these abandoned children, their lives are complicated from the very beginning. When the children are put into the foster care system awaiting adoption, their first few years of life can pass by without any formal identity.

It also complicates attempts to prove their age and nationality, help them go to school, be adopted, or receive health care. As adults, it makes it difficult for them to get a driver's license, get married, open a bank account, vote, get a passport, or participate fully in society in many other ways.

What is a Letter of No Record?

Fortunately there are ways to fix what is broken. If you are a citizen of the United States and do not have primary evidence of U.S. citizenship, there is a process in place to help you get it. You must obtain a Letter of No Record from your birth state if you don't have a registered U.S. birth certificate or a Delayed Birth Certificate. This is a letter issued on your behalf by your state's Office of Vital Statistics that verifies they have no official state records of your birth; in effect, you do not exist on paper. Your birth state's Office of Vital Statistics is the only issuing agency for this particular document.

What Information Is Included on a Letter of No Record?

The Letter of No Record is created through the authority of your state's Vital Statistics, and is an official statement that no birth records exist for you. The statement includes your full name, your date of birth, the years that were searched for you birth record, and their acknowledgement that they found no state issued birth certificate on file for you.

How to Get a Letter of No Record?

The federal government assigned responsibility for overseeing vital statistics to the National Center for Health Statistics, and each state is responsible for storing vital statistics data of U.S. citizens who reside in their state. Consequently, the process for obtaining a Letter of No Record will vary slightly state by state. Essentially, you will follow the process of requesting your registered birth certificate.

Likely, you will be asked to present identification to complete the request. Most often, a state or government-issued photo identification is required to prove your identity, because only the person in question, his/her parent(s), a court appointed guardian, a surviving spouse, or a representative of the person in possession of signed and notarized permission can access birth records.

If you don't have a state or government issued ID, which likely you won't, you can present two alternative documents like a pay stub, current car registration, bank statement, letter from a government agency requesting a vital record, rental or lease agreement, utility bill with your current address, or a copy of your income tax return.

Once a search of vital records is completed and no records are found, you will be receive a Letter of No Record issued by the state. If you made your request without a valid, unexpired, government-issued photo identification, the Letter of No Record will be mailed to the address displayed on the documents you provided as secondary identification.

How May a Letter of No Record Be Used to Obtain a Passport?

Realizing that U.S. citizens can present a wide array of citizenship issues on the way to obtaining a U.S. passport, every effort is made to accommodate each individual's circumstances. For example, often state adoption privacy laws prevent U.S. citizens from accessing their own birth records. Therefore, the Letter of No Record from your state's Office of Vital Statistics may be submitted with multiple Early Public Records.

Some examples of acceptable Early Public Records include a hospital-issued memento birth certificate with the baby's footprints and parents' names on it, a short-form or other invalid birth certificate, post-natal medical records, school records, either state or federal Census records, Baptismal records with the church's seal, or a certified adoption decree, among others.

These records should include your name, date of birth, place of birth, and be from before age five, if possible. Submit this information to satisfy the proof of citizenship portion of your passport application. Once you receive your passport, it will serve as your primary evidence of U.S. citizenship.

Having no birth records can be a scary proposition when trying to do virtually anything, including proving who you are! What advice can you offer others in this situation?

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About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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