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The keeping of good vital statistics is important to a society for several reasons. Infant mortality is generally considered the best indicator of the health of a population. Accurate records allow for allocation of health care funds to areas of greatest need. These records are of great historical value as well. On the individual level, the documentation of a birth certificate establishes the individual's legal existence and basic legal relationships like citizenship and parentage.

Vital statistics records are not uniform among the states. The forms, the information required, and the keeper of the records differ. Usually a county office houses these records. The records may be open to public view, access may be limited, or the records may be confidential. These records are always available to the person on whom they are kept or to a court. These records also fall under the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution. A state must honor the birth and death records of another state.

Historically, vital statistics records were kept in the locality where the event occurred rather than the place of current residence or a unified state office. A person born in Boston who moved to Los Angeles as an infant and lived there until he was killed in a Chicago plane crash would have a Massachusetts birth certificate and an Illinois death certificate. There would be no record of this person in the California vital statistics records. Another problem is that parents may not remember accurately where and when their children were born, making it impossible for these offspring to obtain their birth certificates. It also makes it difficult to match birth and death certificates to determine if a person has taken a false identity. It is anticipated that vital statistics records will become a more useful resource as states centralize their records and begin to correlate them with other states and the federal social security records.

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