Preserve Your Family's Paper Trail: Replace and Safeguard Personal Records/ July 12th, 2010
Here's a question that might stump you: Do you know where your birth certificate is? It's often not until you need your own or a family member's personal records that you realize you're not sure where the records are. Records can be lost due to theft, damage, or a simple case of misplacement. Whatever the cause, missing records can create problems. Without them, you'll have a tough time obtaining a passport or driver's license, applying for Social Security or insurance benefits, or even getting remarried. However, lost personal papers don't have to be gone for good. Here's how to replace some common types of personal records—and prevent them from disappearing again.
Replacing vital recordsTo obtain a certified copy of a birth, death, marriage, or divorce certificate, you'll first need to determine where the event happened. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Atlanta, these types of records should be on file in the locality where the event occurred—the federal government does not maintain them. Once you know where to look, write to or visit the vital statistics office in the appropriate state or area to request records. Check the NCHS vital records directory for state-specific addresses, costs, and record availability. Depending on the type of record you're requesting, you'll need to provide some additional facts, such as names, dates, and the purpose for which the record is needed. The NCHS provides guidelines for gathering the information necessary to complete your request.
Veterans and their next-of-kin can request free copies of their report of separation and other records.
Replacing your Social Security cardYou can replace a lost or stolen Social Security card for free. First, fill out an application for a new card (Form SS-5, available online). Then, use the Social Security Administration's (SSA) online tool to find out which documents you'll need to prove your identity and citizenship. Bring or mail your application and original documents or documents certified by the custodian of the original record to your local Social Security office. The Social Security office will return any documents submitted with your application. Remember that a lost or stolen card may put you at risk for identity theft. Follow the SSA's prevention steps to keep your identity safe.
You can replace a lost or stolen Social Security card for free.
Replacing military recordsMilitary records for discharged service members are stored at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Md. According to the NARA, veterans and their next of kin can request free copies of their report of separation and other records in any of these ways:
- Submit a request online.
- Mail or fax a Standard Form SF-180.
- Write a request letter. See Form SF-180 and scroll down to "Write a Letter to Request Records" to find out what information is needed to locate your records.
- Check with your state or county veterans agency to see if copies of your records are available there.
Contact your credit union for information about safe deposit box availability.