Birth certificates / Geburtsurkunden

Following the last entry, I should add a footnote on birth certificates, because that term Abstammungsurkunde is one of the problems for translators who haven’t encountered it before.

There are three kinds of birth certificate in Germany:

Geburtsschein (minimum details)
Geburtsurkunde (most details)
Abstammungsurkunde (most details – including natural parents)

The Geburtsschein has minimum details, for the sake of privacy, but it will enable someone to prove their age, for instance when they receive a pension.

There’s also a multilingual birth certificate: cheaper than getting a translation. Any register office should be able to issue one.

I have no idea how the Abstammungsurkunde works with adopted children, since I thought it wasn’t that easy to see your natural parents. Anyway, you need one of these to get married, to avoid incest. As the Zeit article quotes:

Herr L., der »Verlobte«, fragt trotzdem nach dem Sinn der Abstammungsurkunde. Die Standesbeamtin, die das Leben zu kennen scheint, sagt, dass das Leben voller Überraschungen sei. Es gelte eben zu verhindern, dass zwei Geschwister, die durch Adoptionen als Babys getrennt worden seien, einander ohne Kenntnis ihrer Abstammung heiraten, was zu dem Vergehen eines Inzestes führe, das durch Vorlage einer Abstammungsurkunde leicht hätte verhindert werden können.
Herr L. erkennt den Humor der Erklärung und scherzt: »Das kommt in Altona ja sicher zweimal in der Woche vor.« Frau Z. hingegen hat es gar nicht komisch gemeint und sagt: »Nein, so oft nicht. Aber das Leben kann sehr bunt sein.«

Some Geburtsurkunden contain the line ‘Mit Abstammungsurkunde identisch’, which means they can be used instead of an Abstammungsurkunde. I would translate Abstammungsurkunde as ‘birth certificate showing natural parents’ or ‘long form birth certificate’, although the latter may not be a precise equivalent and its definition may vary from country to country. Don’t translate it as ‘certificate of descent’ – sounds a bit like a pedigree dog.

Here’s something on Britain:

There are two types of birth certificates:-
* the full certificate. This is a copy of the entry in the birth register, giving all the recorded details
* the short certificate. This only gives the child’s full name, sex, date and place of birth. It does not give the name and particulars of the mother or father. A short certificate is issued free of charge when a birth is first registered and is sufficient for most official purposes.

10 thoughts on “Birth certificates / Geburtsurkunden

  1. In the UK, the certificate of adoption replaces the birth certificate(s). Of course, you as an adopted child do have the right to apply for your original full birth certificate, but nobody can force you to do that – including the German authorities – and it can be refused under certain circumstances (it only shows the mother’s name in any case).

    I don’t believe that UK citizens who were adopted and wish to marry in Germany have to provide anything other than the certificate of adoption; the Abstammungsurkunde requirement must surely apply only to German citizens.

  2. There’s also a multilingual birth certificate: cheaper than getting a translation. Any register office should be able to issue one.

    Yes, and the good sense to get one before I left Germany has saved me much hassle several times. Highly recommended.

    (Good post, btw. I can see how “Abstammungsurkunde” could be upsetting, harmless as the document is, esp. if inexpertly translated.)

  3. Thanks, Robin – I have often wondered, but never taken the energy to research.

    Is this Abstammungsurkunde possibly a 1933 thing? I must say this is the first time I have heard that Jewish objection, although it must have been made before.

    Chris, I don’t translate certificates nowadays, but it has always been my practice, as a certified translator, to tell the potential client to get a multilingual birth certificate instead. It used to cost about 6 DM. I remember one of them telling me the register office at Schwabach refused to give one! Did they run out of forms, I wonder?

  4. Robin: ‘the Abstammungsurkunde requirement must surely apply only to German citizens.’

    Yes, I suppose it’s sufficient to show that *one* of the spouses is not related to the other!

  5. “Sufficient to show that *one* of the spouses…”

    This logic seems to have passed by the brilliant minds who run the German system. But I do wonder about this obsession with incest in Germany. Is it still so prevalent, or is it more of those “well we’ve been doing this for 500 years, why should we stop now?” things. It’s only relatively recently that they abolished the requirement for newborn babies to have an acid solution squirted into their eyes, after all (was “supposed” to prevent syphilis being transmitted to babies), one of the most barbaric acts of state brutality to survive the Nazi period…

  6. Maybe one of your US-based readers can answer that one. But I doubt it has anything to do with the mutilation of babies! (I used to know a couple of doctors in Hessen who refused to do it anyway, they just ticked the box or whatever).

  7. Hi Margaret

    Just reading the above posts …whatever happened to the term “registry office”? ……that’s what it was when I left Britain. Who coined the term “register office”?


  8. Paul, both terms have been around for yonks. The GRO is the General Register Office, I think. I think registry office is OK, but register office is the official term. Has always been so. Collins English Dictionary says ‘register office: Brit – a government office where civil marriages are performaned and births, marriages, and deaths are recorded. Often called “registry office”‘.

  9. Thanks for that Margaret. Maybe “registry office” was preferred at the time in the south-west. I had never heard of “register office” until a few years ago.


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