Identity Documents Glossary

While the country doesn't have a blanket national identity card, there are many ways American citizens are categorized and documented, and many occasions that require the creation of additional personal records.

A-C Terms

Birth Certificate

The official document created to record a person's birth. This record typically includes information like the full names of the child and parents, the location of the birth, the gender of the baby, and possibly other information.

Certificate of Citizenship

A document proving an individual is a United States citizen. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues these documents, and they're typically given to U.S. citizens who were born abroad or who have retained citizenship through derivation—meaning, by virtue of their parents' citizenship.

Certificate of Live Birth

This record is essentially the first draft of a birth certificate. It notes that the baby was born alive. Doctors or nurses will collect other information found on a birth certificate shortly after birth.

A certificate of live birth is considered a birth certificate once one of the parents has verified the information on it and it has been submitted to the proper vital records office.

See also: Birth Certificate.

Certificate of Naturalization

The legal document proving a person born in a foreign country—NOT to American parents—has obtained U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.

Some naturalization process qualifications include:

  • Being a permanent resident of the country for at least 5 years.
  • Being a permanent resident for at least 3 years AND being able to file as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
  • Serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA)

This is the document recording births of children born in a foreign country to American parents. For these citizens, a CRBA will typically be issued in lieu of a birth certificate.

CRBAs are issued by a U.S. consulate or embassy office in the country where the child was born.

D-L Terms

Death Certificate

The official document recording a person's death. A doctor or coroner typically signs the certificate and includes the cause and place of death.

Department of Defense Identification Cards

The documents issued by the U.S. military to prove the holder is or was a member of the armed services. Both active and inactive members of the military receive these forms of identification.

Divorce Certificate

The legal document dissolving the marriage between two people. This document proves the marriage legally ended.

Divorce Decree

This is an expanded version of the divorce certificate. A divorce decree states that the marriage is legally over, but it also includes information from the judicial proceedings surrounding the divorce, such as:

  • The basic facts of the divorce case.
  • The court case number.
  • All of the terms of the divorce, including:
    • Custody of children.
    • Property division.

The divorce decree is signed by the judge who presided over the case.

See also: Divorce Certificate

Divorce Record

This is the actual case file of the divorce proceedings. It will include all of the paperwork filed during the court case, such as:

  • Sworn statements from both spouses.
  • Financial documents.
  • The divorce decree.

See also: Divorce Decree.

Driver's License

The official document signifying an individual is legally permitted to operate a motor vehicle.

Since date of birth is shown on driver's licenses, they are also often asked for as a means to prove one's age, and since they include a recent photo, they are also sometimes asked for as proof of identification.

M-Z Terms

Marriage Certificate

This is an official copy of a marriage license, which has been certified after the legal wedding ceremony took place. Once this document is submitted to the state, it means a couple is legally married. Much of the time, this certificate is part of the public record.

A marriage certificate includes similar information as a marriage license, as well as the names of the people getting married, the date of the wedding, who officiated the wedding, and other major details.

See also: Marriage License.

Marriage License

This is the government-issued document giving legal permission to marry. A marriage license is typically only valid for a specific period of time and only in the jurisdiction where it was issued.

While licenses vary from state to state, they typically include the signatures of:

  • The two people getting married.
  • A witness to the wedding.
  • The officiant.

A marriage license represents only the permission to get married. The document which proves a marriage is legal is the marriage certificate.

See also: Marriage Certificate

Medicaid Card

This record proves a person is enrolled in the national Medicaid program, which is designed to offer medical and health-related services for low-income individuals and families.

Medicare Card

The card proving an individual is enrolled in the national Medicare program, which provides health insurance to citizens 65 years old and over, as well as those with disabilities and with some severe medical conditions.


The official document proving a person's citizenship. A passport allows a person to travel internationally under the protection of his or her home country.

Passport Card

A simplified—and less powerful—version of a passport, these cards are most typically issued to people living near the land boarder of another country.

Meant to be more convenient for traveling than a passport book, the card allows for land and sea travel between the United States and its immediately surrounding countries.

It will not be acceptable for international air travel or to enter any other countries.

See our guide to Passport Cards & Enhanced Driver's Licenses for details.

Permanent Residency Card

The document proving a person's status as a permanent United States resident. Holders of this document may legally live and work in the country.

The document was nicknamed—and is often referred to as—a “green card" due to its color.

Social Security Card

The official document recording a Social Security number (SSN). Social Security numbers are unique numbers used to identify someone throughout their working life in order to track their income and determine benefit entitlements. You can find out more about getting a Social Security card on our handy page.

Social Security numbers are typically assigned to U.S. citizens shortly after birth, and can also be given to some permanent and temporary residents.

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