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birth certificate a certificate issued on the registration of the birth of a child. First instituted in 1837 in England and Wales, it shows the full name of the child, his or her sex, the names of the parents (including the former surname of the mother) and the father's occupation. Birth certificates provide the historical sociologist with a source of data with which to study life histories, fertility patterns and illegitimacy. See also DEATH CERTIFICATE, MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE. PARISH REGISTER.