What do they put as your country of birth if that country no longer exists?
February 11, 2005 9:20 AM   Subscribe

What do they put as your country of birth if that country no longer exists? [More inside.]

And by they I mean the Social Security Administration or other entity like it.

Today, my roommate went to get a replacement Social Security card. He was born in West Germany. She replaced that with just Germany (which is understandable).

However, it got me thinking. It's conceivable that someone alive today could have been born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tibet, the Mandate of Palestine, Coastal Ethiopia or any other country which met its demise in the past century (changed borders or not). What would be put as the nation of birth? I'm not sure if there are even rules about this.
posted by Captaintripps to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know for sure, but if your country did exist, I would think you could put it down as your place of birth, because it was. I mean, even if your parents are deceased, they were still your parents- you wouldn't have to put something different just because they aren't around anymore.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:27 AM on February 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

A college roommate was born in Kharkov, Ukraine when it was part of the USSR. His American passport said he was born in Ukraine. Anyone who would need that information presumably knows that Ukraine was in the USSR in 1974.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:32 AM on February 11, 2005

West Germany did not cease to exist. Reunification was accomplished legally by admitting East German provinces into the West German federation. From Wikipedia:
Germany was officially reunified on October 3, 1990, when the five reestablished federal states (Bundesländer) of East Germany formally joined the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), choosing one of two options implemented in the West German constitution (Grundgesetz). As the new founded German states formally joined the Federal Republic, the area in which the Grundgesetz (basic law) served as constitution was simply extended. The other choice would have been for East Germany to join as a whole along the lines of a formal union between two German states that then would have had to, amongst other things, create a new consitution for the new founded country. Though the option chosen clearly was simpler, it is and has been responsible for sentiments in the East of being "occupied" or "taken over" by the old Federal Republic.
posted by profwhat at 9:32 AM on February 11, 2005

My grandparents were born in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (they were Serbian). Social Security used "Austria."
posted by availablelight at 9:39 AM on February 11, 2005

I would think that your location of birth doesn't change, even though the name of it might. The old name isn't significant, the new name is. So Tibet would officially be China, since Tibet is now part of/located in China. In order to be accurate, they must use the place's current name in order to be able to locate it.
posted by scazza at 9:59 AM on February 11, 2005

I'd think it depends on the circumstances of the political change more than on geography. My father was born in a location that was Germany when he was born there and is not anymore. Putting Poland on his documents wouldn't make a lot of sense, because the Polish government doesn't have his records. On the other hand, putting USSR is most likely to lead people to Russia, where Ukraine probably has the actual records.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2005

I meant, the old name isn't significant, the new/official name is.

That's a rather charged idea. Try telling someone who considers themselves Tibetan that the name isn't important, that they are Chinese.
posted by xmutex at 11:28 AM on February 11, 2005

Best answer: My wife and her parents have run into this issue as they were all born in Yugoslavia. What's been entered into their (Canadian) passport has changed a couple of times as the borders and names of the countries were in flux.

Currently, her father's passport has "Bosnia-Herzegovina" because the town he was born in is now in that country. She and her mother have "Serbia and Montenegro", whereas a few years back it was listed as "Former Yugoslavia" or something like that. Assuming Montenegro leaves the arrangement (seemingly more a matter of when, rather than if), I presume that they'll probably just end up with "Serbia" in their passport.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2005

I knew someone born in Newfoundland before Confederation, and she said that, legally, she was considered a natural-born Canadian citizen. Anecdotal, but not hard to believe.
posted by transient at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2005

transient, that's true. My father was born in Newfoundland in 1942 (still ostensibly part of the British empire) but since they joined Confederation in 1949 everyone was "promoted" to full Canadian citizenship. I discovered this (to my disappointment) when I was searching for some way of getting a UK passport ;)
posted by filmgoerjuan at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2005

Again anecdotal, but mostly on-topic: My former step-father was born in a region of German occupied France (during WWII). They were most definitely German lineage, but I have no idea what they would have put on immigration forms.
posted by Who_Am_I at 12:54 PM on February 11, 2005

This is somewhat the same but not quite...
I was once in line at the INS and overheard that the country of birth of the person in front of me was India, although the part of India he was born in had since become Pakistan.
posted by leapingsheep at 1:33 PM on February 11, 2005

My grandparents were born in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (they were Serbian). Social Security used "Austria."

If they were ethnic Serbians who lived in Vienna (a frequent occurrence), that makes sense. If they lived in Serbia itself and SS used "Austria" just because the empire they came from was called that for short (unofficially), that strikes me as bad judgment. Would they say an Inuit born in Alaska in 1850 was from Russia? Maybe so.

Also: Captaintripps, I am not aware of a country, current or former, called "Coastal Ethiopia." Are you by any chance thinking of Eritrea (once more a country these days)?
posted by languagehat at 5:38 PM on February 11, 2005

This is actually a bit of an issue for me, since not only has the country in which was born changed its name, but also the city in which I was born. I was born in Leningrad, USSR. Now it's St. Petersburg, Russia. On my US passport they simply put "Russia" as my place of birth. But, when people ask where I was born, I never know what the proper response should be, particularly if I don't feel like telling them the whole story of my life.
posted by epimorph at 6:44 PM on February 11, 2005

Epimorph: I'd say St. Petersburg, as that has been its name for a lot more history than it was Leningrad--Unless, of course, there is something important to YOU about calling it Leningrad.
posted by Goofyy at 12:50 AM on February 14, 2005

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