Fact Check

Is Barack Obama's Birth Certificate Fake?

"We hope that issuing certified copies of the original Certificate of Live Birth to President Obama will end the numerous inquiries related to his birth in Hawaii," Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy said.

Published Aug. 27, 2008

 (Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock, Inc.)
Image courtesy of Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock, Inc.
Barack Obama's birth certificate is a forgery.

In April 2011, President Barack Obama sought to put end to rumors claiming that he was not a natural-born citizen of the United States by obtaining and releasing a copy of his long form birth certificate issued by the state of Hawaii. Officials from that state certified that the copy of the certificate they provided to President Obama was authentic:

The Hawaii State Health Department recently complied with a request by President Barack Obama for certified copies of his original Certificate of Live Birth, which is sometimes referred to in the media as a "long form" birth certificate.

"We hope that issuing certified copies of the original Certificate of Live Birth to President Obama will end the numerous inquiries related to his birth in Hawaii," Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy said. "I have seen the original records filed at the Department of Health and attest to the authenticity of the certified copies the department provided to the President that further prove the fact that he was born in Hawaii."

On April 25, 2011, pursuant to President Obama's request, Director Fuddy personally witnessed the copying of the original Certificate of Live Birth and attested to the authenticity of the two copies. Dr. Alvin Onaka, the State Registrar, certified the

As they had with the Certification of Live Birth made public by the Obama campaign in June 2008, birthers immediately claimed that the long form birth certificate was also a forgery. The primary arguments advanced to demonstrate that the certificate was forged were claims that some textual elements of the certificate were anachronistic, and that the existence of layers found when the PDF file was opened with Adobe Illustrator proved that it had been altered. All of these arguments are erroneous.

The claims of anachronism stemmed from three elements in the certificate:

1. Back in 1961 people of color were called 'Negroes.' So how can the Obama 'birth certificate' state he is 'African-American' when the term wasn't even used at that time?

2. The birth certificate that the White House released lists Obama's birth as August 4, 1961. It also lists Barack Hussein Obama as his father. No big deal, right? At the time of Obama's birth, it also shows that his father is aged 25 years old, and that Obama's father was born in "Kenya, East Africa". This wouldn't seem like anything of concern, except the fact that Kenya did not even exist until 1963, two whole years after Obama's birth, and 27 years after his father's birth. How could Obama's father have been born in a country that did not yet exist? Up and until Kenya was formed in 1963, it was known as the "British East Africa Protectorate".

3. On the birth certificate released by the White House, the listed place of birth is "Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital". This cannot be, because the hospital(s) in question in 1961 were called "Kaui Keolani Children's Hospital" and "Kapi'olani Maternity Home", respectively. The name did not change to Kapi'olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital until 1978, when these two hospitals merged. How can this particular name of the hospital be on a birth certificate dated 1961 if this name had not yet been applied to it until 1978?

Claims that these elements are anachronistic to 1961 (the year of Barack Obama's birth) are incorrect:

  • Nowhere on Barack Obama's birth certificate does the term "African-American" appear. The space for "Race of Father" is filled in with the word "African," which at the time was a descriptor that blacks who were actually native-born Africans (like Barack Obama's father was) were more likely to use for themselves than "negro" (the latter being synonymous with "slave" in Euro-colonial countries such as Kenya).
  • In 1895 the British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate, the forerunner of the country now known as the republic of Kenya. Although Kenya did not achieve complete independence from the United Kingdom until 1963, it was known as the Kenya Colony from 1920 onwards and was typically referred to as Kenya long before 1963. A search of news reports from 1961 (the year of Barack Obama's birth) turns up hundreds and hundreds of news articles referencing that entity simply as "Kenya."
  • The former Kapi'olani Maternity Home became the Kapi'olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital (where Barack Obama was born) in 1931, and it retained that appellation until 1971, when its name was shortened to Kapi'olani Hospital. The Kauikeolani Children's Hospital (where Barack Obama was not born) was a separate entity which merged with the Kapi'olani Hospital in 1978 to become the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women and Children.A listing of social services available in the Hawaiian islands documents that the facility bore that name prior to 1961:
  • Moreover, a copy of a birth certificate issued to a child born in Honolulu one day after Barack Obama also shows "Kapi'olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital" listed in the "Name of Hospital" field.

As for the argument that opening the birth certificate's PDF file in Adobe Illustrator reveals the presence of multiple layers, which proves that the image was altered, that claim was debunked by an Adobe-certified expert:

It didn't take long for some of President Obama’s doubters to claim the long-awaited birth certificate posted online by the White House had been altered or might be a fake.The doubters have latched onto the idea that Adobe Illustrator — the premier program for computer graphic artists — "reveals" evidence of document manipulation in the Obama birth certificate. They note Illustrator reveals nine separate layers of the document, and claim it's "proof" the file has been altered.

But that's not so, says Jean-Claude Tremblay, a leading software trainer and Adobe-certified expert, who has years of experience working with and teaching Adobe Illustrator.

He said the layers cited by doubters are evidence of the use of common, off-the-shelf scanning software — not evidence of a forgery. "I have seen a lot of illustrator documents that come from photos and contain those kind of clippings — and it looks exactly like this," he said.

Tremblay explained that the scanner optical character recognition (OCR) software attempts to translate characters or words in a photograph into text. He said the layers cited by the doubters shows that software at work — and nothing more.

"When you open it in Illustrator it looks like layers, but it doesn't look like someone built it from scratch. If someone made a fake it wouldn't look like this," he said. "Some scanning software is trying to separate the background and the text and splitting element into layers and parts of layers."

Tremblay also said that during the scanning process, instances where the software was unable to separate text fully from background led to the creation of a separate layer within the document. This could be places where a signature runs over the line of background, or typed characters touch the internal border of the document.

"I know that you can scan a document from a scanner [and] most of the time it will appear as one piece, but that doesn’t mean that there's no software that's doing this kind of stuff," he said, adding that it's really quite common.

John Woodman, author of Is Barack Obama's Birth Certificate a Fraud?: A Computer Guy Examines The Evidence for Forgery, also debunked the "layers" argument in a series of videos:

The March "Cold Case Posse" investigation of Barack Obama's birth certificate conducted by Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio produced no new evidence demonstrating that document to be a forgery; that entity's report by Mara Zebest simply recycled old arguments that had long since been thoroughly debunked in detail. Likewise, a July 2012 announcement from Sheriff Arpaio repeated more rumors that had already been debunked.


Hinkelman, Michael.   "Judge Rejects Montco Lawyer's Bid to Have Obama Removed from Ballot."     Philadelphia Daily News.   25 October 2008.

Koppelman, Alex.   "Sex, Lies and Creatively Edited Interviews with Sarah Obama."     Salon.   5 December 2008.

Lee, Carol E.   "Obama Seeks to Quell 'Birther' Talk."     The Wall Street Journal.   28 April 2011   (p. A4).

Nakaso, Dan.   "Obama's Certificate of Birth OK, State Says."     Honolulu Advertiser.   1 November 2008.

Nakaso, Dan.   "Hawaii: Obama Birth Certificate Is Real."     Honolulu Advertiser.   27 July 2009.

Nakaso, Dan.   "Hawaii Officials Confirm Obama's Original Birth Certificate Still Exists."     Honolulu Advertiser.   28 July 2009.

Olpihant, James.   "President Moves to End 'Sideshows' Over His Birth."     Los Angeles Times.   28 April 2011   (p. A1).

Page, Susan.   "Citing 'Sideshow,' Obama Offers Full Birth Certificate."     USA Today.   28 April 2011   (p. A1).

Shear, Michael D.   "Citing 'Silliness,' Obama Shows Birth Certificate."     The New York Times.   28 April 2011   (p. A1).

Winter, Jana.   "Expert: No Doubt Obama's Birth Certificate Is Legit."     FOXNews.com. 29 April 2011.

Voell, Paula.   "Teacher from Kenmore Recalls Obama Was a Focused Student."     The Buffalo News.   20 January 2009.

Associated Press.   "State Department of Health Declares Obama Birth Certificate Legal."     Honolulu Star-Bulletin.   31 October 2008.

Associated Press.   "Challenge to Obama Is Dismissed."     The New York Times.   5 March 2009.

Associated Press.   "Widow Says Husband Is Doctor on Obama Certificate."     28 April 2011.

The Economist.   "Born Under a Bad Sign."     28 November 2008.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.