Your old Vital Records (birth cert/marriage) are often useless

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Your old Vital Records (birth cert/marriage) are often useless

It happens two or three times a week. My clients are positively stunned to discover that their Birth Certificate is useless for the processing they desire. That Birth Certificate is the one that Mom received so long ago. “But it’s the original – how can it be useless” is the most common lament. As a  I tell them what they need is a newly issued “Certified Copy”. “A copy? – but I have the original, certainly that is better than some copy”. Alas, but they are wrong – and there are several reasons for that reality.

Perhaps the major reason is the nature of their original certificate – issued so long ago. That was a time when photocopiers did not exist, identity theft had not been invented, and the need for information security was epitomized by storage in a safe deposit box. I use a Birth Certificate as an example here. But the same problem applies for many “old” records: Marriage, Divorce, School records, Death certificates and many others. They are just too easy to manipulate with modern computers; graphic software, photocopiers, and color printers. They are all products of our modern era, which did not exist when the documents were issued.

Certified copies, from the vaults keeping the original records are basically photocopies of the same document you have in your possession. However, they are certified with complex and hard to duplicate technology. I have seen “wavy” multicolored seals, embossing, watermarked paper, and other anti-forgery technology used when “certified copies” are issued by various municipal governmental entities. It is that “tamperproof” aspect that makes the newly issued “certified copy” acceptable for modern day use. The content will often be exactly the same as your treasured old original document, only the “packaging” changes. strongly advises you to take an inventory of your “old” records and apply for modern versions – prior to any personal or “estate” need. The processing time for obtaining these documents can be lengthy. A sudden need, as when you have to show an “acceptable” Birth Certificate to board a cruise ship, is not the time to begin the application process. In my personal opinion, everyone should apply for and have a current passport – the gold standard for identification. That, with a certified copy of your Birth Certificate, again in my personal opinion, is the absolute minimum for personal documentation. However, they are just the starting point. You should review all of your “old” records and have a competent attorney advise you as to which documents should be upgraded to current versions.


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Kenneth Edelstein

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