Notarizing Birth Certificates

Notaries are occasionally asked to "certify a copy" of a birth certificate. This misunderstanding stems from the cruise ship industry, which for years told cruisegoers that a "notarized birth certificate" was acceptable as proof of citizenship. In reality, notaries are not authorized to make certified copies of birth certificates, regardless of where the original birth certificate was issued.

First, it is important to gain an understanding of birth certificates. When a person claims to have their "original birth certificate," what they really possess is a certified copy. The original birth record is in the custody of a government agency, typically the health department or vital statistics office. The agency will issue certified copies upon request, which typically include advanced security features such as watermarks, multicolored or embossed seals, and thermochromic ink. Usually, an applicant for a certified copy of a birth certificate must meet certain eligibility requirements, such as being named in the record. You should note that a hospital souvenir birth certificate, which typically contains the footprints of the newborn, is not an official birth certificate and can't be used for legal purposes. In fact, hospitals often do not maintain any birth records beyond seven years.

Only the authorized governmental agency having custody over the original birth record is authorized to issue certified copies. This would preclude a notary public from issuing any sort of attestation as to the trueness of a birth certificate copy, even in states where copy certifications are an authorized duty of notaries public. A person can make a copy of the birth certificate themselves, prepare an affidavit stating that the copy is true and correct, and have that affidavit notarized (this is sometimes called "Copy Certification by Document Custodian"). In this case, the affidavit is handled like any other notarization with a jurat. However, it is unlikely that a birth certificate copy attested in this manner would be accepted by any official agency. Almost always, a certified copy issued by a government agency is required.

In the case of a foreign birth certificate, especially one in a foreign language, it is important to note that issuing official translations is not an authorized duty of notaries public in any state. Notaries may not use their official position to certify the accuracy of a translation. Instead, the translator should prepare an affidavit and have it notarized like any other document. As with domestic birth certificates, notaries should not attempt to make any certification as to the trueness of a copy of a foreign birth certificate.

These restrictions tend to apply to all vital records, including death, marriage, and divorce certificates.

In conclusion, notaries should not certify a copy of a birth certificate, whether domestic or foreign. Nor should a notary make any official translation in his or her capacity as a notary public. As always, consult your state laws or commissioning authority for the most accurate information relating to your state.

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