This is a pretty serious sounding title, but don’t panic: we’re not going to wade into any deep philosophical meditations on life, the universe and everything. In reality, the above just happens to be the name (more or less) of an Australian government department whose equivalents in other countries around the world are often known as the Civil Registry. So relax, there won’t be any (or much) philosophising, just a rundown on official certificates and how to understand them.
Mine Your Language does quite a number of official (NAATI stamped) translations of personal certificates. Be it said in passing, I take such documents very seriously and endeavour to give clients a translation that is not just faithful and accurate, but also prepared and presented with the kind of detail and respect that should be given to what are, after all, the documentary records of people’s lives.
Elsewhere on this site you can find explanations about certified translations, NAATI stamping, and so forth, plus samples of proforma and full translation options. I hope the explanations and samples are indeed helpful to prospective clients in deciding how to proceed with their documents. However, it’s not always clear to everybody what the original (or source) document actually is, or how it has been produced. So that is what we will look at now.
Let’s consider birth certificates for example. It’s a nice place to start, since they record an occasion when a new person has entered the world. One can even get a bit misty-eyed about it, thinking about the hopes and dreams of the parents, and wondering at that person’s progress through life. But we won’t do that, okay? Strictly business. What we are going to talk about instead is very mundane bureaucratic stuff like registries, registers, entries, records, and certificates. So first up we’ll take a look at some typical terms.
REGISTRIES, REGISTERS & RECORDS
A Registry is both an entity and a place (department, bureau, office) that keeps details or information of some description. Such details or information are kept in something called a Register. A register can be a series of files, books, or volumes on paper, or an electronic database (as is mostly the case these days). The items contained in a register are generally called Records, which are organised according to some kind of category (place, date, surname, Social Security number – you get the idea). The act of putting new or updated information into a record is often referred to as making an Entry. So basically, when it comes to a Civil Registry (or Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths as it is known in NSW), the Registry keeps a Register of citizens that contains Records, which in turn hold details called Entries. An official in charge of a register is, reasonably enough, normally called a Registrar.
In the olden days before computers and searchable centralised electronic databases, registering one of these significant life events (birth, death, marriage) was a hands-on affair. A person, technically called the informant, would physically go to the nearest registry office and inform the registrar that such an event had occurred. (The registry ‘office’ would typically be a room, or even a desk, at some municipal building like the town hall). The law normally requires that such information be provided within a certain time limit (in New South Wales for example, parents need to register a child’s birth within 60 days).
The informant takes along some kind of ID, and a supporting document for the event issued by an officially recognised authority, such as a doctor, midwife, or marriage celebrant as the case may be. In the case of births, the informant is usually the father. Nowadays in New South Wales, the attending physician or midwife fills out a certification and gives it to the parents, who simply post the completed form to the central registry; it is no longer necessary to attend in person.
These are documents that do exactly what they say: they certify the existence of particular records and/or entries in a register. So if you want to get proof of your birth here in New South Wales, you apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and somebody there searches the database under your name, then extracts the relevant details and enters them onto a separate standardised form. That form is called a Birth Certificate.
So, certificates simply attest to information that is kept by a registry in a register. Basically, the record is permanent, and the certificates are temporary – if you lose one, you can always apply for another. And sometimes (depending on country) they can even have expiry periods, so you might find that a 20-year-old birth certificate will not be accepted by some official department or other, and you have to apply for a new one.
In countries with centralised electronic records, obtaining a birth certificate is fairly straightforward. You apply to the central registry with some appropriate ID, and they consult their database and issue your document. In countries that haven’t yet fully implemented such systems, certain registers are still kept on paper in an office somewhere, and the process is a little more bureaucratic. Let’s say you were born in one province but are now living in another. When you apply for the certificate, the principal Registry contacts the municipal registry in the town where you were born and asks for your record. The official there might type the details onto a standard form with a serial number, or simply photocopy the relevant page in the registry yearbook where your birth is recorded.
The usual details in your birth record are your name, date and place of birth, your parents’ names and occupations, and their home address. Other details you will commonly find include the names of the registering official, the informant, and witnesses if any. As for the certificate (or photocopied record if applicable), it will have its own serial number, date and place of issue, plus the name, stamp and signature of the issuing official (i.e. the person who consults the register to retrieve your details).
In the Spanish-speaking world, the exact way certificates are laid out varies between different countries, provinces and years. They might start out by saying something formal such as “Under Entry No. 123 on Page 45 of Volume X of the Register in my keeping there is a birth record in the name of [name], born on [date] at [place]…”, or just get straight into the detail. Some are quite plain, others have lots of check-boxes and cells. Hopefully they will at least be typed up or word processed – the older ones frequently have the pertinent spaces filled in by hand, which can add a dimension of decipherment to the job (to get an idea of what this means, imagine a doctor’s prescription that covers an entire page).
In a paper-based system, the municipal registry official then sends the completed certificate to the main registry which checks it to ensure that his or her signature matches the specimen that they have on file. Accordingly, this kind of certificate can carry various stamps, dates and signatures from different officials as it works its way up the bureaucratic chain until it receives final sign-off where the buck eventually stops. (If you end up living in another country, you can often apply for certificates through your local embassy or consulate, and their stamp will be on there too).
FULL TRANSLATIONS & PROFORMAS
All of this constitutes a big reason for why I tend to prefer full translations over proformas. When an official somewhere is reviewing a translation and comparing it to the original, they don’t have to wonder what the different stamps and things are about: nobody is hiding anything and it’s all there right in front of them. However, proformas are widely accepted in Australia and can be a cheaper option; I offer them too, and if that is what a particular client prefers, then I respect that choice and do my best to ensure that the detail is properly and pleasingly rendered.
Thus, if you take a look now at my proforma samples here on the website, you’ll see that they are designed to accommodate precisely the kind of information we’ve been talking about. There is a section for the bearer’s details, a section for the original record (the thing kept in a municipal office somewhere), and a section for the certificate itself. Underneath, there is space for any additional relevant notes, such as authenticating stamps on the reverse side of the certificate and so forth.
So that about covers it for certificates, registries and records. For more information about how the process works here in New South Wales, it’s worth checking out the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages. And if you have any other questions, you can always contact me here at MYL.
(A BIT OF) PHILOSOPHISING
Now I promised there’d be nothing deep and meaningful, but while searching the net for “birth” and “death”, I found something I think is pretty neat. Okay, well maybe a bit desk-calendar(ish), but after such a heavy-sounding title for this post, it seemed a nice upbeat note to finish on:
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” – Cherokee Expression. (http://www.inspirationalspark.com/life-quotes.html)