11. A is for Apostille–What is That?

Just about every document you submit for recognition of your Italian jure sanguinis citizenship must be an official document and must be authenticated in a way acceptable to Italy. So, no, you can’t drag that copy of your mother’s birth certificate out of her sock drawer (what are you doing in there anyway?) and use it. You must have an official, properly certified copy.

The birth certificate for your last Italian-born ancestor is in a class of its own: It’s Italian. It will be in the Italian language and come from Italy bearing a blue stamp indicating it is an official copy. Once you have it, that’s it for that document. Remember, the ultimate destination for all your documents is a comune in Italy and this document will be familiar and understandable there. You are probably going to need the birth certificate for the spouse of that ancestor as well, and that may be in the same category, especially if your ancestors came to the US before 1915, in the great wave of Italian immigration.

The rest of your documents, though, are not likely to be Italian. Since I don’t know about other countries, I am going to talk about American documents only. You will have to obtain certified copies of the long form of the documents I listed in my last post and, once you have them, get them authenticated. That’s what the apostille is for.

You can pronounce apostille as Frenchly as you’d like (It is a French word: ah-poh-STEEL) but however you do it, the T is not silent and it has nothing to do with the bible. It is an internationally accepted form of document authentication designed to standardize and streamline the exchange of documents between countries party to the Hague Convention.

In the US, only States and the Federal Government can issue apostilles and then only for documents in their own jurisdictions. Apostilles vary in look depending on who issues them, but they are almost always a page attached to the top of the document you send in.

Birth, death and marriage records come from different places and have different restrictions depending on the state you are asking. There are services that can help you obtain documents, but it is usually something you can manage yourself. Since so many Italian immigrants ended up in the city of New York, a lot of people have to request records from the city. Almost all of mine came from Brooklyn with a few from Connecticut, one from Florida and one from the Suffolk County in NY state.

In the case of these records, I recommend you start by googling what you want–“how do I find a birth certificate in Brooklyn,” for example. Make sure you look at the results carefully and click on the official site, not a service–unless that’s what you want, of course.

If you are a member of Ancestry.com, you may be ahead of the game. You might have found the record you need, and have a link, or at least the identifying number to order the record by. You will also have a specific date. This is obviously true if you have a copy of the document already at home. Otherwise, you will have to order by date range. And if you are thinking in terms of a date based on family say-so, I would not take that date as set in stone. One of the surprises for me was finding out how many birthdays were celebrated on days other than the actual date of birth. Also, how many marriages were celebrated as happening a year before they actually did. Yes, even our older ancestors were having a good time!

You can order documents online in many cases, or by mail. NYC, for example, has online ordering of birth certificates, but there are two different places you must order from:

one for births before 1910

and one for births after 1910.

For births after 1910, only the named person, or that person’s parent, can order, so you may have to enlist the help of your in-line relatives to make the request. For births before 1910, considered “historical” or “legacy” records, you will simply be asked to give your relationship to the named person. If you order by mail, be sure to check out the kind of information the website form, if it exists, asks for, and supply that information with your requesting letter. You may also find a form you can print from the municipality’s website. Whatever you do, you will have to pay, sometimes by money order or bank check, and I highly recommend keeping gooood records of what you requested, from whom, and when. Also make a note of the website(s) you referred to, because later on, when four months have gone by and no document has arrived, the things you thought you’d never forget will have flown from your mind.

In any event, remember to:

  1. request the long form
  2. request a letter of Exemplification if applicable
  3. state explicitly that the document is going to be apostilled for use in Italy
  4. make your Consulate appointment before you do any ordering, because the wait for appointments is typically quite long–years, in some cases.

Some records come back very quickly, but some take months. It is impossible to predict how long the process will end up taking, but probably not as long as you will wait to get into the Consulate, unless you are in the jurisdiction of one of the rare Consulates with a relatively short wait list, so see item 4 above.

When a document arrives:

  • save the envelope since the Consulate might want to see it
  • copy and/or scan the document immediately and store the copy separately

For documents issued in one of the five boroughs of NYC, you will almost certainly have to send or take those documents through one more step before you can send them off for apostille. That step is to have them authenticated by the County Clerk of the location that issued the record to you. A record for someone born in Brooklyn, for example, might have come to you from an office in the county of New York (Manhattan) and that governs which clerk must authenticate it. You do not need this authentication if your document is already signed by the county clerk. That happened to me and saved me a step on one or two documents. List of County Clerks.

You should check with the entity that is going to issue the Apostille about what kind of precertification they may require. NYC documents are not the only ones requiring an intermediate step. In my experience, you can’t count on someone lower in the chain knowing the requirement. Notaries, for example, might not know if their signature has to be pre-authenticated before being presented to the state for apostille. You will have to check the notary seal for which municipality grants the notary authority and call them. The cost of the Apostille also varies widely. I think I paid as little as $3 and as much as $40.

The process of document request can be ridiculously easy or ridiculously difficult. Next time, things that can go wrong and what went wrong for me.

Some searching resources:

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4 thoughts

    1. You are welcome! I’m glad it is useful. Be sure to keep checking along the way, though. Requirements seem to be moving targets and given the time this process typically takes, things can change!

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