You can’t rely on City Hall to replace your birth certificate after a flood or a hurricane. Chances are good that their originals will be just as waterlogged as yours are.
Just ask the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
After their vital documents were destroyed in the hurricane, many homeowners returned and went straight to the county recorder, bank, or schools to grab copies of their lost documents. Unfortunately, many institutions and offices were destroyed too, along with all of their records. It’s up to you to ensure that you have the copies of the documents that you and your family need, whenever and wherever you need them.
When you think about it, vital documents are more valuable to you, your finances and your family than they are to some local government official. And if that’s the case, you’re the one who has to make sure that you know where your vital documents are and that you have instant access to them at all times.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and more recently with the tornadoes in Oklahoma and Illinois, residents returned to their homes to find them destroyed. Once they began to piece their lives back together, they realized they would need school transcripts and birth certificates or benefit determination letters. So they went to their schools or state and city offices for help, only to find them under water or destroyed – along with all of the paper based records that had not yet been digitized. You can’t count on your city to replace your records when they have just as good a chance of having their own copies destroyed in the same regional disaster. And even federal buildings have had problems. Fires in government buildings during the twentieth century destroyed many state censuses and at least one complete United States Census, wiping out the names, dates, and data of entire families.
And even when you can apply for a replacement copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate, don’t count on getting an exact copy of the original. We were very surprised to find that out when we went to get an additional original copy of our birth certificates and those of my mother and grandmother. Theirs were the same as the originals, but mine was completely different. Gone were the details of my birth, the signatures, my parents’ middle names and occupations.
The new copy is simply the child’s name, parents’ first and last names, hospital, county and birth date. The clerk told us that they’ve decided to streamline birth and marriage certificates, getting rid of all those old “useless” details and replacing them only with what “matters”. Why? To save space, along with the money that it would take to transcribe all that data. But along with it, go all the details that add history and uniqueness to people’s lives – the story of their birth. We’re huge proponents of knowing your family history and working to preserve it and can’t fathom the fact that cities and states across America are deleting all of those clues people need to find out where they come from. Wow! There’s a case for having several backup copies of those originals if I ever heard one!
We suggest people keep copies of their vital documents in at least three different places. Scan or copy the originals of each paper document.
1) Put the originals in a waterproof safe or bin or locking file cabinet in your home.
2) Once you’ve scanned the originals, place them on a flash or portable hard drive and put that flash or hard drive in a safe deposit box in your own city. If you can’t scan them just make copies and place those copies in the safe deposit box.
3) Place the third set of scans/copies in a safe deposit box outside of your city, in your family’s evacuation location. Wherever you and your family will relocate during an area-wide evacuation.
Why do we advocate scanning? Scanning allows you to have an exact, electronic copy of that original document, both on your computer and on a flash drive or portable hard drive. Not only can you secure it, you can even email it to someone else for safekeeping. And with a scan, if that original is ever damaged or destroyed, you will be able to reprint it to create a clear, perfect original. On the other hand, if you don’t scan a document and simply make another paper copy, it’s just as likely to be harmed or to fade and decay with age. If you don’t have access to a scanner, go ahead and make copies. Just make sure that you put them in different locations to minimize the danger of loss or destruction.
This leads me to my last point on vital documents. If it’s so much better to have documents scanned and saved electronically, why do we advocate keeping paper copies as well? For the same reason we advocate keeping prints of your cherished photos, even though you have them saved to your computer or on a CD. For safe keeping! As wonderful and trustworthy as electronic storage is, do you really want to trust the ONLY copies of your vital documents to a computer or an online file or photo archive? We sure don’t!
Have Fun Getting Your Stuff Together! We’ll talk later…
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