Keep those certificates

All those papers we accumulate to register various moments in our lives and confirming the steps we have taken on a daily basis are very important. They may be a nuisance as they take up a bit of space but if you do not have them when called for it causes a lot of problems.

Birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, Identity documents, car purchase agreements, TV licences, qualifications etc, etc. I know of 2 people who have had to dig deep to try and find these so that they can update information or register new information.What papers am I talking about?

Story 1 – The TV licence was registered to Mrs X, a pensioner who received a rebate, after her husband’s death a few years ago but now the TV is to be moved to that of her granddaughter. One cannot just pick it up and take it there as it needs to be registered in the new owner’s name. To do this she must take proof that the licence has been paid up to date, proof of her own TV licence no., certified copies of both the previous owner’s and her own identity documents and, of course, some money to pay the difference between a pensioner’s licence fee and a regular one. Fortunately the relevant papers were on file and so prevented a lot of unnecessary hassle.

Story 2 – This saga has been going on for many years. A young man had the incorrect surname placed in his ID book when he applied for it at the age of 16. He is now 38!  Soon after he received it he returned to the Department of Home Affairs and tried to get this corrected. Without any success after a half-dozen visits he just lived with it but having recently married, his wife would like to update her documentation with the correct surname as well. He has spent many an hour on the chairs at the Department only to be told, when he gets to the front of the queue, that there is still no response from Pretoria or they do not have his enquiry on file. This means, filling out reams of forms and producing copies of certificates all over again. One of his major hurdles has been to prove that his mother’s surname was “abc def”. Because her husband was very ill when the son was born, she was living with a family whose surname was “ghi”. This is the surname which was recorded as his at the time.

PROBLEM – the lack of any documentation on his parents, in particular his mother. When his mother died the family believed that was the end for her and destroyed anything and everything relating to her. Now he has to travel to another village further north and more isolated to speak with a very elderly family member who just may have some information. If there is no written documentation, this elderly man will have to come to Durban and make a statement. We have now approached the Legal Resources Centre and we really hope that they can have some measure of success. If this is not sorted out now it will cause further problems when they have children who need to be registered!

What a difference retaining or destroying a few pieces of paper can make. I have always enjoyed history and biographies and so just being able to see certificates of past family is very interesting to me. It was only when my father died many years ago that I started to understand the importance of documentation in one’s life, even after death. It is amazing how many papers and certificates have to be presented to a variety of persons and institutions following a person’s death. Just take a look at my book to see what I mean.

Besides proof of identity or achievement, it is also fun and exciting to find interesting certificates awarded to a family member who has died. This is what happened for me when I was sorting my mother’s papers after her death in 2009. She was a modest woman whom I discovered had been highly appreciated for a number of activities she had done for the church. I appeal to you, do not destroy or dispose of any papers which may be of value or interest at a later date.

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  1. These days it is also easy to use your Smartphone and take a photo of your important documents and store them in the cloud eg Google Drive, DropBox, 1Drive etc. Even if they are not the originals it is helpful when trying to source the originals.

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