Iwona's Sources - Apostilles and International Conventions

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Apostilles and International Conventions

I was led to write this article by recent signals from American researchers. The matter came as a complete novelty to me; and in order to deal with it, I went straight to the source for information-in this case, not to an archive, but rather to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The question involved so­ called apostilles.

An apostille is a kind of certificate on the basis of which an official document of one nation has legal validity outside its borders. [Translator-the term is used in English, though it's not exactly a household word. See, for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Apostille]. Apostilles eliminate the need for older, burdensome, and long-lasting legalization procedures in Poland's consular offices and thus facilitate the circulation of documents abroad. On the other hand, this means that Polish consular posts have ceased legalizing foreign documents for legal use in Poland.

Official documents include documents of national administration, transcripts of civil registry records, legal and notary documents, as well as private documents, if they contain official certification. Apostille certification is not applicable to administra­ tive documents dealing with commercial transactions and customs operations. It also is not applicable to documents issued by diplomatic representatives and consular officials.

Apostilles of Polish documents have been in force since Poland entered the International Convention, that is, since 14 August 2005, and are valid in all countries that signed the Convention, including the United States. In Poland, apostilles are issued by the Department of Legalization in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, head­ quartered in Warsaw. Certification takes the form of an annotation with a stamp or a separate document. In order to receive certification, one must first pay the official fee (currently, 60 zlotys) and show proof of payment. Anyone who shows up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a document receives an apostille while he waits. There is no need for a power of attorney or other additional authorizations

In practice, it happens that American researchers desire to receive metrical re­ cords of the ancestors, for instance, relating to matters of inheritance. It is worth know­ ing that the Department of Legalization does not possess documents from before 1949. In such a case, one must receive a copy of the record issued by a given archive or a certified translation of a copy of the record issued by the archive (that is usually a copy of the record with the archive's seal). Both kinds are acceptable for apostilles. In the case of certified translations, an apos­ tille honors every document of this type, regardless of the language in which the record is translated.

There is another convention, the so­ called International Commission on Civil Status; it deals with international cop- ies of metrical records and is valid only in 15 European countries. The appropriate forms (birth, marriage, death) are available in Poland in Polish, French, and German. English is available in explanations of the forms. International copies are documents recognized in nations that ratified the con­ vention and do not require translation and legalization. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/lnter· national_ Commission_on_ Civil_Status.)

FOR FURTHER REFERENCE: Hague Convention Abolishing the Require­ ment of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, 1961, convention text valid in 89 countries: http://www.apostille.com.pl/ angielskLhtml. Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych w Polsce [Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs]: www. msz.gov.pl.

Iwona Dakiniewicz, Lodz, Poland <genealogy@pro.onet.pl>

[with translation assistance from William F. Hoffman]

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Last Updated on April 4, 2013