Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Day I Was Born (I Think)

There apparently ARE some bureaucrats with heart and common sense. At least I discovered one.

This may be one of the way-out weirder problems anyone has ever come across. Certainly in my life.

A couple years ago, I needed an official birth certificate, including an embossed seal. And it had to be dated within three months of the date I needed to use it. The Swiss often have such a requirement. As do the French. And probably many other countries.

It was kind of important. We needed it to get married.

I was born in New York State, where they have outsourced obtaining copies of vital records. So I sent a check to VitalChek. As they would only mail the birth certificate to a US address, I had it sent to Texas, where I was planning to visit my grandkiddos.

The certificate arrived, and I called Donna-Lane from Texas. "Got it. We're good," I told her. But a couple days later, as I was looking at the certificate, I noticed a typo. The birth date was wrong! And wait a minute, there was an asterisk by the date. Down below, the asterisk explained the date had been changed three months after my birth. What?

I started to think that maybe my parents had the record changed for some unknown reason. After all, when my own daughter was born on April 1st, ie April Fool's Day, in a private hospital in South Carolina, I tried to get the hospital personnel to change her official birth date to April 2nd so she wouldn't get teased all her life. (They wouldn't. She does.)

The best source of when I was born would be my mother, right? But I didn't want to upset her (she was 91 at the time) by blurting out my newly discovered problem. So I casually asked her, "When was I born?" Or something innocuous along those lines.

"Saturday, April 21st, 1951, at 10:45 pm," she immediately responded.

The official birth certificate from New York State said April 20.

She proceeded to describe to me how she and my Dad had been shopping at Sears for a tricycle for my brother Larry's birthday, which was four days away, when her water broke around Noon. I was born that night. Her memory was as sharp as ever. Not Friday, April 20, but Saturday, April 21st, because Saturday was the only day they could have shopped for the bike. My Dad worked M-F, the stores weren't generally open in the evenings, and they certainly weren't open on Sundays. I checked the calendar, and April 21st was indeed a Saturday.

I wrote to the NYS Department of Health, requesting an official correction. They sent me back a "sorry" response and attached a photocopy of a document from July 1951 which authorized the change. It was signed by a doctor who was not my mother's ob-gyn. Only problem is the doctor who made the change died in 1959. My mother's gynie died around 2000. Neither of their records are available any longer, and the hospital didn't keep the manual birth records which predated the digital age.

It seemed like I was stuck with an official birth record which had a different date from every other document in my life - Social Security, work records, bank accounts, my Swiss Permis B, US passport ... What kind of difficulties will that pose in the future - for example, when I apply for Swiss citizenship?

By the way, in the meantime, I contacted the clerk's office in the village where I was born. That's where my two previous birth certificates had come from, the most recent in 1978. Fortunately, they had no record of any change of date, so they were able to send me embossed certificates with the correct April 21 birthdate. I ordered 10 of them. Donna-Lane and I got married in Corsier.

I thought, at some point, I might need to take the issue to court to try to get a judge to correct the record back to my April 21 birthdate. But would a judge simply rely on the signature of a doctor who's been dead for nearly 60 years? Would I instead have to try to change all my official documents to April 20? I can imagine the questions that would raise!

Alors, I decided to make one more plea based on my mother's vivid recollection. We wrote out her detailed account of the day I was born, Sears, the tricycle, etc., and had it notarized. We also videotaped her describing this pivotal event in world history. I sent the letter, a cover letter, and a USB with the video to Albany. And, in case they were not allowed to open an unknown USB (for fear of viruses), I posted my mother's video on YouTube and provided them a link.

That was a couple months ago. Yesterday, a package arrived from New York via Texas. I didn't open it last night because I fully expected bad news (sorry, doctor's orders) and I didn't want to spoil a beautiful Valentine's Day with my bride. So I took the package with me to my French class this morning, where I am usually the first one to arrive, so could open it in solitude and rant to the four walls.

Incroyable! Two boxes were checked on the form letter. The first, "Items changed: DATE OF BIRTH," and the second, "We recorrected your birth certificate changing the date of birth back to April 21, 1951." Wow, not at all what I expected. Fantastic!

Of course, to obtain a certified copy of my "re-corrected" birth certificate, I need to send $30 and a copy of a photo ID. Some things about bureaucracy never change.

I need to call my mother.

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