Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I’ve had to prove that I’m an American citizen and not a terrorist, pedophile, illegal alien or space invader at least three times during my life. Being forced to prove your identity is another one of those tasks capable of raising blood pressure.
My first foray into the world of identification started when I decided to leave journalism and try the world of teaching. I had to deliver my college records, copies of my driver’s license, and a copy of my birth certificate to prospective employers.
Naturally, I quickly discovered that my birth certificate was not among my many papers. I had to do some research before I discovered that I had to visit the Fayette County Courthouse to get a certified copy.
Eventually the Henry County school system in Virginia used all this information to make sure I didn’t have a criminal record or a questionable personal history. Providing all of this information was a lot of work, but it was a breeze compared to getting a Virginia driver’s license.
I was in transition, so I didn’t have a home or a home address I could give the folks at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. When you move into a new house or apartment, you don’t have utility bills and other documents featuring your physical address. I thought my renter’s contract would be enough, but I wasn’t quite right. The contract was a start, but it wasn’t quite enough. It was almost enough to drive you mad. Finally I managed to get a license after coasting for two weeks on temporary tags.
Teaching didn’t work out. After a year and a half of trying to teach English and English composition to kids who thought a text message is a long essay, I left and came back to the newspaper business.
This also meant going back to West Virginia, so I had another round of birth certificates, bills proving my physical address and other documents just to get that new driver’s license. It was a hassle, but I managed to get the right papers and fill out the right forms. Then I had to go through it all again a few years later when my license expired. I was told that I had been driving around with an expired license for at least eight months. This lapse forced me to dish up the documents again and retake my driving exam. I even had to demonstrate parallel parking. I’m lousy at parallel parking.
My efforts to prove I’m really me were frustrating, but I know that I’m not the only person who had to confront this task. In a recent story I did about birth certificate requests at the Mercer County Clerk’s Office, I learned that getting acceptable documentation is a problem many people are experiencing.
When I was born more years ago than I care to recall, my parents made sure that they spelled my name correctly on my birth certificate. County Clerk Verlin Moye told me that a correct spelling isn’t always the case. A new father, mother, or a nurse can make a typo that creates a subtle name change. In the past, this wasn’t too much of a problem. Clerks and whoever else needed to see a birth certificate readily accepted a simple misspelling.
In other cases, there are people who ended up using their middle name instead of their first name. I once dated a woman who didn’t like her given first name, so she used her middle name instead.
She used it when signing her checks and other documents. And to the best of my knowledge, she never had any trouble. Of course, this was during the 1980s before terrorism became a big concern.
I think she would have problems today. Misspellings and other discrepancies are not acceptable when you’re trying to get a driver’s license, so you have to work harder to prove that your identification is in order. I know in this age of terrorist fears and identity theft, the authorities have to take extra care. I wouldn’t want anybody to borrow my name and go on to do who the heck knows what.
Down at the county clerk’s office, they are trying to streamline the birth certificate process by putting more of them into the office’s computer system. It’s going to take more than 200 days to get all the birth certificates going back to the mid-1970s transcribed. A lot of those documents are now in big books. In the past, that method was OK, but today’s needs demand faster access.
One way to ease the hassle of gathering documentation is to start gathering it as soon as possible. Verlin Moye recommended that people get their birth certificates at least a month before they are needed for a license application. Processing a birth certificate request can take several days.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles requires several types of identification. What sort of proof will be accepted is on the DMV’s website. I’ve learned the hard way that putting a list together is a good idea. You don’t want to visit the DMV, finally get to the front of the line, and suddenly realize you’re missing an important item.
Eventually, all the documentation we need will be computerized. I doubt all the headaches will go away, but we will at least know what we need in order to prove our identities.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @BDTJordan.