By Tim Gatewood—When I first became a Notary Public, I was a Legal Secretary. My attorney boss was in the habit of making certified copies of documents that he prepared. He had a rubber stamp that he used for the purpose & he would sign each place it was stamped.

After I became a Notary, I thought I should be the one stamping & signing, as I usually made the copies myself (on the photocopier) and now that I was a Notary, that meant I had some government authority, too. He could never explain why his status as an attorney meant he could certify a copy but mine as a Notary did not. He did eventually get me to stop certifying copies.

Later, when I read through the Tennessee Notary Handbook and saw the list of duties that a Notary is authorized to do, it became clearer — Tennessee does not give the power to certify copies to its Notaries Public. So, why do so many people ask for certified or notarized copies? I finally found out why.

According to Raymond C. Rothman (in Notary Public Practices & Glossary), before the advent of photocopiers and before states added a County Register of Deeds to the ranks of county officials, people would take documents to a Notary Public to be copied by hand. The copy would then be certified by the Notary to show that the Notary had made a true copy of the original. After County Registers and photocopy machines came along, this function was removed from the Notary as no longer needed.

Today (per Rothman), it is generally best if the Notary avoids making certified copies. It is actually illegal to copy some government-issued documents and others can only be certified by the agency that issued them. All of which means my boss was correct and I should not have certified those copies. I guess it’s a Good Thing that I haven’t certified any copies since I left his employment 14 years ago.

This is based on Tennessee law. Do you know the law about copies in your state?

Back in September of 2012, I did a blog post about Notarized Copies. This article is a follow up to that post.