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Notary Tip: Identifying Signers Using Personal Knowledge

new-personal-knowledge-resi.jpgUpdated 11-1-21. If a signer lacks identification documents, many states permit using personal knowledge — that is, the Notary's own familiarity and interaction with the signer over time — as a means of identification. But it's not always easy to tell when a Notary knows someone well enough to use this option. 

This identification method dates from a time before governments issued ID cards, when people were much more likely to spend their lives in one community. But today we live in a highly mobile society. Often we do not know our neighbors, and many people make more friends on Facebook than face-to-face.

Note For California Notaries

  • California is the only state that does not allow Notaries to rely on personal knowledge to verify a signer’s identity. California eliminated the personal knowledge option because a number of fraud cases involved Notaries who took part in bogus real property transactions by claiming to know the crooks who signed the documents.

Personal knowledge of identity, like any Notary practice, can be used or abused. When abused, identification through personal knowledge can be vulnerable to fraud. When properly used, it can be a safe way to identify signers who do not have ID.

So how do you properly use personal knowledge to identify signers? How well should you know a signer to rely on it as proof of their identity?

States That Provide Guidance

A number of states — including Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina — have definitions of “personal knowledge” to guide Notaries.

Pennsylvania, for example, defines personal knowledge as “ ... personally known to the notarial officer through dealings sufficient to provide reasonable certainty that the individual has the identity claimed.” Florida defines personal knowledge as: " ... an acquaintance, derived from association with the individual, which establishes the individual’s identity with at least a reasonable certainty.” In other words:

  • You have an acquaintance with the signer.
  • You have seen the signer interacting with others.
  • Those people know the signer by the same identity as you.

This goes beyond a single encounter. A Notary-paralegal at a law firm, for example, would not be able to rely on personal knowledge for a new client he or she has just met. That same paralegal may be able to use personal knowledge for a long-time client who has interacted with the paralegal, attorneys and other coworkers many times.

Other state guidelines require you to know signers long enough to be certain of their identities. Just how long is up to you.

States That Do Not Offer Guidance

However, some states do not offer specific guidance. Texas says a Notary may take an acknowledgment if the Notary knows the signer, but does not provide additional details.

If your state does not offer specific direction about personal knowledge, ask some basic questions:

  • How many times have I spoken with the signer?
  • How long have I known the signer?
  • Have many times have I seen others I know interact with the signer?
  • How often have others I know identified the signer as the same person I know them to be?
  • Do I have any reasonable doubts about the signer’s identity?
  • Am I willing to risk the consequences if I am wrong?

If you are comfortable with the answers to these questions, then go ahead and vouch for your signer’s identity. If you’re not comfortable with the answers, ask for other proof of identity.


You can learn about ID requirements for your state from your state’s Notary handbook, website or statutes. Or check out the NNA’s Notary Primers.

The NNA’s Notary Essentials eLearning course guides you through your state’s ID rules as well as identification best practices.

Additional Resources:

NNA Hotline



View All: Best Practices


Add your comment


14 Nov 2016

So in California can we or can't we use personal knowledge of a signer legally.

National Notary Association

16 Nov 2016

Hello Terri. California Notaries are not permitted to use personal knowledge to identify signers.

Judi Mosso

15 Nov 2016

Each time I begin a new journal, I require ID for everyone - even those whom I normally mark as "personally known to me". After that first ID proof, I will mark "personally known to me" for the remainder of the journal. It's an extra precaution I choose to take.


17 Nov 2016

I have client that I verified their identification and wrote it down in my journal. A month later the same person required me to notarize another document but has lost their ID since the first time. I personally know this person in addition to seeing and verifying this person's ID. Can I notarize the document under the "Personally Known" in California? Or is an ID required every single time regardless of how well I know that person?

National Notary Association

17 Nov 2016

Hello. California does not permit Notaries to use personal knowledge of a signer as a means of identification.


06 Jan 2018

same question about "known to me" and no form of identification, when used in Massachusetts ?

National Notary Association

08 Jan 2018

Hello. A MA Notary may identify an individual based on personal knowledge of the identity of the principal; provided, however, for a person who is not a United States citizen, ‘satisfactory evidence of identity’ shall mean identification of an individual based on a valid passport or other government-issued document evidencing the individual's nationality or residence and which bears a photographic image of the individual's face and signature” (GL 222 Sec. 1).

Deborah Duke

21 Oct 2019

I always ask for and ID for the first time I notarize for someone. They don't have a problem with the request and it avoids the question of how well we are acquainted. As an example, there was one gentleman who had done business with my company for a number of years. I was acquainted with him for no less than 10 years, knowing him by a name he was known under in our town. I was surprised to find that his real name was something altogether different, and I was really glad I asked for an ID, even though I would have thought I was well-acquainted with him.


01 Apr 2020

If using personal knowledge, does a signer still need to sign the journal? I've never used this option, but with the covid-19, was wondering if there were any alternate options.

National Notary Association

01 Apr 2020

Hello. Some states have issued emergency guidelines for Notaries with alternatives to meeting face-to-face with signers. For a list of state emergency rules, please see here: Also, you can find other suggested safety precautions for performing notarizations in person here:

23 Nov 2020

Did California EVER allow Personal Knowledge? If so, when did they allow it and when did they stop allowing it?

National Notary Association

04 Dec 2020

Hello. Please see this page for information on CA Assembly Bill 886, which took effect as law January 1, 2008:


08 Nov 2021

You say "including Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina" - but you only give information for PA and FL - can you please tell us the guidelines for AZ and NC?

National Notary Association

08 Nov 2021

Arizona: “‘Personal knowledge’ means familiarity with an individual resulting from interactions with that person over a sufficient time to eliminate reasonable doubt that the individual has the identity claimed” (ARS 41-311.10). North Carolina: Personal knowledge or personally known means “(f)amiliarity with an individual resulting from interactions with that individual over a period of time sufficient to eliminate every reasonable doubt that the individual has the identity claimed” (GS 10B-3[17]).


19 Feb 2022

I am trying to get a paper notarized for changing my son's last name he is 14 and has to sign the paper that has to be notarized in Arizona would a school ID and birth certificate work to identify the the person or does it have to be a state issued ID or passport?

National Notary Association

28 Feb 2022

Hello. In Arizona, “‘Satisfactory evidence of identity’ means ... proof of identity is evidenced by one of the following: “(i) An unexpired driver license or nonoperating identification license that is issued by a state or territory of the United States. “(ii) An unexpired passport that is issued by the United States department of state. “(iii) An unexpired identification card that is issued by any branch of the United States armed forces. “(iv) An inmate identification card that is issued by the state department of corrections, if the inmate is in the custody of the department. “(v) Any form of inmate identification that is issued by a county sheriff, if the inmate is in the custody of the county sheriff. “(vi) Any other unexpired identification card that is issued by the United States government or a state or tribal government, that contains the individual’s photograph, signature and physical description and that contains the individual’s height, weight, hair color of hair and eye color of eyes. “(vii) The oath or affirmation of a credible person who is personally known to the notary and who personally knows the individual. “(viii) The oath or affirmation of a credible person who personally knows the individual and who provides satisfactory evidence of identity pursuant to item (i), (ii), (iii), or (iv), (v) or (vi) of this subdivision. “(ix) Personal knowledge of the individual by the notary” (ARS 41-311.11.a).

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