Geneologists love Catholics. Once you hit the motherload of records in a parish church you have all kinds of names and birthdays. But that isn’t the reason for the need for the baptismal certificate. You have been given very good answers about that.
Let me approach this from another point of view. In your head you have been “married” for 20 years. But not really.
Yet, you don’t want to jump through the hoops other couples do.
That could be a problem. The hoops are there for a reason. You know your situation, but to the church you are just another couple. The Church has a need to protect the institution of marriage. You may be members of the parish for 10 years, but does the priest really know your marriage and your personalities? Some families (speaking from personal experience) can maintain a very good facade hiding all kinds of creepy things for years.
There are many couples in bad and failing marriages that were never done in the church. Do you know how many people convalidate marriages and then a few years later it doesn’t work, and those same people want their convalidated marriage annulled?
The priest wants you to follow the rules everyone else does. Take it from someone whose fiance was too good to follow the rules (made for everyone but him), it comes back to haunt you and your marriage. The same personality traits and lack of regard for the sacrament that led a couple to marry and live outside of church regulations for years could be the seedbed for a newly convalidated marriage to fall apart. The Church doesn’t want that to happen to you. Both of you need to be on board with humility and respect. Those qualities make for a solid marriage. If one or both parties cannot do that in the sacramental preparation, that’s what I often refer to here as a “flashing red light.”
Proceed with extreme caution. One of the other posters commented about the rules leaving them to want to dispense with getting a convalidation. Then that indicates the change of heart and desire to really please God doesn’t go so deep. One would question the sincerity there. If you’ve been living with your partner for 20 years without the sacrament, couldn’t you look upon 6 months of abstinence as a good chance for sacrifice and penance to make up for the years when you disobeyed?
I don’t mean to sound harsh, but there are many people who are married and go longer without relations. Is God #1 yet in your lives? Are you ready to make this permanent? Or is there an indication here of a problem that may explode in a few years?
If you are thinking this isn’t worth it, maybe you are not ready. Making your marriage whole before the God who created that spouse is not worth it? This is the age of the internet. Contacting churches where people were baptized and getting certificates sent is not more work than filling out a rebate certificate for a computer purchase. Would you “write a letter” and fill out an address for $250 back on a purchase? Or $60 for a printer? Wouldn’t you go through at least that much work getting letters of recommendation and fulfilling requirements for a good job? This is about your immortal souls.
The classes they mandate are important. You may be surprised what you learn. The best way to get lost in life is to try to take shortcuts.
As for the letters from families… all couples have to have them. It’s in place of that dramatic movie moment when the preacher asks “Who is against this marriage, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” That isn’t part of a Catholic ceremony really. It’s a chance for the church to find out quietly before everyone is standing on the altar that the groom really married before and has a family in Schenectady or that the bride is certifiably insane and does this every year with a new man. Or that one of them may be of such dubious moral character that no one should marry them. Or histories of drug abuse, alcoholism or a hundred other secrets that should come out before this big step but don’t. It gives the priest a chance to deal with these issues in premarital counseling.
In your case, the church probably wants to be sure none of you are doing this under duress and that there is not abuse or neglect going on.
Be glad the Church tries to protect the integrity of the process. A 50 percent divorce rate among Catholics might be even higher if the Church didn’t do this.
How important is your relationship with God? Follow through. Your children are watching you. What you are doing now could have a huge effect on their choice of mates and wedding procedures in the future. Good luck!