A notary public is (in general) an official objective witness. In most states, anyone over the age of 18 can request an appointment as a notary public. In Massachusetts, the governor, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, appoints notaries public. After the appointment has been made and approved, a person will be notified of his or her appointment by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Notaries traditionally have a seal, which they purchace either from the state or from a stationer/tool-and-dye maker. (Massachusetts does not sell seals and does not require them, but many places do). They also often keep a journal of the official actions they take, so that they can have a reference if a document they notarize falls under legal scrutiny

Things a Notary Public Can Do

Things a Notary Public Can Not Do

Facts about Notaries

  • Notaries are public servants. They must fulfil their duties for little to no charge (each state has different regulations on how much (if anything) notaries can charge.)
  • Notaries are personally liable for not taking due caution in verifying the accuracy of the information that they are notarizing, and can be held liaible
  • "Notary public" is a US term. Similar phrases in other countries/languages, e.g. "Notario Publico" imply very different responsibilities. RoseThorn says "A notary public in the UK must be a qualified solicitor who is additionally qualified to act as a notary; they must have a valid practice certificate. They are typically only used for transactions abroad, as notarization is notnecessary in the UK. Notaries may charge fees; in fact it is typically their sole source of income." US notary publics are not competent to legalise documents in the U.K. under the Hague "CONVENTION OF 5 OCTOBER 1961 ABOLISHING THE REQUIREMENT OF LEGALISATION FOR FOREIGN PUBLIC DOCUMENTS" . (the USA adopted this treaty in 1981)"
  • In most states, becoming a notary costs approximately $25, plus the cost of any required equiptment (seal, journal, etc)
  • The part of a document where the notary puts their name, seal, and the date is called a jurat or testimonium clause
Thanks to nygren for some of this, and /msg me if you have any comments or additions