While many people migtht know the difference between papers, pedigrees and quality there are many more who are misinformed and don't understand or are misled as to what these terms mean. So lets define them.
Simply stated, a pedigree is a record of your dog's ancestors. Pedigrees usually include the father (sire), mother (dam), grandsire, grand dam, great-grandsire and so on. Every single dog, purebred or not, has a pedigree because they all have ancestors. To most pet owners a pedigree is meaningless and useless but to those that show in conformation and have a strong breeding program, an accurate pedigree is priceless because of the the information it can provide.
Simply stated, "AKC Papers" are a printed copy of your dog's record with the AKC. The main function of the American Kennel Club is to keep track of a dog's ancestory in a reliable and accurate manner. For a registration fee, the AKC will record the name of your Maltese and pedigree information in the AKC's records and send you a certificate ("papers"). This certificate will show the color, sex, parentage, date of birth, breeder, owner and any titles the dog has won in AKC-sanctioned shows. For another fee, the AKC can provide you with a printed pedigree of your dog's ancestors.
PAPERS & QUALITY
Any dog, despite quality, that meets AKC's requirements for registration may be registered and receive "papers". In order for a puppy to be eligible for registration his/her parents have to be registered as Maltese with the AKC. They don't tell you or guarantee you that the Maltese you bought is really or will even look like what a Maltese is supposed to. All it can tell you is that your dog is registered with the AKC as a Maltese and that its records are on file. Many people misunderstand this very important point. Many poor quality Maltese not bred to the standard are AKC registered.
Registration itself is neither a guarantee nor an indication of quality. With this in mind, you now know that a pedigree can only tell you what the breeder told the AKC as to who the ancestors were, it can't tell you if they were of good quality, bad quality, what they looked like or whether they had inherited health or temperament problems, had a history of heart disease or liver shunts. It won't tell you any of this just who his ancestors were according to the information submitted by their respective breeders.
When applying for registration, AKC relies on breeders and owners to be honest. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible for the AKC to verify all this information individually, although the AKC is striving for better accuracy with the recent use of DNA testing. No one examines the parents or the puppies to see if they really qualify to be registered as Maltese, and the AKC has to depend on breeders to be honest when applying for a litter registration.
If you purchased your Maltese for a companion pet, you probably aren't concerned about finding out more about his or her family. However, if you intend to breed or show your Maltese, getting accurate information about his or her background can be very important.
Word of caution - There are a lot of new registries out there right now that are not the AKC or affiliated with the AKC. These registries mostly cater to the not so reputable breeders to provide them with "papers" for their dogs. These ytpe of "breeders" know that people are looking for "papers" as a sign of quality so it is their way of misleading the public. Consider dogs registered with this alternate registries a red flag.
In closing, a pedigree ,to a pet owner, is basically useless. Don't worry so much about papers, look at the Maltese, if its the look and temperament you're after and the Maltese is healthy and the breeder is reputable, go for it. If its a show potential Maltese you're after, the pedigree and papers should and will be much more meaningful to you otherwise they are truly just a piece of paper.