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# Thursday, January 16, 2014
Genealogists Mourn Incinerated Records in Franklin County, NC
Posted by Diane

When genealogists talk about "burned records," we usually mean a courthouse fire that happened accidentally or during a Civil War battle.

But the term has taken on a new meaning in Franklin County, NC, where thousands of historical records, long-forgotten in the courthouse basement, were systematically incinerated last month. As word gets out, genealogists and historians across the country are expressing their shock on social media (see links to bloggers' reports below).

Here's the short version of what happened:

Last May, a new county clerk discovered the records in a state of disarray in the basement, along with assorted trash, mold and water damage. The local heritage society formed a plan to inventory and preserve the records, lined up volunteers, and secured the necessary funds and space. Members had started the work when they were ordered to stop and wait for further instruction. At some point officials from the state archives and various county departments were allowed to remove an unknown number of records.

On Friday, Dec. 6, after the end of the workday and without notice to anyone, a crew in hazmat suits cleared out the basement and burned the records in the local animal shelter's incinerator.

Explanations from local officials have mentioned hazardous mold, privacy concerns, official record retention schedules, and possibly others I've missed in reading articles and blog posts. The county manager, who authorized the incineration, has promised a written explanation.

What was lost? No one was able to do a complete inventory of the records, but examples of the basement's contents include an 1890s naturalization document, 1890s chattel mortgages, post-Civil War to Prohibition-era court dockets, and a letter from a WWI soldier serving abroad asking the court to make sure his sister and his estate were looked after.

Several bloggers are following these events and the backlash in detailed posts:
She's also posting about media coverage and public response.
  • Renate at Into the Light is a member of the Franklin County Heritage Society who witnessed the records being carried out of the courthouse basement to be incinerated. Read her story and see photos.


court records | Genealogy societies | Historic preservation | Public Records
Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:48:34 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Thursday, April 11, 2013
Your Ancestor's SS-5: Get It Before It's Too Late
Posted by Diane

It's time to look up your 20th-century ancestors in the Social Security Death Index and request their Social Security number applications (SS-5s) if you haven't already.

Threats to close the Social Security Death Index are resurfacing with a vengeance: President Obama's budget proposal would give the Commissioner of Social Security license to grant or deny access to the SSDI and our ancestors' SS-5 forms. It makes the records' availability subject to a bureaucrat instead of the Freedom of Information Act.

Other genealogy bloggers have expertly explained why there are more effective ways to prevent tax fraud and protect the identities of taxpayers, while also meeting the needs of genealogy hobbyists and those who use Social Security records to identify survivors of deceased servicemembers and unclaimed persons. Read more from:
I'll explain what the SSDI is and why it's important to genealogy: The SSDI is a computerized file of deceased individuals whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration. It contains mostly deaths from 1962 and later, though my great-grandfather who died in 1949 is listed.

You can search the SSDI on websites including FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com (which excludes recent deaths) and order your ancestor's SS-5 for a fee from the Social Security Administration under the Freedom of Information Act.

Once you find an ancestor in the SSDI, you can request his or her SS-5, which requests parents' names, among other information. This is the only record I've ever found giving my great-grandfather's mother's name.

Here's how to order your ancestor's SS-5.


Public Records | Vital Records
Thursday, April 11, 2013 12:31:20 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Friday, January 25, 2013
Genealogy News Corral, Jan. 21-25
Posted by Diane

  • Just a reminder: You have until Monday at 11:59 p.m. ET to register for our Family Tree Magazine VIP giveaway! Some lucky person will win a free one-year VIP subscription, which includes a subscription to the print magazine, a Family Tree Plus membership (giving you access to exclusive how-to articles on our website), tuition discounts at Family Tree University, 10 percent off every ShopFamilyTree.com order, and our Family Tree Toolkit. Register here for your chance to become a Family Tree VIP for free
  • The Minnesota Department of Human Services is gathering bids for a project to digitize 5 million pages of old adoption records dating as far back as the late 19th century. The records are now on about 2,000 rolls of microfilm and likely include thousands of adoptions (the exact number isn’t known because files vary in length). Adoption records in Minnesota become public after 100 years, according to TwinCities.com, and 2017 is the 100-year anniversary of the law mandating adoption recording. 
  • You might’ve heard about HBO's upcoming fictional genealogy series, "Family Tree." It stars Chris O’Dowd as a Brit who occupies himself by investigating his family history after he loses his job and his relationship. Thanks to contributing editor Rick Crume for sending me a link to an Entertainment Weekly article about the show. Do you plan to watch?


FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy fun | Genealogy societies | Public Records | Vital Records
Friday, January 25, 2013 11:14:37 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, January 03, 2013
75 Best State Websites Now Available Online
Posted by Beth

Tracking down state-level genealogy records—births, marriages, deaths and more—can be exhausting work, but each year it gets easier as more state historical societies and archives digitize collections and post them online. They're also offering more indexes, guides and other tools to help you get your hands on state repositories' offline records. We commend these ambitious organizations and individuals for providing these genealogical gifts that keep on giving throughout the year.

In selecting the 75 best state websites, which originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine, we looked especially for databases (at least one per state) where you can search for your ancestors' names. Some sites also have digital images of original records, and several of the sites regularly add new searchable documents.

Click here to view and access the list of top 75 state websites online.


Family Tree Magazine articles | Libraries and Archives | Public Records
Thursday, January 03, 2013 9:55:16 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Can't-Miss December Live Webinars
Posted by Beth


We know December can be a bit crazy, with all the shopping, caroling and decking the halls. Find a moment of calm among the clatter by blocking out time for one—or both—of Family Tree University's December live webinars ... and keep your genealogical research on track.

 


State Genealogy Series
Kansas Genealogy Crash Course: Find Your Sunflower State Ancestors
Searching for your Sunflower State ancestors? In the 19th century, this Midwest plot of prairie was home to Native Americans and European settlers alike. If your ancestors lived in the vicinity of Topeka, Wichita or Kansas City, let presenter Kathleen Reid Rippel lead you to your roots.

Date: Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012
Time: 7pm EST/6pm CST/5pm MST/4pm PST
Duration: 1 hour
Price: $49.99 ($39.99 through tomorrow, Nov. 29)

What You'll Learn:
  • Fundamental Kansas history, from the Louisiana Purchase to the American Civil War
  • State-specific tips for tracing American Indian, English, Spanish and African-American and other ethnic ancestors
  • Key online sources for Kansas records
  • Tricks for finding your roots from Topeka to Wichita, Dodge City to Kansas City
  • PLUS: This webinar comes with two free downloads: a copy of our Kansas State Research Guide and our Kansas City Guide.
Register Here: Kansas Genealogy Crash Course: Find Your Sunflower State Ancestors

Four Fun Factoids from Presenter Kathleen Reid Rippel:
  • The Pikes Peak Gold Rush was actually in Kansas territory.
  • The Kansas State Historical Society was created by newspapers editors in 1875. It's no surprise, then, that Kansas is one of the best states for newspaper research.
  • Kansas is one of the few states that regularly took a state census. These are still available and provide some extra information. The 1885 and 1895 schedules are especially helpful since the 1890 Federal census is not available.
  • Even if your ancestors didn't settle in Kansas, many researchers discover that their family members stayed for awhile, then returned home or went further west. Others passed through on major trails, including the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail.




Discover and Preserve Your Family History Series
Using Criminal Court Records Webinar 
Sift through criminal case files to find your ancestors in criminal court records. Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, will present the essential strategies for locating your ancestors.

Date: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012
Time: 7pm EST/6pm CST/5pm MST/4pm PST
Duration: 1 hour
Price: $49.99 ($39.99 until Dec. 4)

What You'll Learn:
  • Explanation of the complaint and indictment process as it affected your ancestors
  • The paper trail generated from arrests and gathering witnesses
  • How to find records of pretrial and trial proceedings and what they can tell you about your ancestors
  • How sentences—from the stocks to the penitentiary—were issued and documented
  • PLUS: This webinar comes with a free PDF download: a copy of Court Orders, our guide to courthouse records.
Register Here: Using Criminal Courts Webinar

Four Fun Factoids from Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist:
  • Americans love to trace their roots to the Mayflower. But the first convicted killer in America was John Billington, who arrived on (yep, you guess it) the Mayflower.
  • Throughout history, the criminal law has treated women differently from men: in some cases, more leniently, in others, more harshly. Only a woman, for example, could be convicted of being a common scold.
  • One of the biggest boosts to law enforcement was the development of photography. It made it more difficult for a bad guy to just change his name and move down the road. Many photographs exist from criminal cases starting in the late 1800s, and a fair number can be found online—and not just from the United States.
  • From 1919-1933, large numbers of criminal prosecutions were for alcohol-related offenses, thanks to Prohibition. But Prohibition gave birth to a new type of crime, Organized Crime (with capital letters)—and an explosion of records, particularly at the federal level.


AND, A REMINDER …
Don't miss out! Our one-week workshop, Using Free Genealogy Websites, begins Friday and runs through Friday, Dec. 7. In just one week, this Family Tree University workshop will teach you secrets for gleaning more ancestral information from free sites and databases; for searching the web more effectively; and for taking advantage of fantastic free tools you're not already using. Click here to register.

Public Records | Research Tips | Webinars
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 9:24:27 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, November 06, 2012
A Quick Take on US Voting
Posted by Beth

Hello! I'm Beth, former editor of Memory Makers magazine, and I'll be sharing genealogy-related information with you while Diane Haddad heads out on maternity leave until mid-January.

As you head to the polls to cast your vote today (unless you voted early, like me), it's a great time to appreciate your right as an American citizen. Not every American has had this privilege available in his or her lifetime.

Here's a quick look at the US voting timeline:
1789: Constitution empowers states to set voting rights; most enfranchise only male property owners age 21 and older
1830s: Property requirements begin to ease
1848: Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY, launches suffrage movement
1870: 15th Amendment extends voting rights to African-American men
1890: Wyoming allows women to vote
1920: 19th Amendment grants women's suffrage
1940: American Indians are recognized as citizens, although not all are allowed to vote until 1947
1964: 24th Amendment prohibits poll taxes
1965: Voting Rights Act protects minority voters
1971: 26th Amendment lowers voting age to 18

For more interesting tidbits on the history of US voting, see this article on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.

Wondering if your ancestors declared their political leanings?

  • Check with your ancestor's county board of elections, local library, town hall or historical society for information on old voter registration records in the area.
  • The Family History Library (FHL) may have town or county lists of registered voters or those who paid poll taxes. Search your ancestral state archives website for voting, and try running a keyword search of the FHL online catalog on the town, county or state name and the word voting.
  • Subscription website Ancestry.com has some voting-related records and digitized books, so if you're a member, run the same search of its online catalog.

Be sure your voice is among the 90 million Americans expected to cast their vote today!  


Ancestry.com | Family Tree Magazine articles | Public Records
Tuesday, November 06, 2012 8:31:06 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, September 14, 2012
Budget Cuts to Close Georgia State Archives as of Nov. 1
Posted by Diane

The Georgia state archives in Morrow, Ga., will close to the public starting Nov. 1 due to state budget cuts, announced Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Thursday. Staff will be cut as part of the closure.

"To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state," Kemp says.

The public will be able to access the archives by appointment, but appointments may be limited. You can read Kemp's announcement here.

As part of a 3 percent cut ordered across the state government, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal instructed the secretary of state’s office to cut its budget by $732,626 during the remainder of this fiscal year and in the fiscal year starting next July. 

"I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia," Kemp says.

You can sign an online petition to stop the closure on Change.org and visit the Georgians Against Closing State Archives Facebook page here


Libraries and Archives | Public Records
Friday, September 14, 2012 9:11:28 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Now Available: February 2012 (Free!) Family Tree Magazine Podcast
Posted by Diane

The February 2012 edition of the free Family Tree Magazine Podcast, hosted by Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems, is now available.

Here's what's in store:
  • the Records Preservation and Action Committee campaign to stop identity theft and save the SSDI
  • how hashtags can enhance your genealogy conference experience—even if you're stuck at home (part of the new Social Media Minute installment with online editor Kerry Scott)
  • how to get a genealogy education
  • our top tips from the Spring 2012 Discover Your Roots special issue
  • an interview with Michael J. Leclerc, Chief Genealogist at Mocavo
  • and more!
You can listen to the Family Tree Magazine Podcast through iTunes or on FamilyTreeMagazine.com. The show notes are on our website, too.

Family Tree Magazine's Podcast

↑ Grab this Headline Animator


Genealogy Web Sites | Podcasts | Public Records
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 3:35:01 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Friday, February 17, 2012
Genealogy News Corral, Feb. 13-17
Posted by Diane

  • Archives.com has added new records including FamilySearch community trees dating back to around 1500, and 1930 census images (the majority of the 1930 census images are now available, with more images from this plus the 1920 and 1920 censuses coming online over the next several weeks).
The additions bring the count of records available on Archives.com to more than 2 billion.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Archives.com | census records | FamilySearch | Genetic Genealogy | MyHeritage | Public Records
Friday, February 17, 2012 12:43:32 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, February 07, 2012
RPAC Announces "Stop ID Theft NOW!" Campaign to Save SSDI
Posted by Diane

As part of its "Stop ID Theft Now!" campaign, today the genealogy Records Preservation and Access Committee (a joint task force of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society) plans to launch a petition drive to help preserve access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

Update: Click here to read and sign the petition. (Note: The page took awhile to load for me.)

Click here to read FAQs about the petition and how to electronically sign it. I recommend reading them, as I encountered some hiccups in the process of creating an account and clicking to sign.

Last week, we blogged about genealogists' exclusion from a hearing of the House Ways & Means Committee Subcommittee on Social Security. Read about SSDI threats including a bill that would eliminate it here.

The RPAC petition will urge measures that should immediately "curtail the filing of fraudulent tax refund claims based upon identity theft from deceased infants and adults."

The SSDI issue came to light after heartwrenching news reports of bereaved parents contending with identity theft when criminals filed tax returns with their deceased children's SSNs.

But eliminating SSDI access won't stop identity theft, say many genealogists. It won't prevent hackers from stealing personal data from government and corporate computer systems, nor will it force the IRS to adopt better practices for preventing and investigating identity theft-related tax fraud, and improving handling of fraud cases.

RPAC encourages family historians and genealogical societies to start by finding out who their representatives are. WhoIsMyRepresentative.com lets you enter your ZIP code to find out.


Genealogy Industry | Public Records
Tuesday, February 07, 2012 10:29:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Genealogists Gear Up to Save the SSDI
Posted by Diane

You've heard a lot lately about new threats to your access to information in the Social Security Death Index. This Thursday, the House Ways & Means Committee's Subcommittee on Social Security will hold hearings on the SSDI and privacy issues. Only those invited may give testimony, and no genealogists made the list—not for lack of trying.

Members of the public can submit statements for the hearing record. These statements must meet the specific format required by the Ways and Means Committee.

The genealogy Records Preservation and Action Committee (RPAC) recommends that such formal statements come from societies. RPAC is a joint task force of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the National Genealogical Society (NGS).

FGS, NGS and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) will submit statements.

The RPAC, however, says it's working on a mechanism for individual genealogists to speak up in an "appropriate but dramatic" way. RPAC members are meeting at the RootsTech conference this week and will monitor Thursday's hearing. The committee plan make an announcement about how you can help save the SSDI by Feb. 14.


Genealogy societies | Public Records
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 9:17:36 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Tuesday, December 13, 2011
RootsWeb Removes its Free SSDI Database
Posted by Diane

One of the free resources we’ve recommended for years to search the online Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has been taken offline.

RootsWeb’s SSDI database is no longer available, with a message that

Due to sensitivities around the information in this database, the Social Security Death Index collection is not available on our free Rootsweb service but is accessible to search on Ancestry.com.

The SSDI is a database of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration, for the most part since 1962. A subscription is required to use Ancestry.com's version of the SSDI, and genealogists including Randy Seaver and Sheri Fenley report that Social Security numbers aren't provided for deaths within the past 10 years.

You might think genealogists wouldn't be concerned with such a recent death, but someone who died in 2002 might've been born in 1920, and his or her application for an SSN (called an SS-5) could name parents born in the 1800s. Plus, the SSDI is useful for tracing family lines forward in time to find distant cousins.

Randy lists other sources of the SSDI, which include the free FamilySearch site.

If you don't have a deceased person's SSN, you still can request his or her SS-5. You'll need to provide a birth date, any other names the person used, and the parents' names, and pay $29 instead of $27. You now can request an SS-5 online.

The "sensitivities" RootsWeb refers to are likely related to a recent news story about criminals using SSNs of deceased individuals to commit tax fraud. (Couldn't the IRS prevent this by comparing SSNs on tax forms to numbers in the SSDI?)

Read more on recent SSDI changes, which include a reduction in the number of new deaths that'll be included in this database, here.


Ancestry.com | Genealogy Web Sites | Public Records
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 10:54:22 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [7]
# Friday, November 18, 2011
Don't Waste Your Money: SSA Extends Age Restriction on SS-5s
Posted by Diane

I wanted to draw your attention to a post on Megan Smolenyak's Roots World blog about a disturbing change to the Social Security Administration's policy on fulfilling requests for relatives' for Social Security applications (called SS-5 forms):

The SSA will block out parents' names on the SS-5 you requested if the applicant was born less than 100 years ago and you don't provide proof the parents are deceased.

If you requested the SS-5 in order to learn those parents' names in the first place, of course, you can't prove they're deceased. And you're out the nonrefundable $27 fee you sent with your request.

I haven't heard a public announcement from the SSA about this policy. Smolenyak learned of the change after requesting an SS-5

This comes on the heels of the SSA's removal of "protected" death records from the Death Master File, the source of the Social Security Death Index.

Read Smolenyak's post here.


Public Records
Friday, November 18, 2011 12:24:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Tuesday, December 21, 2010
2010 Census Numbers Are In
Posted by Grace

The US Census Bureau in Washington, DC, announced today the first numbers from this year's census. As of April 1, 2010, the US population was 308,745,538. That's a 9.7% increase from the 2000 census.

The state with the biggest upswing in population was Nevada, which grew by 35% since 2000. Michigan and Puerto Rico had declines of 0.6% and 2.2%, respectively.

The bureau is required by law to report the population and congressional apportionment totals to the president by Dec. 31 of the year the census is taken. You can play with a neat interactive map of historical census data here.

Check out all our past articles on the census here. Or you might enjoy our Census Secrets CD or our Online Census Secrets webinar.


census records | Public Records
Tuesday, December 21, 2010 4:20:43 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Massachusetts Bill Threatens Vital Records Back to 1841
Posted by Diane

The National Genealogical Society UpFront blog is reporting on another threat to vital records access, which could make it harder for genealogists to learn about their Massachusetts ancestors.

Massachusetts Senate Bill 820 would close the state’s birth and marriage records dated after 1841, the year statewide record keeping began, so only the person named in the record or his parent, guardian or attorney could see it or get a copy.

From the UpFront blog: “The bill's text eliminates the current section that closes out-of-wedlock births and replaces the entire section with text that closes all births and marriages ... the last sentence states, ‘The provisions of this section shall not apply to such records, returns or notices recorded or filed prior to January first, eighteen hundred and forty-one or to such copies thereof.’”

Right now, you can order certified copies of vital records dated 1841 to 1915 from the Massachusetts State Archives—it's unclear how Senate Bill 820, if passed, might affect that service.

Some post-1841 Massachusetts vital records and indexes are available at sites such as the NewEnglandAncestors.org subscription databases and in the free FamilySearch Record Search pilot, as well as on Family History Library microfilm.

Many states restrict records for up to 100 years—after which the person in the record is likely to be deceased—but closing 169-year-old records seems unnecessary. See the UpFront blog for information on to whom you can address your concerns regarding the legislation.


Public Records | Vital Records
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 9:02:48 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, March 04, 2010
Maine Legislature May Close Vital Records
Posted by Diane

Dick Eastman’s blog caught my eye with a post about a Maine bill that might close birth and marriage records.

The bill is LD 1781, An Act To Allow Electronic Filing of Vital Records and Closing of Records To Guard against Fraud and Make Other Changes to the Vital Records Laws, was the subject of a hearing yesterday before the legislature's Health and Human Services committee.

You can see the text of LD 1781 here. It was sponsored by Rep. Anne C. Perry of Calais, Me.

Sec. 12. 22 part 2706, Disclosure of Vital Records, reads “After 100 years from the date of birth for birth certificates, after 100 years from the date of death for fetal death certificates and death certificates, after 100 years from the date of marriage for marriage certificates and after 100 years from the registration of domestic partnerships, any person may obtain informational copies of these vital records in accordance with the department's rules.”

That would effectively close records to all but immediate family or legal representatives for 100 years after they’re created, throwing a big obstacle in the way of family historians with Maine ancestors.

It’s an unnecessary obstacle. As Dick says, vital records are rarely used for fraud. Most identity theft happens when people with access to sensitive information, such as employees of financial institutions or government agencies, steal data and sell it. Stolen wallets, credit cards and mail are other sources. (Follow the links in Dick's post for more details.)

The bill does let record custodians “permit inspection of records, or issue certified copies of certificates or records, or any parts thereof, when satisfied that the applicant therefore has a direct and legitimate interest in the matter recorded.”

But there’s no allowance for uncertified records, unofficial documents that many states issue for genealogy research.

Visit Maine's state legislature website for legistators’ contact information.


Public Records
Thursday, March 04, 2010 11:15:47 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Mining Federal Records for Local History
Posted by Diane

Researching the places where your ancestors lived can help you break through roadblocks that happen when you can’t find family names. That’s why, for this “Best of Family Tree Magazine,” I’m excerpting from John Philip Colletta’s October 2002 article about finding local history information even when no one has published a book about your ancestral locale:
Nothing could be duller than federal government studies, reports and investigations—unless the local history of your ancestral hometown is buried in those bureaucratic papers. For example, the US Congressional Serial Set is a collection of more than 14,000 volumes containing House and Senate reports and documents from the 15th Congress through 1969.

The reports tend to be studies and investigations of congressional committees; the documents span a broad range of topics, including private citizens' petitions before Congress, as well as reports by executive departments and independent organizations. (The papers of the first 14 Congresses were published as the American State Papers.)

When you click the Search button to search either collection, on the next page, be sure to choose the collection from the pull-down menu under "NOTE."
For years, family historians have been finding genealogical clues in these federal papers. But not finding an ancestor's name in the US Serial Set Index doesn't mean there's nothing of value here. These 14,000 volumes are chock full of information about people, places and events throughout the country.
Searching the index for the name Ring, for example, I found nothing. But searching under Mississippi resulted in a rich source of Issaquena County history: Mississippi in 1875: Report of the Select Committee to Inquire into the Mississippi Election of 1875, with the Testimony and Documentary Evidence.

Senators interviewed dozens of Mississippians, whose testimony provides a vivid picture of their communities during the decade following the Civil War. I found interviews with former slave Henry P. Scott, sheriff of Issaquena County at the time, and other neighbors of Ring, including his attorney, W. D. Brown. Discussed at length were freedman Noah B. Parker, the justice of the peace in my ancestor's neighborhood, and a host of events there.
Excerpts from the testimony of just one witness demonstrate what a deep well of information Mississippi in 1875 holds about Issaquena County:
W. D. Brown — sworn and examined
Q. What is your occupation? — A. I am engaged in planting; I am also an attorney at law.


Q. What is the chief crop of your country, sir? — A. Cotton is the chief product.

Q. To clean the lint from the seed you must take it to the gin-house? — A. You must take it to the gin-house; yes, sir.


Q. Is the packing-press, the baling-press, near by there? — A.
It is generally inside the gin-house now. The old-fashioned press was exterior to the gin; the press is now in the rear portion of the gin-building …


Q. In these isolated houses, do the people have any means of extinguishing a conflagration when it is once started? — A. We have nothing to depend upon. That mode of revenge is regarded as the surest…

The Rings often engaged Brown's legal services, yet when their neighbors were arrested in connection with the destruction by fire of the Ring & Co. store and the deaths of five people sleeping in the living quarters upstairs, Brown represented the defendants!

Given the size and breadth of the US Congressional Serial Set, chances are good you'll come up with some document containing information about the neighborhood of your forebears. You may also get lucky. If an ancestor, through his or her senator or congressman, petitioned the US government for something—a widow's pension or financial reparations for some grievance against a federal agent—that petition will appear in the set.
Family Tree Magazine Plus members can click here to access the entire “Hometown History” article.

More place-based research help from Family Tree Magazine:
  • State Research Guides: You can purchase individual state guides as digital downloads, or get them all on CD or in a book.


Public Records | Research Tips | Social History
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 10:45:58 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, March 19, 2009
Ancestry.com Additions Help You Find Living Relatives
Posted by Diane

Funny coincidence.

I was sitting here proofing the final version of our July 2009 Family Tree Magazine article on reverse genealogy (searching for living relatives) when I got an announcement from Ancestry.com about its new/updated collections of recent records. Which could help you find, say, a cousin or second cousin.

Now, through a partnership with the people finder MyLife.com (formerly Reunion.com), your Ancestry.com search results may include links to MyLife.com’s public information profiles on more than 700 million living people.

But wait, there’s more: In the next week or two, Ancestry.com will replace its current US public records database with one containing more than 525 million names, addresses, ages and possible family relationships of US residents between about 1950 and 1990.

Finally, Ancestry.com launched an upgraded collection of obituaries extracted from papers all over the world—helpful because survivors named in relatives’ obituaries may be cousins. (Also see last week's post about Ancestry.com's "1940 census substitute.")

See the details on the Ancestry.com blog.


Ancestry.com | Genealogy Web Sites | Public Records
Thursday, March 19, 2009 2:50:40 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, March 05, 2009
Cologne Archive Collapse: All is Not Lost!
Posted by Grace

When the Stadtarchiv Köln—or City Archive of Cologne—collapsed Tuesday afternoon, two people died, surrounding buildings were irretrievably damaged, and more than a thousand years of records were buried in the rubble.

The archive contained 65,000 documents, the oldest coming from the year 922. The archive's holdings—more than 16 miles of files—included tens of thousands of maps, photos, posters and one-of-a-kind artifacts from the Middle Ages. The collection was valued at $500 million, according to Welt.

The city archive, which first found a place in Cologne city hall in 1406, withstood World War II with no losses. Officials say the building fell into a crater created by work on a nearby subway line. The building that collapsed was built in 1971. According to Wikipedia, it was built with an estimated service life of only 30 years. The archive reached its holding capacity in 1996; some material has been removed for storage elsewhere.

While emergency workers attempted to stabilize the building with concrete, about 100 volunteers have pitched in to save valuable documents from the rubble since Tuesday night, according to a city press release. A small portion of the archives was in an unharmed area of the building. Rain is expected over the next few days, so a temporary roof will be set up over the collapse site to attempt to save more documents.

Hamburg genealogist Andrea Bentschneider did research at the Cologne archive once and describes its holdings as "gigantic."

The collapse comes at an especially bad time, she says, because German privacy law recently changed to allow easier access to civil records. The city archive of Cologne had announced that as of this month, all death records up to 1978, marriage records before 1928 and birth records before 1898 would be available for research without restriction.

"We can only hope that these civil records as well as all other records were secured and saved on microfilm or a similar medium. Otherwise 1,000 years of Cologne's history may be lost forever," Bentschneider says.

It seems that much of the archive's content may be safe. Welt reports that former city archive head says a large part of the archive’s pre-1945 files were microfilmed; the backups are stored in the Barbarastollen archive in the Black Forest.

And FamilySearch filmed 171 rolls of film from the Cologne archive in 1984, says public affairs manager Paul Nauta. The library has been able to help other archives before by providing copies of the lost documents. FamilySearch’s holdings include these items from the Cologne archive:
  • Genealogy and coast of arms 1350-1880
  • Tax lists 1487-1703
  • Orphans house registers 1592-1788
  • Soldier pay records 1552-1613
  • Court records, inheritance and land 1220-1798
  • Court minutes 1413-1652
  • Town council minutes 1440-1653
"This is one of the clarion calls for why preservation services offered by FamilySearch and other like organizations can be so critical. Most genealogy consumers are aware of the convenient access value, but the tragedy of the Cologne archive reiterates the value for preservation," Nauta says.

Historic preservation | Libraries and Archives | Public Records | Vital Records
Thursday, March 05, 2009 9:39:31 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Ohio County Gets Grant to Digitize Vital Records
Posted by Diane

Ancestry.com and FamilySearch are continuing their collaboration by cosponsoring a records digitization grant just awarded to the Probate Division of the Summit County Common Pleas Court in Akron, Ohio.

The grant, administered by the National Association of Government Archive and Records Administrators, is worth $150,000—but it’ll be delivered in the form of services rather than money.

FamilySearch will digitize 550,000 individuals' Summit County marriage records (1840 to 1980), 46,000-plus birth records (pre-1908) and more than 22,000 death records (also pre-1908).

Ancestry.com will create an index linked to the images that’ll be free on the probate court’s Web site, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com.

The project should be completed by the end of next year.


Ancestry.com | FamilySearch | Public Records
Tuesday, October 07, 2008 11:45:21 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Thursday, September 18, 2008
Footnote to Digitize Homesteaders' Case Files
Posted by Diane

Historical records subscription service Footnote is embarking upon a project to post hundreds of thousands of US homesteading records online.

Those records comprise land entry case files of people who claimed land under the Homestead Act of 1862, which opened the door for Americans to own government land in exchange for making improvements (such as residency, raising crops and planting trees).

A land entry case file might include an application for land, witnesses’ testimonials, military records, citizenship papers and more.

Footnote already contains 1,824 case files for people who registered homesteads at the Broken Bow, Neb., land office between 1890 and 1908. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had microfilmed these; the rest of the General Land Office (GLO) records are still on paper.

You can search land patents at the Bureau of Land Management’s GLO records site, but until your ancestor’s full land entry case file is digitized, you’ll need to order copies of it from NARA. If your ancestor applied for a land claim but didn’t “prove up,” the GLO database won’t contain a patent for him.

NARA, the National Parks Service, the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and FamilySearch are partners in the digitization project.


Footnote | Public Records | Research Tips
Thursday, September 18, 2008 4:17:44 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, September 10, 2008
SSDI Now Free on GenealogyBank, Too
Posted by Diane

You have another place to search the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for free.

The subscription historical newspaper service GenealogyBank has made its version of the SSDI—a database of people whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA)—free. Most deaths listed in the SSDI happened after 1962, but look anyway—my great-grandfather, who died in 1949, is in there.

The SSDI can tell you when and where your ancestor died, and his Social Security number (SSN). You can use the SSN and death information to request his SS-5, the record of his application for a Social Security card. (Learn how in our associate editor's Family Tree Firsts post.)

Other places with the SSDI free include FamilySearch, FamilyTreeLegends, World Vital Records, NewEnglandAncestors.org and RootsWeb. Each site adds new death information from the SSA on a different schedule; GenealogyBank updates its SSDI weekly.

You can search several sites' SSDI databases simultaneously through Stephen P. Morse's One-Step search.


Genealogy Web Sites | Public Records
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:27:42 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, August 14, 2008
Free Database of the Week: Early Indiana Marriages
Posted by Diane

This week’s free database is the Indiana State Library’s compilation of Indiana marriages through 1850.

The late Dorothy Riker, an editor of The Hoosier Genealogist, started the project years ago. Volunteers have expanded the index to include marriage information through 1850 from courthouses in all counties that kept records, plus marriages mentioned in Quaker monthly meeting notes and St. Francis Xavier Church (in Vicennes) records. That adds up to around 330,000 marriages recorded in the database.

You can search on the bride or groom. Results link to the person’s full name, name of his or her spouse, the date of the marriage and the county where it took place.

Then you can look for the original record on Family History Library microfilm, or request it from the county court clerk (for contact information, go to the state courts Web site and use the Information by County dropdown menu on the left).


Free Databases | Public Records
Thursday, August 14, 2008 4:36:33 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, July 14, 2008
Free Chicago Vital Records Search Goes Online
Posted by Diane

In the March 2008 Family Tree Magazine Branching Out news column, we reported the clerk’s office in Cook County, Illinois—home to Chicago—was digitizing vital records for an online index.

The project is finally finished, and you can search the index at the county's Genealogy Online Web site. Records date back to the 1880s (the Great Chicago Fire destroyed Cook County vital records from before 1871).

First, you’ll need a free site registration. Then you can search birth and death certificates (older than 75 and 50 years, respectively), and marriage licenses (older than 50 years) by name and optional year range, or year and file number.

Online genealogy guru Steve Morse has created an online form that gives you a sounds-like option for names.

Matches show the person’s name, the record date and file number, with an option to download a copy of the record from the clerk's office for $15.

You also could use the index information to order the microfilmed records from the Family History Library (run a keyword search of the online catalog on cook county and birth, marriage or death). The rental fee runs about $5 per roll; visit your local Family History Center to put in your request.

(Update: Click Comments below for expert tips on finding microfilmed Cook County vital records. Also, as a Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update newsletter reader pointed out, records are still being added to the CookCountyGenealogy database.)


Genealogy Web Sites | Public Records
Monday, July 14, 2008 9:20:10 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, May 30, 2008
Legislators Discuss Copyright Reform
Posted by Grace

Ever been hassled by a clerk who demands you have permission from the photographer before making copies of a 100-year-old portrait? Under current copyright law, you'll likely lose the fight with Wal-Mart's photo department. (Read more about copyright quandaries here.)

Legislation working its way through the House and the Senate focuses on so-called "orphan works"—creations whose copyright owners cannot be identified or located. When someone wants to use or reproduce a work that is likely copyrighted, they risk being held liable for infringement; this reform aims to free up orphan works for public use.

Although artists have concerns about the current legislation, copyright reform would be a boon for family historians, museums, libraries and educational institutions. You can read more about the legislation on the website of our sister publication The Artist's Magazine here.


Family Heirlooms | Historic preservation | Public Records
Friday, May 30, 2008 2:33:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, May 23, 2008
USCIS Genealogy Service to Handle Citizenship Record Requests
Posted by Diane

A rule published in last Thursday’s Federal Register announces the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly the INS) will set up a fee-based Genealogy Program for responding to historical naturalization records requests. The rule takes effect Aug. 13.

Currently, requests are processed through the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act (FOIA/PA) program, which according to the agency, delays fulfillment.

The new program's fees will be $20 for an index search, $20 for record copies from microfilm, and $35 for copies of paper records.

USCIS initially proposed charging $16 to $45 in April 2006. During the ensuing public comment period, the agency received 33 comments, 28 of them positive and many addressing fee levels. You can see a comments summary in the Federal Register announcement.

Records you can request through this program include:
  • Naturalization Certificate Files (C-Files) dated Sept. 27, 1906, to April 1, 1956
  • Alien Registration Forms on microfilm from Aug. 1, 1940 to March 31, 1944.
  • Visa Files from July 1, 1924, to March 31, 1944
  • Registry Files, from March 2, 1929 to March 31, 1944. These records document the creation of immigrant arrival records for persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could be found later.
  • Alien-Files (A-Files) numbered below 8 million (as in A8000000). A–files were the official file for all immigration records after April 1, 1944. A–numbers ranging up to approximately 6 million correspond to aliens and immigrants who were in or entered the country between 1940 and 1945. A-numbers from 6 to 7 million date from about 1944 to May 1, 1951.
Documents dated after May 1, 1951, even if they’re in an A–File numbered below 8 million, are still subject to FOIA/PA restrictions.
Starting Aug. 13, you’ll be able to submit requests and credit card fee payments through the USGIS Web site on Form G–1041. For records naming someone born less than 100 years ago, you’ll have to prove the person is deceased.

To request an index search, you’ll need to supply the immigrant’s full name and date and place of birth (at least as specific as a year). To request copies of records, you’ll need to provide a file number.

Before the naturalization process was centralized under INS Sept. 27, 1906, local and federal courts kept citizenship records. See the May 2008 Family Tree Magazine and FamilyTreeMagazine.com for tips on finding pre- and post-1906 naturalization records.


Family Tree Magazine articles | immigration records | Public Records
Friday, May 23, 2008 1:26:46 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, May 01, 2008
Missouri Opens Digitized Records Site
Posted by Diane

Missouri has launched a kind of one-stop shop for finding digitized historical records, abstracts and indexes from the state archives as well as libraries, universities, historical societies and other repositories throughout the state.

The Missouri Digital Heritage Initiative divides collections by subject area (some record sets appear under multiple topics). Genealogical material is mostly in the Family and Faith category, but you’ll also want to explore Military Records, Newspapers, Sports and Recreation and other topics. (To see a lineup of all the record sets, click All Collections at the bottom of the Collections main page.)

What will you see? Photos, maps, birth and death records, naturalization records, coroner’s inquest abstracts, a state supreme court case index, newspapers, Civil War letters and more. Here’s an ad page from an early 1900s Hannibal, Mo., city directory:

A few collections, including penitentiary and some land records, are still in progress. Some items are hosted on Missouri Digital Heritage; for other collections, you’ll be taken to partner sites. All the records are accessible free.

The Missouri Digital Heritage Exhibits section links to online exhibits about the Missouri State Lunatic Asylum, the state fair, Lamar, Mo.-born Harry Truman’s Whistle Stop Campaign, and more.

Another feature you won’t want to miss: The link to Missouri’s Local Records Inventory Database, where you can search inventories of local government records located primarily in county and municipal offices. You won’t find information about your ancestors in this particular database, but you can find out what office holds the records you need and what years are available. Search on a county name and keyword such as birth or probate.

Genealogy Web Sites | Public Records | Social History
Thursday, May 01, 2008 9:59:12 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, March 10, 2008
Ancestry.com Posts 500 German City Directories
Posted by Grace

Pay database Ancestry.com last week put online 500 German city directories, from Aachen to Zwickau. Often overlooked as a genealogy resource, city directories can fill in the blanks between censuses and help trace wandering ancestors. Ancestry's new collection includes business and professional directories, as well.

From the main German Genealogy Records page, you can browse by state (mistakenly labeled as Counties in the drop-down menu) and by time period. Or try searching for a name in the fields on the left side of the page.

The records include about 27 million names, according to the 24-7 Family History Circle blog, with most records from the late 1800s to mid-1900s.

World Deluxe Membership is required to access the digitized directories. Click here to search them.

International Genealogy | Public Records
Monday, March 10, 2008 2:46:16 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Search Site for Shelby County, Tenn., Family
Posted by Diane

Derrick Minck, register of deeds over in Shelby County, Tenn. (home of Memphis), e-mailed me about the plethora of genealogical records available on the Register’s Web site—somewhat unusual for a county government site. (Heads up, fellow Mac users: The site came up in Firefox but not in Safari.)

If you’ve got Tennessee ancestors, stop by and look for
  • Property records: “We have indexes and images dating back to 1812,” Minck writes.
  • GIS: You can search by name or address and see an aerial property photo linked to property data.
  • Archives: Search Shelby County birth (1874-1906) marriage (1820-1910) and death (1848-1956), records—and yes, folks, most matches are linked to record images.
You also can search indexes for Tennessee marriages (1980-2005), divorces (1980-2005) and deaths (1949-2005), with links for ordering copies. Circuit (1893-2000) and chancery (1945-1997) court, naturalization (1856-1906) and Memphis 1865 census indexes are there, too.
Search each record set from the home page. Now staff is scanning Memphis city directories from 1859 to 1924, and Minck says they’re almost ready to post 1859 through 1881.


Free Databases | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives | Public Records
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 3:01:51 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, November 12, 2007
Report Urges Opening Adoptees' Birth Records
Posted by Diane

A report released today could help change how—and whether—adopted people can search for their family trees.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute examined whether adopted people, once they become adults, should have access to their original birth information.

The report’s conclusion is "yes," and it urges all states to follow the eight (Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee) that already allow adults who were adopted to access their original birth records. The institute found that in states with open records, “most birthparents and adoptees handle any contact with maturity and respect.”

You can read the report online and learn about the controversy surrounding opening birth records for adopted individuals at CNN.com.

For many genealogists, an adopted parent or grandparent presents a research brick wall. According to the report, some states have restored access more narrowly, “typically to individuals who were adopted prior to the state's law sealing this information.”

You can get help researching ancestral adoptions in the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine. Also see these links:

Family Tree Magazine articles | Public Records
Monday, November 12, 2007 4:47:54 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, November 08, 2007
Pennsylvania Debates "Open" Records Bill
Posted by Diane

Pennsylvanians are debating a public records law that could make their state the least transparent in the country.

HB 443 is an apparent attempt to bring public records law up-to-date, especially with respect to electronic records. This much-amended bill doesn’t, as some have reported, close all records with birth dates and addresses. Section 307, which lists records “deemed inaccessible,” makes an exception for personal information of deceased individuals:
“The exemption under this paragraph relating to the disclosure of an individual's home address shall not apply to … any former address of a deceased person. The exemption under this paragraph relating to the disclosure of an individual's birth date shall not apply to the birth date of a deceased person.”
Read the full text of the law on the Pennsylvania legislature Web site.

Currently, Pennsylvania vital records from the past 100 years, stored at the Division of Vital Records, are off limits to all but immediate family. You can request birth and death records prior to 1906 from the county where the event was recorded.

But open-records advocates are denouncing HB 443 provisions that close much government agency correspondence and all government e-mail. That would make Pennsylvania the only state in the nation to take such a step. Other states are either explicitly opening e-mailed correspondence or they don't distinguish between electronic and paper records.

You can read more about this debate on PassOpenRecords.org.


Public Records
Thursday, November 08, 2007 8:18:57 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, August 20, 2007
NARA Record Request Fees Go Up Oct. 1
Posted by Diane

We’ve known it was coming since the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) proposed last February to raise its reproduction fees for records you order.

The good news is, it could’ve been worse.

Effective Oct. 1, NARA will charge $75 for a Civil War pension file of up to 100 pages, plus $.65 per additional page (for longer files, staff will contact the requestor with a price quote before filling the order). NARA will charge $50 for pre-Civil War pension files regardless of page count, and $.75 per page to copy other records.

While still a steep increase from the current $37 for a Civil War pension file, these fees are less than the $125 and $60 NARA originally proposed for Civil War and pre-Civil War pensions, respectively. (Still, save some cash by sending your request before October. The July 2007 Family Tree Magazine has instructions for ordering Civil War pensions.)

In the Aug. 17 Federal Register, national archivist Allen Weinstein attributes the change to public comment-inspired alterations in formulas for calculating document reproduction costs. Though its average pension file order was for 106 pages, 65 percent of orders were for files less than 100 pages.

NARA received 1,281 comments during the 60-day comment period. About half the commenters identified themselves as genealogists.

Looks like some comments hit a nerve by saying NARA’s proposal exaggerated actual copying costs. Weinstein wrote, “We firmly reject allegations that the  fees are being raised capriciously for the purpose of supplementing funding for the agency or reducing the number of reproduction orders received.”

He added it’s not practical to compare NARA’s photocopying costs with those of other entities because of archival document considerations including file retrieval and replacement, paper fragility, separating papers from fasteners, placing non-standard-size documents on copiers' glass platens and ensuring image legibility.

Weinstein said NARA lacks funding for digitizing all the Civil War pension files. The agency considers them prime candidates for a digitization partnership, but “there is no near-term alternative to the current process for fulfilling fixed-fee order requests for reproductions of Civil War pension files.”


Libraries and Archives | Public Records
Monday, August 20, 2007 10:25:08 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, August 13, 2007
Holocaust records on the way
Posted by Grace

Next week, the first batch of digital copies of a major trove of Holocaust-era documents will be transferred to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Allied forces discovered the files at the end of World War II, and they spent the next 60 years stashed away at the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany.

The museum says on its Web site the first installment includes 13.5 million pages, including records of camps, transportation, ghettos and arrest records. Later in the fall, the nearly 40 million index cards containing 17.5 million names will arrive.

Unfortunately, the archive won't be searchable online, but the museum plans to create a database that will let its own archivists quickly respond to your requests for information. When that database is up (watch the museum Web site for an announcement), queries from Holocaust survivors or on behalf of survivors will have priority.

Looking to explore your Jewish roots? Read more in the August 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine, which you can order here. And check out Tracing the Tribe, a blog all about Jewish genealogy.


Libraries and Archives | Public Records
Monday, August 13, 2007 5:14:03 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, July 18, 2007
New Group Aims to Keep Public Records Open
Posted by Diane

Five genealogists have started the Keep Genealogical Records Open Workgroup (KGROW). Their goal is to educate government officials and the public about the truth behind identity theft- and terror-related efforts to close public records.

“We find there’s no evidence that open public records contribute to identity theft or terrorism to any measurable degree," says KGROW co-chair Jean Foster Kelley.

Her statement echoes the December 2006 Family Tree Magazine special report on public records (available as a PDF file at www.familytreemagazine.com/dec06/publicrecords.pdf). Our research indicates public records pose little identity theft risk; the major culprits are stolen financial documents and corporate data breaches.

States have passed 616 record closure laws since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Now state public records laws must comply with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which could negatively impact your attempts to find relatives’ birth and death records. States can—but aren’t required to—make concessions for genealogical research.

KGROW, a project of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) Florida chapter, will prepare a position paper and solicit support from the APG, news media and other organizations.

For more on public records access, see Family Tree Magazine's December 2006 special report. If you know of a threat to records access in your state (such as excessive fee hikes or record restrictions and closures), inform your fellow researchers on the new FamilyTreeMagazine.com Public Records Alert Forum.


Public Records
Wednesday, July 18, 2007 1:54:25 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, June 01, 2007
What's Wrong With Connecticut's Public Records Laws?
Posted by Diane

Connecticut-based Godfrey Memorial Library has become one of the state-approved genealogical societies whose members can get copies of Connecticut birth records.

Access to that state's certified birth records less than 100 years old is limited to the person named in the certificate, legal guardians, spouses, grandparents, grandchildren, certain officials—and genealogy society members.

I suppose we should be thankful the records aren’t closed altogether. But I'm going to complain anyway, and here's why:

First, the law goes against the concept of public records. To get a record, you not only have to prove your identity and your relationship to the person, and pay a fee ($5 to request records from town offices; $15 to request them from the state), you also have to join a special club. Why should genealogists have any more right to a birth certificate than, say, engineers?

Second, the state is, in effect, abdicating its own responsibility to safeguard these records. Instead, it's putting genealogy societies in charge of them. Do you think local genealogy societies are screening members and denying applications of potential terrorists and identity thieves? If someone wants to use your Connecticut birth record for nefarious purposes, do you really think he’ll be scared off by the Godfrey Library's $35 annual fee?

What’s the point of closing the records if anyone can join a genealogical society and get any birth record?


Public Records
Friday, June 01, 2007 5:40:43 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]