Legal Affairs

A Change in Access to the State of Maine’s Vital Records

The following announcement was written by the Maine State Archives and is available to all at http://www.maine.gov/sos/arc/research/vitalrecordschanges.docx.

Per state law, all vital records – such as notices of birth, death and marriage – dating from 1892 to the present day, are no longer available at the Maine State Archives.*  The records dating from 1892 – 1922 were previously held at the Archives, but have now been digitally scanned, allowing the Vital Records office to issue these documents. As of May 1, 2015, Data, Research and Vital Statistics at the Vital Records office will issue ALL vital records from 1892 to present.

The Maine Department of the Secretary of State, Maine State Archives will continue to issue non-certified copies of documents prior to 1892.

Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation DNA Database has been Shut Down

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) was an early collector of DNA information to be used for genealogy purposes. It was founded by inventor and philanthropist James LeVoy Sorenson and Brigham Young University professor Dr. Scott Woodward. Mr. Sorenson envisioned the development of a genetic-genealogical blueprint of all humankind. Some years later, the database and supporting infrastructure was acquired by Ancestry.com and became the basis for what is now Ancestry DNA. It has since served the interests of thousands of genealgists as well as several other communities.

Sadly, Ancestry has now announced the closure of this valuable service. The announcement at http://www.smgf.org states:

We regret to inform you the site you have accessed is no longer available.

Let’s Clear the Air About Ancestry DNA Sharing Customers’ Data

I thought this was settled but apparently not. I read a lot of online news reports about genealogy and also about DNA. Reports surfaced several days ago claiming that Ancestry.com shared customer DNA data with police officials. Some of those reports stated that this was done without a search warrant while others stated that a search warrant was obtained first before the police contacted Ancestry DNA. The articles were confusing, at least to me, and it apparently confused a lot of other people as well. I have now read a number of later articles and have talked with the folks at Ancestry DNA.

As is often the case, it seems the original articles were mostly correct but one report contained a major error concerning the warrant. I don’t know who published the first report but the first one I saw was in the New Orleans Advocate at http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11707192-123/new-orleans-filmmaker-cleared-in. It clearly stated that a search warrant was obtained. Next, the Electronic Frontier Foundation picked up the story but claimed there was no search warrant. I have a high opinion of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their fight for the rights of consumers in an online world but I think they blew it this time. Their article at https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/05/how-private-dna-data-led-idaho-cops-wild-goose-chase-and-linked-innocent-man-20 states, “Without a warrant or court order, investigators asked the lab to run the crime scene DNA against …” That statement has now been proven to be false. As I write these words, I cannot see where the Electronic Frontier Foundation has since changed their article or issued a correction.

For a rather long and very detailed report on the entire manner, I strongly suggest you read Judy Russell’s explanation of the entire affair in her Legal Genealogist Blog at http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/. I know Judy well enough to know that she is a stickler for facts and I believe her version is correct.

Ancestry.com Is Sharing Customer DNA Data With Police

Is this a privacy issue? An article by Jay Syrmopoulos for the Free Thought Project at http://goo.gl/JYML8u says: “Would you find it frightening— perhaps even downright Orwellian — to know that a DNA swab that you sent to a company for recreational purposes would surface years later in the hands of police? What if it caused your child to end up in a police interrogation room as the primary suspect in a murder investigation?”

“I Un-Friend You and I Un-Marry You”

A New York County Supreme Court judge ruled that 26-year-old nurse Ellanora Baidoo can serve divorce papers to her soon-to-be ex-husband, Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku, via Facebook. The ruling is one of the first of its kind, and it comes at a time when even standard e-mail is still not “statutorily authorized” as a primary means of service, the judge wrote.

New Jersey to Allow Access to Birth Records for People Adopted in the State

Beginning in 2017, an adult adopted child whose adoption took place in New Jersey can request to obtain a non-certified copy of their original birth record. They will not be able to use the original birth record as proof of identification or for any other legal purposes.

The Connecticut Library Association’s Rally for Libraries

The genealogy community relies on our public libraries, especially those with terrific genealogy divisions and clubs. The new Connecticut proposed budget would eliminate the funding for interlibrary loan, consortia, grants for special programs and collections (like genealogy and local history), etc. Several years have seen proposals like this, but this battle is seen as the most dire.

The following is a “call for action” issued by the Connecticut Library Association:

As you know, Connecticut libraries are reeling from the news that the governor’s recent budget proposes to eliminate all state funding for Cooperating Library Service Units (CLC) as well as funding for Connecticard, Grants to Public Libraries, and more. In addition, there is a proposal to eliminate the state statutes that authorize and support these programs.

We need your help now to make sure the budget that is recommended in April by the Appropriations Committee includes full funding for CLC, Connecticard and Grants to Public Libraries.

What can you do to help?

Co-founder of Ancestry.com Charged with Sexually Abusing Teen

Sad news. A person who once was a well known person in the genealogy community had criminal charges filed Monday against him. However, I believe Dan Taggart has not been associated with Ancestry.com in any way for several years.

Details may be found in an article in the Deseret News at http://goo.gl/pilqaT.

California Man Receives a Law Licence to Practice after 125 Years

The California Supreme Court has posthumously awarded a law license to a Chinese immigrant who was barred from becoming a lawyer 125 years ago.

Hong Yen Chang was barred from practicing law in 1890 by the same court because “persons of the Mongolian race” were not granted citizenship.

Kansas Supreme Court Proposed Restricted Access to Kansas Marriage Records

The Kansas Supreme Court is considering proposed changes to Supreme Court Rule 106 to clarify treatment of personally identifiable information in marriage licensing documents maintained by the district courts. The new proposal restricts marriage records to attorneys, court officers, and to:

Ohio to Open Adoption Records Sealed for 50 Years

Ohio birth certificates and court decrees, some sealed as long as 51 years, will soon become available to adoptees or to their direct descendants for the first time without a court order. As many as 400,000 documents will now become available. The new law goes into effect Friday, March 20, 2015.

The state doesn’t plan to make the request form available on line until just before it begins accepting requests Friday. The forms may be submitted only via postal mail or in person at the vital statistics office because of the notarized documentation required. It could take six weeks for requests to be processed. A video spelling out the process is available at odh.ohio.gov/vs.

State of Rhode Island Proposal to Allow Wider Access to Death Certificates

The Rhode Island House of representatives is considering a bill to allow wider access to death certificates than what is allowed by present legislation. In short, bill H 5863 proposes to allow title examiners, attorneys, and members of genealogical societies to examine death certificates. No fees would be charged for searching or viewing said records.

The proposal does contain exceptions for such items as out-of-wedlock births. However, it specifically does allow “members of legally incorporated genealogical societies in the conduct of their official duties as defined in regulations shall have any access to, or be permitted to, examine the original or any copy of the birth certificate or birth record, of any person in the custody of any registrar of vital records or of the state department of health.”

Massachusetts Proposed Legislation will Help Preserve Polish Heritage in the State

A bill introduced into the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts proposes establishment of a Pioneer Valley Polish heritage institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

NOTE: The Pioneer Valley is another name for the Connecticut River Valley in the western part of the state. It was the final destination for many nineteenth and twentieth century European immigrants, especially those from Poland.

The bill has been referred to the committee on Higher Education. The legislative bill states, (in part):

An Act relative to preserving Polish heritage in the Pioneer Valley.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Virginia Bill Seeks to Protect Digital Privacy After Death

The 2015 Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill that is now awaiting Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature. It is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. The Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act aims to assure that a person’s electronic footprint remains off-limits after death — even to his or her close kin — except under very strictly controlled circumstances.

The legislation gives the executor of an estate limited access to a deceased person’s online accounts for the purpose of settling the estate. But the contents of his or her correspondence can’t be disclosed except as provided in advance by a will or an agreement with an Internet service provider.

Illinois Legislature Considers a Bill to Allow Access to Landlocked Graves on Private Property

State Representative David R. Leitch has introduced a bill in the State of Illinois’ 99th General Assembly that provides that owners of private property on which a landlocked grave is located have a duty to allow ingress and egress to the grave by:

  1. family members and descendants of deceased persons buried there;
  2. any cemetery plot owner; and
  3. any person engaging in genealogy research who has given reasonable notice to the owner of record or to the occupant of the property or both.

Announcing: Irish Probate Genealogy Partners

A new genealogy corporation in Ireland has been launched. It is the product of a partnership between Eneclann, Ireland’s largest historical and genealogical research company, and Heirs Ireland, an internationally recognized probate genealogy firm. Irish Probate Genealogy Partners’ business goal is to provide comprehensive services to the legal profession.

Today’s announcement states:

Irish Probate Genealogy Partners have over 60 years combined experience legal, title and probate research, which includes:

New York City Board of Health Limits Access to Death Records 1949-to Present

The following was written by the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

The Board of Health for the City of New York adopted changes to the New York City Health Code articles 205 and 207 in late 2014. A public hearing was held on November 14, 2014 and no comments were received. The proposal was presented to the Board of Health on October 7, 2014 in response to a comment from one of the board’s members. Unfortunately, the genealogical community was not aware of the hearing or notice. At its December 9, 2014 meeting the Board of Health adopted the new articles which may be read at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/notice/2014/noa-205-207.pdf.

Basically it expands access to confidential medical reports for deaths that occurred prior to January 1, 2010 and clarifies who may obtain a death certificate…genealogists are not included. It adds siblings, grandparents and grandchildren to the list of people who may access confidential medical reports of death.

Saline County Historical Society Files a Lawsuit Against the City of Marshall, Missouri

On Dec. 23, 2014, the Saline County Historical Society filed a lawsuit against the city of Marshall — specifically Marshall Public Library. The suit seeks determination of ownership and right to remove the collection of historical record books and “other items” currently located in the Maggie Duggins Genealogy Room.

The materials in question were originally donated by the Saline County Historical Society (SCHS). In 1989, SCHS moved its collection of materials from Murrell Library, on the Missouri Valley College campus, to the newly opened public library. The suit states the agreement made in 1989 was that MPL would “serve as bailee of said collection,” while SCHS retained ownership.

The Majority of Books Published Before 1964 Are Free of Copyrights

Over and over, genealogists have been told that the copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923. In other words, if the work was published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923, anyone is free to republish excerpts or even the entire book without obtaining permission. That statement remains correct today. However, many genealogists are not aware that the overwhelming majority of all books published prior to 1964 are also free of copyright. That’s “the overwhelming majority of all books” but not all of them.

Between 1923 and 1964, a renewal registration was required to prevent the expiration of copyright. If a work was first published before January 1, 1964, the owner had to file a renewal with the Copyright Office during the 28th year after publication. No renewal meant a loss of copyright. In other words, for all books published prior to 1964, the copyrights expired before January 11, 1992 IF THE COPYRIGHT WAS NOT RENEWED. However, a 1961 report from the U.S. Copyright Office estimates that 85% of the books never had the copyrights renewed. (See http://www.copyright.gov/history/studies/study31.pdf, page 187.) Therefore, those books are now public domain.

Rhode Island Legislative Bill Proposes to Provide Free Access to Death and Marriage Certificates

Rhode Island Representatives Ackerman, Shekarchi, Keable, Kennedy, and Marcello have introduced HB 5309 that will change several provisions of the current Section 23-3-23 of the General Laws in Chapter 23-3 entitled “Vital Records,” including:

(a) To protect the integrity of vital records, to insure their proper use, and to insure the efficient and proper administration of the vital records system, it shall be unlawful for any person to permit inspection of, or to disclose information contained in, vital records, or to copy, or issue a copy, of all or part of any vital record except as authorized by regulation, or as provided for herein.

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