Legal Affairs

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Proposes to Expand Requests for Tombstone Markers on Behalf of Deceased Veterans

On October 1, 2014, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published, in the Federal Register, a proposed rule to amend the existing definition of eligible applicants by expanding the types of individuals who may request headstones or markers on behalf of decedents. The amendment addresses concerns that the existing applicant definition is too restrictive and results in identified Veteran gravesites going unmarked.

Can You Marry Your Cousin?

Consider this list:

Charles Darwin married his first cousin.

Albert Einstein’s parents were first cousins. Then Albert married his own first cousin. Elsa Lowenthal, Einstein’s second wife, was his first cousin on his mother’s side. In fact, they were also “double cousins.” Lowenthal also happened to be Einstein’s second cousin on his father’s side.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt were fifth cousins, once removed (a chart showing their relationship is available at http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/q-and-a/q6.cfm).

John Adams married his third cousin, Abigail Smith.

John F. Fitzgerald, former mayor of Boston and grandfather of John F. Kennedy, married his second cousin, Mary Josephine Hannon.

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, married his second cousin once removed, Regina Peruggi

County Employee Charged with Theft from Cape May County (New Jersey) Historical and Genealogical Society

A Lindenwold woman has been charged theft in excess of $500 from the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society, according to a statement from Cape May County Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor.

Judith Davis, 52, a Cape May County employee was arrested and charged with third degree theft and second degree official misconduct criminal charges, the prosecutor said. The prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation recently into the finances of the Society.

Taylor said that people convicted of a second degree crime are subject to a term of imprisonment of 5 to 10 years in prison; and people convicted of a third degree crime are subject to a term of imprisonment of 3 to 5 years.

Combating IRS Refund Fraud: The Next Profile in Courage?

The following was written by Fred Moss of the Records Preservation and Access Committee, a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies:

The continuing vulnerability for the IRS online filing system to refund fraud by identity theft has been much in the news in recent days.

It was the focus of the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast Sunday evening, the 21st of September which featured interviews ranging from the fourth IRS commissioner in the last two years, film clips from the Congressional testimonies of his predecessors, and “expert” testimony from a former identity thief.

http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/RzmZGQTr7RPHG2pfxMj4ufrsdTRnQXPd/biggest-irs-scam-around-identity-tax-refund-fraud/

The broadcast also anticipated the public release on Monday, the 22nd of September of a Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) Report responding to a request from key members of Congress entitled: “Identity Theft – Additional Actions Could Help IRS Combat the Large, Evolving Threat of Refund Fraud.”

http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-633

What GAO Found

Genealogists Shouldn’t Need Town Hall Appointments

An interesting editorial in the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant describes a legislative proposal to give town clerks the option to require genealogists to make appointments for research. The bill never made it out of committee in the last session but probably will be re-introduced in the next session. If it passes, it will be bad news for genealogists and others and also will provide government employees one more opportunity to provide less and less service to the constituents who pay the salaries of the same government employees.

Petition Launched for Early Release of England & Wales Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

A campaign has been launched to enable greater public access to historical English and Welsh birth, marriage and death records, and your help is needed.

Alona Tester has published an article in the (Australian) Genealogy & History News that says, in part:

“Guy Etchells, the man who is behind the push to get the 1911 Census released early, for which we are all eternally grateful, has now started an online petition asking for the UK’s civil registration records … to be made open for public inspection, online and at local record offices. Sounds awesome doesn’t it?

“Currently the main way that English and Welsh BDM records can be accessed is by certificates posted out by the General Register Office (GRO) – a process that costs £9.25 per certificate, and obviously takes time in the mail, anything from a few days to weeks.

“According to Mr Etchells this whole process could be alleviated if historic registers were made available, as other historic records are, through the National Archives – as instant downloads. “

Department of Veterans Affairs Proposes to Build a Genealogy Database of 10 Million NEW Individual Genealogies Per Year

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a a combined synopsis/solicitation for commercial corporations to bid on building a huge genealogy database, starting first with persons with roots in Washington and Oregon. The goal is to create a Genealogy Medical Phenotype Resource Database.

The request is to create 10 million NEW individual genealogies per year in electronic format for persons with roots in Washington and Oregon. If successful, the project will be continued a second year to add 10 million more individual genealogies. The VA proposed the ultimate creation of a U.S. genealogy of 100-200 million individuals, linked to the entire VA system (25 million individuals). This service contract will last for three years, through the duration of the MERIT review grant.

Senator Demands US Courts Recover 10 Years of Online Public Records

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) says the removal of the thousands of cases from online review is essentially erasing history. The documents were deleted last month from online viewing because of an upgrade to a computer database known as PACER.

“Wholesale removal of thousands of cases from PACER, particularly from four of our federal courts of appeals, will severely limit access to information not only for legal practitioners, but also for legal scholars, historians, journalists, and private litigants for whom PACER has become the go-to source for most court filings,” Leahy wrote Friday to US District Judge John D. Bates, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO).

Man Conceived with Donated Sperm Seeks Birth Certificate Change to Reflect the “Truth”

An Australian man conceived using anonymous donor sperm has applied to have his birth certificate changed to record his father’s name as unknown. His present birth certificate lists the man who raised him as the father, even though there is no biological connection between the two.

Damian Adams says he seeks the change because, “It’s not just for my kids but also my descendents, in that if anybody in the future was to conduct genealogy research on our family I don’t want them to go down the wrong path. If they have an inaccurate birth record they will basically believe a lie.”

You can read more in an article by Sarah Dingle in the abc.net.au web site at http://goo.gl/ymyf9o.

Delaware Becomes First State to Give Heirs Broad Digital Assets Access

What happens to your email, Facebook, Twitter, blog, and other accounts when you die? Delaware has now passed a law that ensures families’ rights to access the digital assets of loved ones during incapacitation or after death. House Bill (HB) 345, “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” gives heirs and executors the same authority to take legal control of a digital account or device, just as they would take control of a physical asset or document.

While some states, including Idaho and Nevada, have some existing provisions pertaining to limited digital assets for heirs, they are not as broad as the new Delaware law. For now, the state’s version of UFADAA only applies to residents of Delaware.

Burglars Steal 100 Years of Chaska, MN Historical Records

The birth, wedding and death records of Chaska Moravian Church parishioners are handwritten in ledgers and kept in a church safe. During the night of July 14 and early July 15, burglars broke into the church and lugged out a 3-foot by 3-foot metal safe. The safe held about four ledgers recording births, weddings and deaths, as well as an index. The records reportedly have never been digitized or recorded in any way. The safe also contained $50.

Legislation Would Provide Headstones for Veterans’ Unmarked Graves

The “Honor Those Who Served Act of 2014″ would enable veterans service agencies, military researchers, historians or genealogists to request a free headstone or marker from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a veteran’s grave.

Until 2012 the VA provided headstones for unmarked veterans’ graves based on documentation of that vet’s identity and service provided by these groups or individuals. That policy was then changed, limiting headstone requests to a veteran’s next-of-kin or authorized family representative – a difficult requirement when dealing with graves dating back 100 years or more, and unknown family descendants. (The policy does not apply to replacement of worn, illegible or damaged markers.)

Update: How NOT to Clean a Tombstone for Find-A-Grave

I recently wrote (at http://wp.me/p5Z3-As) an article about a person who damaged tombstones in a Tennessee cemetery by using a wirebrush to scrape the stones, making the letters more visible. Of course, it also created irreversible damage in the process.

Newsletter reader “ljellis2000″ now has posted an update: the culprit has been found, arrested, and charged with a felony offense. The man reportedly said, “… that he did not realize his actions were causing any harm.”

How NOT to Clean a Tombstone for Find-A-Grave

Here is a sad bit of news: A man is suspected of damaging several historic graves with a wire brush recently at the New Providence Presbyterian Church on Stoney Point Road in Surgoinsville, Tennessee. He apparently used a wire brush to make the engravings on the tombstones easier to read. Now here is the worst part: he was “cleaning” the tombstones so that he could take pictures to be posted on Find-A-Grave.com!

Aaaarrrggghhh!

On July 15, church committee member Bill Davidson reported to the Surgoinsville Police Department that several tombstones had been “scrubbed” — possibly with a wire brush — causing damage to the old stones. The dark stain that builds up on tombstones over time was scrubbed clean in streaks over the engravings, and in some cases the engravings were rubbed almost smooth — to the point that the words are no longer legible. Davidson stated that some of the damaged tombstones date back to the 1700s, and some belong to Civil War veterans.

Thief Arrested for Stealing His Grandfather’s Documents from from the U.S. Navy’s Archive in Washington, D.C.

Samuel L. Morison was charged this week with stealing documents from the U.S. Navy’s archive in Washington He reportedly stole three boxes of files used by his grandfather, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Samuel Eliot Morison.

Federal agents recovered some of the Navy’s stolen documents during a raid of Morison’s house in May, according to charging documents. They found others through a bookseller who had bought them from Morison, authorities said. An investigation is still underway to determine how the documents were smuggled out.

Lawsuit Alleges Unauthorized Publication of Personal Genetics Data

An Alaska man reportedly is the lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit. An online article claims the lawsuit was placed against “FamilyTee, a Texas-based DNA testing company.” I assume that is FamilyTree DNA, based in Houston. However, the newspaper article in the Ars Technica web site simply says “FamilyTee,” not FamilyTee, DNA. Maybe it is two different companies, although I doubt it. More likely it is sloppy reporting by the author of the article to not properly use the full name of the company.

In any case, the lawsuit claims that “the results of his DNA tests were made publicly available on the Internet, and his sensitive information (including his full name, personal e-mail address, and unique DNA kit number) was also disclosed to third-party ancestry company RootsWeb (a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, a company that allows users to research their lineage).”

Genealogists Initiate a Declaration of Rights

One of the major announcements at the recent conference of the National Genealogical Society was a new Declaration concerning access to public documents. Please note that it includes an opportunity for YOU to sign the Declaration.

The following was written by the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC),
a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies:

Richmond, 10 May 2014: Jordan Jones, President of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), a sponsoring member of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), announced the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights before a crowd of more than 2,500 genealogists attending the Opening Session of the NGS 2014 Family History Conference in Richmond, Virginia on 7 May 2014.
The Declaration of Rights is a statement advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. The Declaration affirms America’s long history of open public records, which has been threatened the last few years over concerns about identity theft and privacy. The Records Preservation and Access Committee has worked with state and federal legislators as well as local public officials for more than twenty years in support of legislation and regulations that achieve a balance between access and privacy. The Declaration of Rights has been approved by the board of directors of the three sponsoring organizations: The National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).

Oklahoma SB 1448 Signed Into Law By Governor Mary Fallin

You may remember the controversy surrounding a recently-enacted law in Oklahoma that restricts access to vital records for many years. Amongst other provisions, the law requires copies of death certificates to be issued only to the person who is listed on the certificate. That’s right, for the first 75 years following a death, you can’t order a death certificate unless you are dead!

Now the state legislature had a chance to fix the problem, but failed to do so. The following was received from Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

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