Legal Affairs

Requesting Public Records? Depending on the State, That Could Cost Money

This will be an issue for genealogists. Tennessee may become the latest state to start charging a fee for the time it takes to fulfill a public records request, a practice that’s emerging in some states and one that opponents say simply aims to discourage requests.

This fall, the Tennessee Office of Open Record Counsel will conduct several public hearings on charging a fee for the search and retrieval of public records. While the state can already charge for copies of public records, inspection is generally free. But earlier this year, the state’s School Board Association pushed legislation proposing an hourly labor charge for public records request (with no charge for the first hour of labor). The legislation, which was tabled until next year, also stipulated that the first 25 copies would be free.

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the state press association vehemently opposed the legislation.

Wanted to Rent: New Home for 19,000 Arizona Genealogy Research Documents

A couple of weeks ago the Secretary of State of Arizona, who oversees the State Library, made a decision to close the the Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection on July 31. It is (or was) a vast collection of more than 20,000 volumes and file folders full of research notes, many of them irreplaceable. The decision was made with no public hearing or time for comments from Arizona citizens.

The Secretary of State apparently made the decision without knowing where all the books, and other volumes could be stored. The collection is now in limbo. (See my earlier article at http://goo.gl/pzZ0YI for details.

Now the Arizona secretary of state’s office and genealogists are seeking a home for 19,000 books, files and documents that have not made the move to the state’s new genealogy library. And they’re racing against an Aug. 31 deadline to remove the collection from its longtime home on the third floor of the state Capitol addition.

Chairman of Arizona Library Advisory Board Resigns following Genealogy Library’s Changes

Without warning and without enough time for the public to file comments, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan recently moved the state library’s genealogy collection to a much smaller facility with only two bookshelves, holding a fraction of the books previously available to all. The move brought howls of protests from the genealogy community. (See my earlier articles at http://goo.gl/HChkUO and at http://goo.gl/mdTkwf for details.) The Secretary of State also laid off four employees of the state library at the same time.

Genealogists are not the only ones protesting the abrupt and unannounced changes. Catherine May, Chairman of the State Library’s Advisory Board, has resigned in protest. “I just don’t want my name tied to Secretary Reagan,” May said. “I don’t trust what they’ve done.”

NARA asks for Public Comments on its Partnership with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has posted an article on the agency’s blog that says (in part):

“Digitization partnerships present an opportunity for increased access to historical government information through the increased availability of information technology products and services. NARA has shown that partnerships with private, public, non-profit, educational, and Government institutions to digitize and make available holdings can be a powerful model.

“NARA has enjoyed a successful partnership with Ancestry since 2008. NARA has also partnered with Fold3, Ancestry’s sister site, since 2007. In the month of June alone, NARA records received 8.8 million views on Ancestry.com, and 2.5 million views on Fold3.com.

Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection is Threatened

The following article from The Legal Genealogist is reposted here with permission from Judy G. Russell:

Another major genealogical collection is under major and imminent threat of being lost — this time in Arizona.

Unless something changes — and fast — the Arizona State Library Genealogy Collection — a vast collection of more than 200,000 volumes, many of them irreplaceable — is about to be lost to public access.

So our help is being sought in educating Arizona officials, and particularly the Secretary of State there, as to the value of maintaining this priceless resource.

Here’s a description of this amazing collection from Daniela Moneta, former Arizona State Library Genealogy Librarian:

Privacy Group Asks FTC To Push Google on U.S. ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

This could be a huge threat to the rights of genealogists to access the records of their ancestors and other relatives. The following message was received from Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

The Santa Monica-based organization, Consumer Watchdog has requested the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to impose the “right to be forgotten” concept from the European Union on Google in the United States. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times, July 16 says to have the U.S. do something because they do it in Europe is a bad idea and sets an “ugly precedent” failing to recognize the differences between the cultures and legal traditions—let alone that the “right to be forgotten” is a bad policy. To read the editorial see: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-google-right-to-be-forgotten-20150716-story.html.

Rhode Island Proposal to Restrict Access to Vital Records

State Senators Pearson and Picard introduced a bill into the Rhode Island General Assembly yesterday to restrict access to the state’s vital records for 100 years after the event. However, there appears to be an exception for “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.”

Texas State Library and Archives Commission Receives $7.5 Million Increase in Funding

The 84th Texas Legislature has increased the appropriation of the State Library and Archives Commission by $7.6M for the 2016-2017 biennium. The new funding includes resources to launch the Texas Digital Archive to preserve and make available electronic archives of state government as well as $6M to offer Texans greater access to online information via the popular TexShare and TexQuest programs. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission also gained funds in the new state budget to address salary needs and to implement a new automated accounting and payroll system.

Virginia Vital Records Online

Fred Moss, with input from Peter E. Broadbent, Jr., has written an excellent article about Virginia’s recent release of 16 million Virginia vital records. Fred writes, “This important new access to Virginia vital records occurred directly as a result of the Virginia Genealogical Society’s efforts in 2011 – 2012. VGS members wrote key legislators, and former VGS President Peter Broadbent lead the effort in meetings with legislators.”

The full article is available at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/06/14/virginia-vital-records-online.

Spain Passes Law Awarding Citizenship to Descendants of Expelled Jews

Spain’s lower house of parliament has approved a law that eases the path to citizenship for descendants of Jews who were forced to flee the country five centuries ago during the Inquisition.

The measure aims to correct what Spain’s conservative government calls the “historic mistake” of sending Jews into exile in 1492, forcing them to convert to Catholicism or burning them at the stake.

Update on the European Union and Other Countries Regarding the “Right to Be Forgotten”

The following was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee, and also a member 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 (IAJGS):

The EU Observer has written an interesting update on the European Union’s (EU) proposed data privacy legislation-which was first introduced in 2012. This is the legislation that espouses the “right to be forgotten” now called the “right to be erased” a concept causing genealogists concern as to what records may be available after the legislation is enacted. You may recall the EU Parliament passed its version in March of last year—and then the May 2014 elections occurred before the EU Council voted. Both the EU legislative chambers must vote on the same piece of legislation before it can be enacted. (See below for a brief description of the EU legislative structure.) The legislation has a number of “chapters” and some are more contentious than others. Thus far, agreements have been reached on rules for public authorities; data transfer rules to countries outside the EU, rules on processors, controllers, and data protection officers, as well as rules on archiving and statistics for history and research purposes. Also agreed upon was designating the lead data protection authority, charged to resolve disputes, as the one based in the country of the company’s main establishment.

Alabama Senate Approves Bill to Abolish Marriage Licensing

A newly-proposed piece of legislation in Alabama might have a minor impact on genealogy record-keeping. The state’s constitution declares marriage to be between a man and a woman. However, federal courts are attempting to force the state to issue marriage licenses for same-sex marriages. Alabama Senate Bill 377 proposes to end marriage licensing and replace them with a contract process.

According to the text of the bill, it would abolish the requirement to obtain a marriage license from the judge of probate.

A Proposal to Abolish the Alabama Historic Commission

The Alabama Pioneers web site contains an email message from Ted Urquhart, President of the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance. He states:

“You may already be aware that a bill has been introduced to the Alabama House of Representatives to abolish the Alabama Historic Commission (AHC) and transfer most – but not all – of its responsibilities and holdings to the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).

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?

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