Legal Affairs

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.

U.K. Government has Accepted an Amendment to the Deregulation Bill to Allow Lower-Priced Copies of Birth, Marriage and Death Information in England and Wales

The following is an excerpt from the Society of Genealogists web site:

The Society of Genealogists is delighted to announce that the Government has accepted an amendment to the Deregulation Bill currently going before the House of Lords that allows for the publication of information from Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates in England and Wales to be issued otherwise than in the form of a certified copy. This is something the SoG has long campaigned for and is grateful to Baroness Scott of Needham Market, herself an enthusiastic genealogist, who suggested to Government that this deregulation is possible.

U.K. Moves Toward Making Babies from DNA of 3 People

Well son, babies happen when a Daddy and a Mommy and another Mommy and some scientists get parlimentary approval to love each other very much.

This should complicate record keeping for genealogists!

Members of Parliament voted Tuesday to allow the creation of human embryos from the DNA of three people to try to eradicate a type of genetic disease that has caused the deaths of thousands of babies. If the measure also passes Britain’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, England would become the first country to legalize the procedure. If the House of Lords approves the bill, the first three-person baby could be born as soon as next year.

Canada’s Long Form Census Debate Continues

This debate in Canada has been going on for some time and shows no signs of being resolved. Much of the debate centers around a provision in proposed laws to not make the release of census records’ data mandatory after 92 years – the person filling out the census forms would have to explicitly give permission to allow the release of the information 92 years later. Another debate concerns a proposal to delete the presently required mandatory jail time for anyone who does not fill out a census form! (Wow!)

UFO Project Blue Book Files Removed from a Web Site at the Request of Fold3

Click on the above image to view a larger, although still fuzzy, version.

Ten days ago, I published an article entitled Photos of UFOs Now Available from the National Archives and Records Administration at http://goo.gl/3DnSli. The article described the new addition of files concerning UFO reports collected by the U.S. Air Force while investigating UFOs from the late 40s to the late 60s. The files were recently added to the Black Vault web site at http://projectbluebook.theblackvault.com. To be sure, most of the material had previously been available on Fold3.com and bits and pieces have also been published on other web sites as well. However, the documents on the Black Vault web site were in a PDF format, and therefore were more accessible than they had been previously.

The files at The Back Vault have now been deleted. Fold3, a subsidiary of Ancestery.com, has claimed they have a digital copyright over the files.

(US) Proposed Rules for Certification for Access to Death Master File Comment Period EXTENDED Published in the Federal Register

This is a follow-up to the article published five days ago in this newsletter at http://goo.gl/UlqiNl. This was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

As mentioned in Friday’s January 23, 2015 posting to this announcement list, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) extended the comment period from January 29, 2015 to March 30, 2015. No reason has been given for this extension. The notice of the extension has been posted in the Federal Register and may be read at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-01-28/pdf/2015-01546.pdf.

To read the proposed final rule go to: For those who wish to review the proposed final rule see: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-12-30/pdf/2014-30199.pdf.

The proposed final regulations for certification for access to the Death Master File have major concerns for genealogists and small businesses. As drafted they are:

  1. limited data elements in the Death Master File making it all but unusable for meaningful genealogical searches;
  2. prohibitive charges for access to the data and to becoming certified; and
  3. security provisions that are not small business-friendly.

    IAJGS is submitting our statement expressing our concerns later this week. It will be posted on this announcement list. Individual forensic and professional genealogists should express their concerns by submitting a statement by March 30, 2015. To submit a statement it must be submitted to http://www.regulations.gov. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF formats only.

94-year-old Can’t File Tax Return because IRS Says He’s Dead

Apparently not every bit of information in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is accurate. There is a 94-year-old World War II vet in Ohio who just wants to pay his taxes but can’t because the IRS says he’s dead.

Siegfried Meinstein has been unable to convince the IRS he is alive, living in an assisted living facility near Columbus, Ohio. The IRS has told the nonagenarian it can’t process his tax return because their records indicate he is deceased.

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