The following status update was sent by Peter Broadbent, former President of the Virginia Genealogical Society:
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has signed into law two pieces of legislation passed by the 2012 Virginia General Assembly that will provide significantly improved access to Virginia’s vital records. Both bills were strongly supported by the Virginia genealogical community.
One bill, HB 272, sponsored by Delegate Chris Peace, reduces the period during which marriage and death records held by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) are closed to the public, from the current 50 years down to 25 years. This is particularly significant since a national registrar’s group has urged lengthening the closed period for those records to 75 years. This change will become effective July 1, so if you have been looking for Virginia marriages or deaths in the 1962-1987 period, they will now become publicly available through VDH’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.
The second bill, SB 660, sponsored by Senator Harry Blevins, provides that once the “closed” period ends for births, marriages, or deaths, the original VDH records must be turned over to the Library of Virginia, the Commonwealth’s archival institution, for public access. VDH is also directed to enter into a contract with a genealogical indexing company (such as Ancestry) to create public online indexes of all VDH births, marriages and deaths, with links to underlying images of public records, if this can be done at no direct cost to the Commonwealth. VDH is to seek to enter into a contract by June 2013, and have an index available within two years after that date, with the Library of Virginia to have a role in the development and maintenance of the index. Up until now, no public index of VDH births, marriages or deaths has existed, so trying to identify and order vital records from VDH has been frustratingly slow and expensive.
These two bills represent a major achievement for the genealogical community, including the Virginia Genealogical Society, Friends of the Virginia State Archives, and Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. Legislators reported that they received thousands of messages in support of these reforms from genealogists over the last year. Governor McDonnell’s support for SB 660 was critical in overcoming agency opposition to that reform measure, and genealogists and historical researchers owe him a great deal of thanks.
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