Legal Affairs

Reclaim the Records Wins Long-Running Lawsuit for Missouri Birth Index and Death Index

Reclaim The Records has won again! The following announcement was written by Brooke Schreier Ganz, the President and Founder of Reclaim The Records:

RECLAIM THE RECORDS WINS LONG-RUNNING MISSOURI SUNSHINE LAW BATTLE FOR FREE PUBLIC COPIES OF THE STATE BIRTH AND DEATH INDEX!

JUDGE AWARDS ATTORNEYS FEES, AND ALSO ORDERS FINES ASSESSED AGAINST THE MISSOURI DEPT OF HEALTH AND SENIOR SERVICES FOR FOUR SEPARATE ‘KNOWING AND PURPOSEFUL’ VIOLATIONS OF THE SUNSHINE LAW

JUDGE REPORTS ON AGENCY’S ‘SECRET PLAN’ TO ILLEGALLY WITHHOLD
GENEALOGICAL RECORDS FROM THE PUBLIC

Hello again from Reclaim The Records! We’re your favorite little non-profit organization that picks fights with government agencies, archives, and libraries for better public access to genealogical records and historical materials. And we’re back in your mailbox today to announce that we’ve just won yet another lawsuit! And oh boy, did we win this one! 🎉

Trump Says He Will Ask for a Delay to the 2020 U.S. Census

President Donald Trump said Monday that he will ask for a delay to the 2020 Census to make sure it is completed safely and accurately.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in a statement that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the plans during a conference call with lawmakers. Federal law requires some of that data be compiled before the end of this year.

The Commerce Department acknowledged the timeline changes and said in a statement it is “seeking statutory relief from Congress of 120 additional calendar days to deliver final apportionment counts.”

April 1 – Today is Census Day in the US

Today is the official Census Day in the US. You may have received your census form a few weeks ago but the information submitted is supposed to be accurate as of April 1, 2020. If you have not already filled out your census form and submitted it (online or on paper) , you should do so today. This is also the first time the census can be completed online.

Reminder: Submitting the census form information is not optional! Participation in the census is required by law. In fact, it is a requirement of the U.S. Constitution, a requirement written in 1787 and still in effect today.  However, there are numerous other, non-legal, reasons to comply with the law.

Will This Year’s Census Be the Last?

“Like most institutions of democratic government, the census is under threat.”

From an article by Jill Lepore published in The New Yorker:

“In the past two centuries, the evolution of the U.S. Census has tracked the country’s social tensions and reflected its political controversies. Now its future is in question.”

“‘Count all people, including babies,’ the U.S. Census Bureau instructs Americans on the questionnaire that will be mailed to every household by April 1, 2020, April Fool’s Day, which also happens to be National Census Day (and has been since 1930). You can answer the door; you can answer by mail; for the first time, you can answer online.”

“… the census, like most other institutions of democratic government, is under threat. Google and Facebook, after all, know a lot more about you, and about the population of the United States, or any other state, than does the U.S. Census Bureau or any national census agency. This year may be the last time that a census is taken door by door, form by form, or even click by click.”

Hey! I Received My 2020 U.S. Census Form Today!

Of course, I am sure that several hundred million other households are also receiving their census forms this week. If you haven’t received yours just yet, I’d suggest you be patient and wait for a bit. The U.S. Postal Service probably cannot deliver several hundred million pieces of mail on the same exact day.
And, yes, I have already gone online at http://my2020census.gov/ and provided my information for posterity. I was amazed and slightly disappointed at how quickly I finished the census questionnaire. “Disappointed” because, as a genealogist, I think the census records should record more information that might be of interest to my descendants many years from now.

N.J. Lawmaker Wants to Make DNA Test Results Your Personal Property

A proposed law in New Jersey would make the results of a DNA test the sole property of the person tested, a bid to give consumers who use popular genetic testing services more control over their personal data and their privacy.

Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-Somerset, said that people have a right to know where their personal genetic data is going, even if it is used for good causes.

“We don’t want to impede upon breakthroughs in medical technology and advances and cures,” Freiman said, “but there’s also a balance of: what about the individual?”

You can read more in an article by Joe Hernandez in the WHYY web site at: http://bit.ly/2xzyV1c.

The Census Goes Digital

Genealogists are usually experts when it comes to the census records in the countries where their ancestors lived. However, did you know that the 2020 U.S. census will use the internet to answer census questions, rather than filling out a paper form or providing those answers to a census taker in person, at their home?

That should be cheaper – a plus for a budget-strapped Census Bureau – and could help ensure maximum turnout and accuracy of the count. However, not everyone has internet access or is willing to fill out the census forms online. For those individuals, census officials will target old-fashioned “snail mail” forms and in-person visits to those locations, without needing to spend time chasing households that have already responded.

Texas Man Close to Exoneration after a DNA Computer Algorithm Leads to New Suspect

Many of us have read about the use of DNA to identify murderers and other violent criminals. However, DNA is equally good when used for the opposite purpose: to PROVE INNOCENCE.

For instance, Lydell Grant was in prison for murder. But an emerging form of DNA technology, which has also come under scrutiny, is helping to free him in an unprecedented case.

Nearly a decade into his life sentence for murder, Lydell Grant was escorted out of a Texas prison in November with his hands held high, free on bail, all thanks to DNA re-examined by a software program.

“The last nine years, man, I felt like an animal in a cage,” Grant, embracing his mother and brother, told the crush of reporters awaiting him in Houston. “Especially knowing that I didn’t do it.”

Sangerville, Maine: the Town of Two Knights

Subtitle: What do the inventor of the machine gun, a King of England, an America/Canadian/Bahamian multi-millionaire, a Nazi financier, and “Lucky” Luciano have in common with a tiny town in central Maine?

Introduction: This article is a radical departure from my usual writings. It concerns two men, both from the same small town, both of whom left as young men, both of whom became very wealthy, and both of whom were knighted by a King or Queen of England. There is very little information about genealogy here although there is a lot of history in this article.

I hope you enjoy these stories.

Dick Eastman

Knighthood cannot be granted to American citizens. Under the British system, citizens of countries that do not have the King or Queen as England’s head of state may have honors conferred upon them, in which case the awards are “honorary.” In the case of knighthoods, the holders are entitled to place initials behind their names but may not use the word “Sir” in front of their names. The only way for an American to become an officially recognized knight of the British Empire and to use the title of “Sir” is to renounce his American citizenship and to become a naturalized citizen of a country that considers the Queen as their head of state (I say “his” and “Sir” because the vast majority of knights are male; it’s been rare that a woman has received the title). Such countries would include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and perhaps more.

Several Americans have done just that and have become knights. Strangely, one tiny town in central Maine has produced no less than two such knights. Even stranger, each of these knights has been surrounded by mystery and intrigue. One of them was even murdered while in bed, reportedly because he was involved in international intrigue in the midst of World War II. His murderer was never identified or apprehended.

How did the tiny town of Sangerville, Maine, produce two such mysterious sons who both left town to seek successfully their fortunes, both to later be knighted by the King or Queen of England? What caused them both to become embroiled in controversy? Perhaps it was the water. More likely, it was the chafing constraints of life in a small town in northern New England. Both men left to better themselves.

The stories of each of these men sound like mystery novels.

Less Than One Month Remains Until U.S. Households Receive 2020 Census Invitations

Get ready to leave your information for your descendants who will also be genealogists! Between March 12 and March 20, invitations to participate in the 2020 Census will start arriving in households across the USA.

According to today’s announcement from the U.S. Census Bureau:

“The Census Bureau is ready for the nation to respond next month,” said Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham. “Millions of Americans are applying for 2020 Census jobs, more than 270,000 local and national organizations are engaged, and in less than 30 days the majority of U.S. households will receive an invitation to respond to help ensure that every person in the U.S. is counted.”

“The 2020 Census is on mission, on schedule, and on budget to promote an accurate count,” Dillingham continued. “Response is important because statistics from the census are used in distributing where hundreds of billions in funding for school lunches, hospitals, roads and much more. The invitations will remind respondents to include everyone living in the household, whether they are related or not. This includes young children. Your response will impact communities for the next decade.”

NEHGS Issues Statement Opposing Mass. Governor’s Budget Proposals

The following announcement was written by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS):

February 13, 2020—Boston, Massachusetts—American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) released the contents of a letter dated today from Ryan J. Woods, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the organization, to Aaron Michlewitz, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

A complete transcript follows:

February 13, 2020

The Honorable Aaron Michlewitz, Chairman
House Committee on Ways and Means
State House – Room 243
Boston, MA 02133

Re: Opposition to Outside Sections 12; 13; 36- 46, inclusive; and 62 of House, No. 2, “An Act Making Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2021 for the Maintenance of the Departments, Boards, Commissions, Institutions, and Certain Activities of the Commonwealth, for Interest, Sinking Fund and Serial Bond Requirements, and for Certain Permanent Improvements.”

Dear Chairman Michlewitz:

Trump FY21 Budget Proposes Elimination and Cuts to Federal History-Related Agencies & Programs

Quoting from a news release from the National Coalition for History:

“On February 10, the White House released its detailed budget request to Congress for fiscal year (FY) 2021. As has become the norm since taking office, the president’s budget proposes devastating cuts to federal humanities and history funding. These include elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, history and preservation programs at the National Park Service and federal K-12 history/civics and international education programs.”

You can read the details at: http://bit.ly/39w0EO1.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson Weighs Legal Action Over Seattle National Archives Closure

This is a follow-up to the earlier article, Genealogical Forum of Oregon Objects to Seattle National Archives Closure, that is available at: http://bit.ly/2S7S0iZ:

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said his office is considering the possibility of a lawsuit against the federal government in the wake of the decision over the weekend by the Office of Management and Budget and the National Archives and Records Administration to close and sell the Seattle National Archives facility.

“I know the one thing that has stopped [the Trump Administration] from taking actions that I think are unlawful and unconstitutional and that’s a federal lawsuit, so that’s what we’re focused on,” Ferguson said. “Now look, the overall policy, do I think it’s outrageous? It’s crazy. Yes, for all the reasons you’ve already talked about, right? It makes no sense, and to take the history, the federal history of our region, and send it thousands of miles away will have a huge impact on a lot of folks and tribes here in our community.”

You can read more in an article by Feliks Banel in the MYNorthwest web site at: https://mynorthwest.com/1689663/bob-ferguson-legal-action-seattle-national-archives-closure/.

A Court Tried To Force Ancestry.com To Open Up Its DNA Database To Police. The Company Said No.

From an article by Peter Aldhous in the BuzzFeed News web site:

“Ancestry.com, the largest DNA testing company in the world, was served a search warrant to give police access to its database of some 16 million DNA profiles, but the company did not comply.

“Ancestry received one request seeking access to Ancestry’s DNA database through a search warrant,” the company revealed in its 2019 transparency report released last week. “Ancestry challenged the warrant on jurisdictional grounds and did not provide any customer data in response.”

Massachusetts Governor Seeks to Cut Access to Public Domain Records

Here is a major threat to genealogists’ access to records by a well-meaning but misinformed state governor.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

Governor Charlie Baker is seeking to dramatically restrict who has access to Massachusetts birth records, death certificates, and marriage notices under a proposal that, if adopted, would exempt many of the documents from public view for a virtual lifetime.

Copies of the documents, known as vital records, can currently be viewed or purchased by the public, with few exemptions, at local town or city halls and the state’s records registry, making Massachusetts one of the country’s most transparent states in terms of access to birth or death certificates.

Baker’s provision would reshape state law to allow only those requesting their own records to view or get copies, albeit with a few exceptions: a person’s parent or attorney, for example, or by a judicial order. The change, his office said, would better shield potentially sensitive personal information and mirror “national best practices.”

Florida’s Genetic Information Bill Heads to House Floor

The Florida genetic information bill is moving on to the state house floor. A panel passed a bill that would prohibit life, long-term care, and disability-insurance companies from using customers’ genetic information to change, deny or cancel policies.

Insurance companies would also be prohibited from using genetic information to set premiums.

Federal law already prevents health insurers from using genetic information in underwriting policies, but doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage.

SB 1051 Virginia Public Records Act; Availability of Public Records

The following announcement is from Virginia’s Legislative Information System at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+sum+SB1051:

SB 1051 Virginia Public Records Act; availability of public records.
Introduced by: R. Creigh Deeds

SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:
Virginia Public Records Act; availability of public records. Provides that all records of grand juries held before January 1, 1901, and all records sealed by law or by order of a court entered before January 1, 1901, shall be open for public access irrespective of who or what agency has custody of such records.

Proposed Utah Legislature Bill Would Keep Law Enforcement from Probing DNA Data

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City (Utah), said he is filing a bill, which has yet to be publicly released, in the 2020 Utah Legislature that will prevent police from accessing at-home DNA tests to perform familial DNA searches.

Law enforcement has found that tapping into DNA data, which has sometimes been linked to genealogy, can lead to criminal convictions in unsolved crime cases, but the practice also has raised ethical and privacy concerns.

Companies such as Ancestry, which is based in Lehi, Utah, have already banned the practice. According to Ancestry.com’s law enforcement guide, they “do not allow law enforcement to use Ancestry’s services to investigate crimes.”

You can read more in an article by Decker Westenburg in The Daily Universe at: http://bit.ly/37rhFYY.

Genealogical Forum of Oregon Objects to Seattle National Archives Closure

The following is a copy of a letter sent to the U.S. Office of Management & Budget by Vince Patton, President of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, and republished in this newsletter with the permission of Mr. Patton:

Russell T. Vought
Acting Director
Office of Management & Budget
725 17th Street N
Washington DC 20503

Dear Mr. Vaught,

I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors and the 1075 members of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon to register our strong objections to the planned closure of Seattle’s National Archives facility.

The decision to close this federal repository of public records was made in complete secrecy, with no input from the public or any other government entities in the region. No local hearings or requests for feedback were held in Washington, nor in Alaska, Idaho, Montana or Oregon.

Works from 1924 are Now in the Public Domain

For years, genealogists learned that anything published prior to 1923 is now considered to be in the public domain. In other words, there are no copyrights on these older works and they may be copied or reproduced freely. However, the date of early copyrights changed last year.

Starting on January 1, 2019, anything published in  the United States in 1923 (or anything published prior to 1924) is now considered to be in the public domain. Now the new year has pushed the date out another year.

Starting on January 1, 2020, anything published in 1924 (or anything published prior to 1925) is now considered to be in the public domain.