Legal Affairs

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.

The Cost of Getting Genealogical Records from the Government Could Go Up Nearly 500%. An Effort is Underway to Stop That.

I have written before about this outrageous proposal to increase fees nearly 500%. However, it is great to see CNN pick up the story and give the effort to stop the increase even more publicity. With millions of readers, a story in CNN can generate a lot of publicity.

The new article by Harmeet Kaur on CNN may be found at: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/29/us/immigration-records-uscis-fee-hike-trnd/index.html.

My earlier articles may be found here and here.

The Nebraska Death Index (1904-1968) is Now Online

Thanks to Reclaim the Records, the Nebraska Death Index (1904-1968) is now available to everyone online. Even better, access is available free of charge.

According to the Reclaim the Records web site:

“In May 2019, citing Nebraska’s Public Records Law, Reclaim The Records made a request for “a copy of the Nebraska Death Index and/or finding aid to deaths, from its onset to 1968”. You can read the whole request on our website (PDF), if you want, because we like making all our correspondence and court cases public.”

You can read much more at: https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/records-request/26/.

If a DNA Test Proves That a “Daughter” Isn’t Yours, Can You Claim Back Child Support from the Biological Father?

DNA tests can easily bring “skeletons out of the closest.” Family secrets are frequently exposed by DNA tests. The results may create moral, ethical, and even legal, questions.

One example of such “exposure” has been published in the MarketWatch web site. To be sure, MarketWatch isn’t known as a genealogy web site, a DNA web site, or even as a web site that publishes frequent legal articles. It is primarily a financial web site with a focus on the ethics and etiquette of financial affairs. However, a recent “letter to the editor” ticked multiple family relationship boxes: genealogy, DNA, and legal issues.

An unnamed reader asked:

“I recently found out through a DNA test through 23andMe that my ‘daughter’ isn’t mine. I was forced to marry, thinking the baby was mine. My wife passed away in 1990. Can I claim back child support from the biological father?”

MarketWatch’s personal-finance editor, Quentin Fottrell, responded with what I consider to be a well thought-out reply. However, the issue of “surprise relationships” raises all sorts of questions in my mind. Exactly what are the duties and responsibilities of anyone who unexpectedly is informed that he is or is not the parent of a child. Does he become financially responsible for the child’s upbringing and education? In the recent case, is a man who thought he was responsible for the child’s upbringing and education now relieved of such obligations? Can he seek reimbursement from the biological father (who perhaps was unaware that he had a child?)

What would YOU do if you received such unexpected “news?”

Such questions should keep attorneys busy for many more years!

You can read the full article at: https://on.mktw.net/2PCy19w.

Senator Mitt Romney Questions Fee Hikes that Will Hit Family History Researchers Hard

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced a plan to increase genealogy-related record request fees by 269 percent to 492 percent, depending upon the type of record(s) requested. The search fee will be non-refundable if nothing is found in their search.

Mitt Romney

I wrote about this outrageous fee increase earlier at: http://bit.ly/2qwE5rE and at http://bit.ly/34eVO4D. It is nice to see that genealogists and historians are now receiving help from a “high powered” politician. Senator Mitt Romney has joined the public campaign to persuade the immigration agency that imposes the fees to drop the proposed increase.

The Utah Republican has written a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asking them to account for the fee revenue that funds the little-known genealogy program.

The Genealogy Boom has Hit a Roadblock with Recently-Announced USCIS Fee Increases

I wrote about this ridiculous proposed fee increase 3 weeks ago at http://bit.ly/2qwE5rE. However, a new article by Sydney Trent published yesterday in the Washington Post adds more details about the fee increase and describes a grass-roots effort to persuade the agency, now under the leadership of acting deputy homeland security secretary Ken Cuccinelli, to withdraw the fee hikes before the window for public comment closes on Dec. 16.

In short, YOU and thousands of other genealogists need to take action now to voice your opinion of these outrageous fee increases.

Nova Scotia Provincial Government Requests Citizens’ Input on Whether or Not Adoption Records Should Be More Accessible

From the Nova Scotia Provincial Government web site at https://novascotia.ca/adoption-records-consultation/:

“We’re looking at how information from adoption records is shared. This is a sensitive and personal matter to people impacted by adoption, and we want to have a full discussion with Nova Scotians.

“We want to hear from all people involved in adoption — adopted persons, birth parents and adoptive parents, as well as family members and anyone with an interest in this issue.”

Details, including instructions on how to participate in the discussions as well as a downloadable discussion paper, may be found at: https://novascotia.ca/adoption-records-consultation/.

The CBC also lists dates and times for in-person meetings at http://bit.ly/2RmwmY7 while The Chronicle Herald has a related story at http://bit.ly/2PmHZMe.

My thanks to newsletter reader Leland Harvie for telling me about this story.

Chinese Scientists are Working on a Way to Create an Image of a Person’s Face from a Blood Sample

Law enforcement use of genealogy DNA databases has created a lot of controversy lately. (See http://bit.ly/2qfy3LM for a number of articles about voluntary submissions of DNA information by genealogists that have been published in this newsletter over the past year or more.) Now a story by Chris Stanford in the New York Times adds even more questions to the controversy.

From the article:

“It sounds like science fiction, but it isn’t.

“Chinese scientists are working on a way to create an image of a person’s face from a genetic sample, using blood collected from ethnic Uighurs swept up in mass detentions in China’s Xinjiang region.

“At least two Chinese researchers working on the technology have ties to institutions in Europe, and critics say Beijing is exploiting the openness of the international scientific community for questionable purposes. The Chinese have said that they followed international norms that would require research subjects’ consent, but many in Xinjiang have no choice.

“The details: The process, called DNA phenotyping, is in its early stages and is also being developed in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

Man Arrested for Murder Claims that Police Use of a Genealogical DNA Database to Identify His Relatives Amounts to an Unconstitutional Search and an Invasion of His Privacy

Somehow, I doubt if this is going to hold up in court.

Lawyers for a man accused of raping and killing a woman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993 are asking a judge to dismiss the charges. In motions filed Monday, lawyers for Steven Downs claim the investigation into the sexual assault and murder of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie was “botched” by police.

Governor Cuomo of New York has Signed Legislation Allowing New York Adoptees to Obtain Records of Their Birth Information

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed S3419 into law on November 14, 2019, making New York the tenth state in the country to secure or restore equal rights for adult adopted people. More information, including the full text of the New York’s newly “adopted” (pun intended) Public Health Law § 4138 may be found in the Adoptee Rights Law web site at: https://adopteerightslaw.com/new-york-obc/.

“OBC” is an abbreviation for “Original Birth Certificate”

My thanks to newsletter reader Bill Hinkle for telling me about the new legislation.