Legal Affairs

Two Baby Boys are Twins, but an Italian Court Says They Aren’t Brothers

Try entering this into your genealogy database! Fifteen months ago in California, a surrogate mother gave birth to twin boys. The babies were the sons of a gay Italian couple who had used in vitro fertilization to have children. But when the two men returned to Milan with their newborns, a clerk at the registry office refused to transcribe the babies’ birth certificates, barring the men from registering the boys as their legal children.

Actually, that part isn’t news. After all, similar situations have occurred before. However, the Italian courts then issued a strange ruling: Despite being twins, the court said, the two boys aren’t brothers!

A New Law in New Jersey Eases Privacy Rules On Adoptions

Imagine walking through life wondering who is my mother? Who is my father? Those are questions that nag many adoptees.

Since the 1940s adoption records in New Jersey have been sealed without a court order and locked in a room in Trenton. Parents who gave their babies away expected privacy. But come January 1st the records of about 300,000 adoptees will be unsealed.

North Carolina Lawmakers Renege On Deal To Repeal Hb2 ‘In Full’

This is a follow-up to an article I posted two days ago, Incoming North Carolina Governor Vows Repeal of Controversial LGBT Law, Thereby Avoiding Controversy over the National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference. That article is available at: https://goo.gl/tDMYab. It seems that North Carolina lawmakers came up with a plan to repeal the anti-LGBT law HB2, as promised. The only problem with their plan is that it does not entirely repeal HB2.

It is a convoluted story. You can read the details in an article in The Washington Post at https://goo.gl/pccrej.

Incoming North Carolina Governor Vows Repeal of Controversial LGBT Law, Thereby Avoiding Controversy over the National Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference

Good news: the incoming North Carolina Governor has vowed to repeal the state’s controversial LGBT law. Details may be found at: https://goo.gl/ovEaqX.

UPDATE: A later story with developing details may now be found at https://goo.gl/RJbgT0.

One would hope that state politics would not interfere with planned genealogy conferences. Sadly, that is what happened when the State of North Carolina passed the so-called HB2 legislation that blatantly discriminated against the rights of LGBTQ citizens and visitors to the state. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and/or questioning) individuals/identities.)

Many companies and non-profits immediately canceled planned conferences, sporting events, and even business expansions in North Carolina because of the chilling effect of the state’s HB2 or the “bathroom bill.” Even the U.S. Justice Department officials are on record as stating the law violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act and Title IX – a finding that could jeopardize billions in federal education funding. You can read more about that issue at http://goo.gl/qdPS3U.

Controversy within the genealogy community arose because of the previously-planned annual conference of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) that was already planned for 10-13 May 2017 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The NGS managers found themselves about equi-distant between a rock and a hard spot. For background information, see my earlier article, North Carolina’s Anti-LGBTQ Law Will Cost the State more than $395 Million and Even Affects Genealogy Conferences, at https://goo.gl/oDivBp.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Claims Obtaining Indexes of Birth and Death Records will Cost $1.5 Million

show-me_stateThe “Show Me State” apparently doesn’t want to show anything.

Reclaim the Records asked the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for copies all the state’s birth and death records from 1910 through 2015. The group sought the information under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. An attorney for the department replied that the the birth list would take the agency 23,376 hours to compile and the death list 11,688 hours. At $42.50 an hour, the tab came to an eye-popping $1.5 million.

After some discussion, the attorney reduced the estimate to $1.46 million.

Reclaim the Records then hired their own attorney, Bernie Rhodes, a media-law specialist at the Kansas City law firm Lathrop & Gage. Rhodes asked the Department of Health and Senior Services for more information about the database that stored the birth and death records. Based on the information, he suggested some ideas and even provided the toll-free number for the help desk for software provider the department uses to retrieve records from its database.

After considering Rhodes’ suggestions, the department quoted a new estimate. The attorney for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service conceded that, in fact, the effort would not require thousands of hours of staff time. The records, the department said, would now cost $5,174, or a 99.7 percent decrease from the original price quote.

Then the story gets even more complicated.

Blockchain Based Crypto-will Fulfills Last Wishes

This probably will be a game changer in the legal profession. I suspect it will also be a problem for future genealogists who want a copy of an ancestor’s will.

blockchain_apparatus_logoBlockchain Apparatus is a start-up company in Denver that is working on several legal areas, including property and trusts. Its mission is to provide new developments in the legal services industry. The company has found a new application of blockchain technology (see Note #1 below) that works with data available with the federal government database (especially from the US Social Security Administration). This new product makes self-executing digital wills possible.

In the near future, Blockchain Apparatus expects to have a software/network combination which is the executor of a deceased person’s last will and testament. The process will be automated, will run on thousands of computers simultaneously (thereby guaranteeing reliability), and will be visible to everyone (thereby ensuring there will never be a difference of opinion as to the will’s existence).

For the first time in history, it will be possible to hand out the entire process of will administration to a software program running outside of human control. This process will be executed by the code running this software.

Closing Death Records — The Logical Flaw

From an article by Fred Moss in the Records Preservation and Access Committee Blog:

“One of the misperceptions with which we have repeatedly had to wrestle in recent years has been that ALL Personally Identifiable Information (PII) by default must be safeguarded. For many legislators in recent years, it is almost a reflexive belief that the best or only way to fight identify thieves is to close the records that thieves might have used. At this level of thinking, rarely do current decision-makers distinguish between the active PII of the living from records of deceased individuals. It is this flawed logic that was given as the rationale for the provisions of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 limiting access to and the content of the SSA’s Death Master File.

“May I suggest that death changes many things!”

Closing Death Records Is Just Dead Wrong!

Fred Moss has posted an article on the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) Blog that I would suggest be required reading for every genealogist, every legislator, and every government employee who has responsibility for public records.

Note: RPAC is a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

Fred describes the threats of identity theft and then tells how the restriction of access to public records is ineffective. He then writes:

North Carolina’s Anti-LGBTQ Law Will Cost the State more than $395 Million and Even Affects Genealogy Conferences

Normally, this would not be a genealogy-related story and I would ignore it. However, it became a genealogy story because the National Genealogical Society is planning to hold its annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, on May 10 to 13, 2017. Information about that conference is available on the NGS web site at: http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org.

Many companies and non-profits are canceling planned conferences, sporting events, and even business expansions in North Carolina because of the chilling effect of the state’s recently-passed HB2 or the “bathroom bill.” The bill discriminates against LGBTQ citizens and visitors to the state. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (and/or questioning) individuals/identities.)

RPAC at FGS Springfield 2016

The following announcement was written by Fred Moss for the Records Preservation and Access Committee  (RPAC):

The Federation of Genealogical Societies is celebrating its 40th Anniversary as a featured theme at its Annual Conference this week in Springfield, Illinois. On this occasion, the Records Preservation and Access Committee is presenting a workshop session entitled Striking a Balance Between Records Access and Privacy Thursday Afternoon the 1st of September at 3:30pm CDT in Room B1 of the Springfield Conference Center.

Birth Certificates now Unlock Past for some Missouri Adoptees

Adoptees often have a difficult time tracing their true ancestry. Adoptees in Missouri born prior to 1941 now are able to access records that previously were not available to them. Younger adoptees are still locked out. However, that will change on January 2, 2018, when adoptees born after 1940 and who are at least 18 years old will be able to request their original birth certificates.

Until Monday, such documents had been under seal by state law. The birth certificates possibly held the names of birth mothers and fathers the adoptees had longed to know.

Plan to Leave Your Digital Assets in Your Will

Our personal lives are far more complicated in the digital age than those of our ancestors. Genealogists may read their ancestors’ wills but sometimes forget about their own estates, especially digital goods. From bank accounts to Facebook, PayPal and more, a good chunk of our personal and financial lives are online. If you fail to account for those digital assets in your estate plan, you risk burying your family or friends in red tape as they try to get access to and deal with your online accounts that may have sentimental, practical or monetary value.

The good news is that a growing number of states are enacting laws that help clarify the rules for how executors and others can access and manage the online accounts of someone who has died.

US Census Bureau Selects Sites for 2018 End-to-End Census Test in Preparation for 2020 Census

The following announcement was written by the US Census Bureau:

JULY 22, 2016 — The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that it selected the sites for its largest and most advanced systems and operations test in preparation for the 2020 Census. The 2018 End-to-End Census Test will take place in three locations, covering more than 700,000 housing units. The test locations are Pierce County, Wash.; Providence County, R.I.; and the Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill, W.Va., area.

Goals

Australian Privacy Advocates say People’s Names in Census Records should not be Retained

Census records are some of the most useful records available to genealogists. However, if some Australians have their way, future genealogists will not have access to these records. Privacy advocates are calling on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) not to collect names of individuals in next month’s census, due to privacy concerns.

Actually, this is not as big a loss as it sounds. All Australian census records in the past few years have only kept the names for 18 months. Unlike many other countries, the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not preserve the names and then make them public after 72 or 100 years.

Ancestry.com is Used to Catch a Florida Man Living Under an Assumed Name for More Than 20 Years

Terry Jude Symansky was a Florida man who drowned in 1991 at age 33. However, his nephew recently was working on a family genealogy project and found his uncle’s information on Ancestry.com. Knowing the uncle died in 1991, the nephew was shocked to find a later marriage license associated with his name. After some investigation, police found that the new Terry Jude Symansky is actually Richard Hoagland, a man who disappeared from Indiana about 25 years ago and was declared dead in 2003.

Genealogists Support Access to State and Local Records

The following is an announcement written by the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), a group sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, and is supported by the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, the American Society of Genealogists, and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists:

RPAC_logo

Austin, Texas, 5 July 2016—With access to many state and local government records threatened by decreasing budgets, the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) announced today its support of the Joint Statement by the Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the Society of American Archivists, which affirms that the “preservation of and public access to government records is of paramount importance” and “government archives play a critical role in ensuring citizens’ rights and preserving the nation’s history.”

Brexit Fuels Increased Online Irish Ancestry Searches Seeking Information About Irish Passport Applications

Anyone born on the island of Ireland before 1 January 2005 or whose parents are Irish automatically qualifies for Irish citizenship. In some cases, those who have an Irish grandparent can also apply. The recent Brexit vote apparently is encouraging many people to consider applying for an Irish passport.

Ancestry.com has reported a 40% surge in new trial memberships in the week since the UK voted to leave the European Union, with daily searches of the site’s Irish records up by 20%. Some Northern Ireland Post Offices ran out of Irish passport applications in the wake of the referendum result.

USCIS Proposed Rule to Increase Genealogical Research Fees

Are you ready for fee increases by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of up to 225%? The following was written by the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

On May 4th, the Federal Register published a proposed rule to increase various fees for services of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), including fees for their genealogy services. Public comment is invited, deadline for comments is July 5, 2016—60 days from the notice in the Federal Register. Below is a chart to show the current and proposed fees relevant to the genealogy services. Non-genealogy services are also being proposed to be increased but are not addressed in this posting. The fee schedule was last adjusted on November 23, 2010. USCIS calculates its fees to recover the full cost of USCIS operations, which do not include the limited appropriated funds provided by Congress. USCIS anticipates if it continues to operate at current fee levels, it will experience an average annual shortfall of $560 million between Immigration Examinations Fee Account (IEFA) revenues and costs. When Congress created the Genealogy Program under USCIS it required that the program be self-funded and cover all costs.

Government of Canada Improves Access to Information

I am impressed by this announcement. Why can’t other governments emphasize “that government information belongs to the people it serves and should be open by default”? (Ahem… looking at a certain neighbor to the south of Canada…)

The following announcement was written by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat:

TBSMay 5, 2016 – Ottawa

Today, President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison issued an Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act (the Directive) that delivers on key commitments to make government more open and transparent.

The Directive sends a strong message across federal institutions that government information belongs to the people it serves and should be open by default. It also directs federal officials to:

New York City Birth and Death Indexes removed from the New York Public Library

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has required the New York Public Library to return the birth indices post 1909 and death indices post 1948 stating having them available to the public was a violation of the NYC Health Code.

The reason? According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, “The Department will no longer make such indexes available, since such access can be abused and result in identity theft and attendant security risks. In addition, genealogists and others interested in genealogical research can access appropriate information from the Municipal Archives.”

This is a major loss for genealogists.