Legal Affairs

‘Aboriginal’ Redacted from Australian Birth, Death, Marriage Certificates after Being Deemed an Offensive Term

Vital records worldwide are becoming more and more politically correct. A West Australian bureaucrat has deemed the use of the term “Aboriginal” may be regarded as offensive and exercised a little-known power to redact it from birth, death and marriage certificates. However, not everyone agrees with this decision.

It has shocked historians, who were unaware of the practice and say Aboriginal is considered by most to be an inclusive term. “Way back in the past people might have hidden their Aboriginality … it’s now a source of pride for many people of Aboriginal descent today,” according to Jenny Gregory, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Western Australia.

23andMe Sues With a Patent Suit Concerning DNA Kits

According to an article in at

Law360 (May 11, 2018, 7:49 PM EDT) — Genealogy company 23andMe Inc. hit rival with a false advertising and patent infringement lawsuit in California federal court on Friday, seeking to invalidate its “Ancestry” trademark and claiming the company sells a DNA-based ancestry test that infringes 23andMe’s patent.

The suit accuses the Utah-based of infringing its patent since 2013 by selling AncestryDNA kits that identify a person’s relatives who share parts of their DNA. 23andMe also claims that has been misleading customers by running a “perpetual sale” and by falsely claiming in ads that it tests five times more regions than its rivals.

“Defendants’ repeated pattern of false and misleading advertising has caused, and will continue to cause irreparable injury to 23andMe’s reputation, goodwill and business, if not enjoined,” the suit says.

The complete article with all the details may be found at: To read the entire article, you must register on the site and provide your name and email address. However, registration is free and will provide seven days’ access to the articles on the site.

US Senate Bill Introduced to Prohibit Question on Citizenship in 2020 US Census

The following is a message from Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

A bill has been introduced in the United States Senate which would prohibit the recently added question on citizenship to be placed on the 2020 US Census.  The bill, S 2580, authored by Senator Menendez (D-NJ) has 15 co-sponsors-all Democrats.  The title of the bill  is “Every Person Counts Act”. The bill specifically proposes in Section 141(a) of title 13 of the United States Code, by inserting,” as necessary, except that the Secretary may not include any question or otherwise elicit any information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status”.

U.S. Law will soon Release Previously Copyrighted Works of 1923 to the Public Domain

Genealogists often use and sometimes republish information from old documents as well as old films and photographs. We have always been told that anything published in 1922 or earlier is now in the public domain but those items published in 1923 or later might still be protected by copyright. That is about to change. On January 1, 2019, most items published in 1923 will become public domain. Anything published in 1924 will remain under copyright until the year 2020, anything published in 1925 will remain under copyright until the year 2021, and so on.

In 1998, the Sonny Bono Act changed the dates to specify that published works from 1923 to 1977 will remain under copyright for a period of 95 years. The works then become public domain on January 1st of the 96th year.

(US) Department of Commerce Announces Changes to Limited Access Death Master File (also called the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI)

The following report was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee and published originally on the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert mailing list:

The (US) Department of Commerce announced that effective April 1, 2018 the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) implemented upgrades to modernize and enhance access to the Limited Access Death Master File (LADMF). One of the changes is their new website accessible at:  You will have to register at the site to familiarize yourself with and the new subscription options.

You may recall that when the proposed  certification to the LADMF was announced, genealogists basically could not be certified as they could not  meet the onerous requirements for business security and the cost of subscriptions. The submitted testimonies by various genealogical groups, including the IAJGS and the Records  Preservation and Monitoring Committee (RPAC) of which IAJGS is a sponsoring member fell on “deaf ears”.

The remainder of the notice sent to IAJGS is copied in its entirety below as it is not posted to their website:

Who Owns a Cemetery?

An article in the Cowley (Kansas) CourierTimes highlights a frequent question: Who owns a cemetery?

Actually, in many parts of the U.S., most cemeteries have clearly identified owners. Municipal cemeteries are owned by the town or city. The local Catholic cemetery is obviously owned by the Catholic Church and other cemeteries may be owned by other religious organizations, fraternal organizations, while some others are owned by corporations or by non-profit cemetery associations. However, there are thousands of other cemeteries where ownership is not clearly defined.

One such case is the small, rural Liberty Cemetery in Arkansas City, Kansas.

U.S. Census 2020 To Ask Question on Same-Sex Couples

The following was written by D’vera Cohn of the Pew Research Center:

new question about citizenship on the 2020 census form is in the headlines these days, but the U.S. Census Bureau also plans other changes for the next national count. Among them: For the first time, the agency will add specific check boxes for same-sex couples to identify themselves, and it will ask people who check the white or black race boxes to say more about their national origins.

The bureau’s list of 2020 questions, sent to Congress for review late last month, also was notable for what it did not include. Despite years of research into possible benefits of combining the race and Hispanic questions on the form, the bureau will continue to ask them separately. Bureau researchers had said the combined question produced more complete and accurate data, especially about Hispanics. The census form also will not include a much-researched check box for people of Middle Eastern or North African origins.

The 2020 census is to ask seven data questions: age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, relationship status, homeownership status (own or rent) and citizenship. The bureau also listed several follow-up questions it will ask to make sure that everyone who usually lives in the household being surveyed is included.

The citizenship question, which has been challenged in court, will be asked last to “minimize any impact on decennial census response rates,” according to a memo from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau.

Census has overcounted same-sex couples

The new check boxes for same-sex couples are an attempt to fix a long-standing problem of Census Bureau overcounts of these couples.

Update: California sues the Trump Administration over the Addition of Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census

I recently wrote a brief article describing California’s lawsuit against the Trump Administration over the Addition of Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census. That article generated quite a bit of discussion. You can read the article at:

Newsletter reader Ted Russell has written a response to the various discussions that strikes me as common sense. Here is his response, published here with Ted’s permission:

Yes, data on citizenship status will be of great use to future genealogists. And yes, the question is legal and constitutional. But it will likely have the effect of either driving undocumented immigrants further into the shadows, or exposing and deporting them, and this administration knows this very well. The Census Bureau is not supposed to share individual information with other agencies, but based on this administration’s disregard for the law, it would be hard for a Census enumerator to convince a respondent that the information will not be shared with ICE.

New Brunswick Opens Sealed Adoption Records For Those Who reached Age of Majority

The following announcement was posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert mailing list:

The Canadian Province of New Brunswick has opened sealed adoption records to adult adoptees and birth parents. Effective April 1, 2018, adult adoptees and their birth parents may apply for access to the identifying information. Only adoptees that have reached the age of majority may obtain the records. In addition to the adult adoptees, the following may also access the records:

  • Birth parents of adoptees
  • Adult children of deceased adult adoptee; and
  • Adult children of a deceased birth parent whose child was placed for adoption.

There are records that span over 100 years.

California sues the Trump Administration over the Addition of Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census

The state of California sued the Trump administration Monday night, arguing that the decision to add a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census violates the U.S. Constitution. The state’s attorney general acted just after the Commerce Department announced the change in a late-night release.

The suit is just the start of what is likely to be a broader battle with enormous political stakes that pits the administration against many Democratic states, which believe that the citizenship question will reduce the response rate for the census and produce undercounts. As a result, opponents say, states with significant immigrant populations stand to lose seats in state legislatures and Congress, along with electoral college votes in presidential elections and federal funding based on census counts. Republicans gained a significant advantage in redrawing maps after the 2010 Census.

You can read more in the many online news web sites. For instance, you can find dozens of articles about this issue by starting at:

US Census Bureau Withdraws Proposal to Have Postal Workers be Enumerators for 2020 End to End Census

This is a follow-up to my earlier article about the 2020 U.S. census at A message from the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert mailing list states:

“Last September the IAJGS Records Access Alert posted about the proposed rule by the Census Bureau to have Postal Workers be enumerators for the 2018 end-to-end census test in preparation for the 2020 US Census. The Census Bureau has posted a notice in the Federal Register withdrawing the proposal. The Census Bureau stated, “after determining during discussions with USPS that postal carriers had certain disclosure obligations that made it impossible for them to comply with the strict legal confidentiality requirements under Title13 governing Census data.”

A Million Children Didn’t Show Up in the U.S. 2010 Census. How Many Will Be Missing In 2020?

An article by Anna Maria Barry-Jester in the FiveThirtyEight web site points out the inaccuracies on the U.S. Census effort. The 2010 census reportedly undercounted the population and the Census Bureau is now in disarray, probably indicating there will be bigger problems with the next census in 2020. Due to funding constraints, it has abandoned pre-census research in West Virginia and Washington state that was meant to check the integrity of parts of its survey process.

Of course, money is a major problem. Nearly $700 billion in federal money is at stake. The results will decide how we apportion congressional representation.

You can read the story at

What the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Means to Genealogy Bloggers and Others

A new European law goes into effect on May 25, 2018, that will require changes for almost everyone who publishes information online. In my opinion, this is a very good law. However, if you write a genealogy blog or collect email addresses for those who read your genealogy data online, you need to be aware of the changes that might be required of your web site.

Even though the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European law, it affects almost everyone who publishes information online. Just because you live in North America or in Asia doesn’t mean you can ignore this new law. The law covers privacy requirements, and we all live in a digital world where data privacy is of the utmost importance. If you have one or more readers in Europe, you need to comply with the new law. In fact, I would suggest everyone should follow the new guidelines simply as a matter of common sense, regardless of where your readers reside. Compliance should be easy.

The General Data Protection Regulation, otherwise referred to as GDPR, is new legislation that strives to put the control back in the hands of European Union citizens when it comes to their personal information. Since it will require changes to web sites worldwide, the result will be better privacy for all of us, regardless of where we live.

NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Adopts Birth & Death Embargo Dates and More

The following is a message posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee’s mailing list today by Jan Meisels Allen:

On March 13 the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officially adopted their proposed regulation on Access To Birth and Death Records With Original Access Years of 125 for Birth and 75 for Death. This was mentioned in the IAJGS Records Access Alert posted on March 8, 2018. The final regulation may be read at:

Joshua Taylor, President of the NY Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYGBS) reported to their members this morning about the meeting earlier today. The report may be read at:

Census Bureau Clarifies How it Will Count Overseas Federal Employees in 2020 Census

This won’t help today’s genealogists but may be useful to future researchers. The Census Bureau has published a memo in the Federal Register that outlines residence criteria and residence situations that determine who should be counted and where they should be counted. Federal employees working overseas are specifically mentioned in this memo.

The memo specifically states:

Overseas military and civilian employees of the U.S. government — The 2020 Census will count military and civilian employees of the U.S. government who are temporarily deployed overseas on Census Day at their usual home address in the United States, as part of the resident population, instead of their home state of record. Military and civilian employees of the U.S. government who are stationed or assigned overseas on Census Day, as well as their dependents living with them, will continue to be counted in their home state of record for apportionment purposes only.

New Freedom of Information Lawsuit filed by Reclaim the Records for New York Marriage Records

From an email message sent by Reclaim the Records:

Happy New Year from Reclaim The Records! We’re kicking off 2018 in style, by launching a new freedom of information lawsuit, our fourth one to date, against a government agency that is refusing to provide genealogical records to the public, in violation of state law.

We’re going after the 1996-2016 section of the New York City marriage license database, which is several million records. These aren’t actual marriage licenses or certificates, which have privacy protections, but it’s the text-searchable database index to all of them and to the basic data within. Under New York State law, basic marriage “log” or index data is supposed to be open to the public.

Do You Have Family Connections to Plymouth, Devon, England? If So, You Might be Able to Inherit an Unclaimed Estate

There are more than 40 estates that people in Plymouth could claim before they are permanently handed over to the Crown, latest figures reveal.

A list of thousands of unclaimed estates are available online – and you could make a claim to one of them if you’ve got the right surname. The details are on a Government spreadsheet that can be accessed by anyone. In Plymouth they include ‘widows’, ‘spinsters’, ‘bachelors’ and ‘unknown’. The list of surnames of unclaimed estates include people who were born or died in the city of Plymouth, or had some other family link to the area.

If someone dies without leaving a valid or effective will (intestate) the following are entitled to the estate in the order shown below:

Developer Mistakenly Grades, or Levels, a Century-Old Wake Forest, North Carolina, Cemetery

A Facebook video claiming a family cemetery that dates back more than a century in Wake Forest had been bulldozed triggered hundreds of angry comments, but officials are saying it is all a misunderstanding. Mungo Homes is building a new neighborhood in the area, but the developer says no graves were bulldozed. However, the site had been graded, or leveled, by mistake.

The North Carolina Office of State Archeology came out and determined that 2 to 4 inches of dirt had been scraped off, but the graves themselves were not disturbed. However, scraping the dirt off was itself a violation of state cemetery preservation laws.

Mungo Homes now faces a $24,000 fine from the town.

You can read more in an article, with a video, in the web site at:

Why Genealogists Can’t Get Birth Certificates in Jersey City, NJ

Due to illegal activities years ago by employees of the Hudson County Clerk’s office, Jersey City natives cannot obtain copies of their own birth certificates from that office. Genealogists also cannot obtain birth certificate copies for their ancestors or other relatives.

Details may be found in an article by Daniel Klein in the web site at:

Canada Parliament Enacts Law That Removes Restrictions on Access to Census After 92 Years

The following was first posted by Gail Dever on her blog, Genealogy à la carte, then forwarded by the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

The Canadian Parliament enacted legislation, C-36, amending the Statistics Act. It received Royal Assent on December 12, 2017, making it law.

Provisions that are of interest to genealogists include:

  • Transfer of census records to the Library and Archives Canada 92 years from when the census was taken.
  • This will apply to all censuses conducted from 2021 onwards
  • For censuses taken in 2006, 2011, and 2016 and for the 2011 National Household Survey, the government will honor the rules set at the time and records will be released where consent has been given.