Legal Affairs

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:

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.


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. 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 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:


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. 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.

NGS States Concerns About HB 2 Impact on Their 2017 Raleigh Conference

The national news media has been full of stories in recent weeks about North Carolina’s controversial new law, called HB 2. In short, the law allows and even encourages discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals. 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

Many people, myself included, are boycotting North Carolina businesses until the law can be repealed and full civil rights are restored to all citizens.

The National Genealogical Society got caught in a quandary. The Society had already committed to holding its 2017 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina before the law was enacted. Canceling the plans at this time would mean the violation of contractual commitments, probably resulting in thousands of dollars in financial penalties. Another problem is that finding and planning a new venue is difficult to impossible with only twelve months’ notice.

This left the senior management of the National Genealogical Society with a dilemma: how to hold a conference that will “ensure Raleigh is a safe and welcoming location for all of our 2017 conference attendees.” Now the NGS managers have published a statement, available at

NGS States Concerns About HB 2 Impact on Their 2017 Raleigh Conference Loses a Trademark Case Against DNA Diagnostics Center for the Marketing of “AncestryByDNA”

Last year, filed a trademark infringement law suit against DNA Diagnostics Center, Inc. (“DDC”) in the Ohio Southern District Court in Cincinnati. The lawsuit alleged that DDC’s use of the “AncestrybyDNA” brand and trademark was an infringement of’s trademark of “AncestryDNA” and was causing confusion amongst consumers. Some people were purchasing DNA services from DDC without realizing they were not dealing with

It appears that has lost the case.

DNA Diagnostics Center, Inc. (“DDC”) has issued a press release stating:

Michigan Defines Who Owns Digital Assets After Death

Facebook posts, email messages, pictures, eBooks and digital music of people who died could be accessed by a person designated in a will under legislation that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed.

The new law specifically states that all digital assets are bequeathed from one person to the next. It also allows digital information, including social media and website accounts, to be treated like other assets after the owner dies.

The full text of Bill Number 5034 may be found at

Does Your Cousin’s DNA Make You a Suspect?

Estimated-Number-of-Genealogists-English-Speaking-CountriesAn article by Gavin Phillips in the MakeUseOf web site caught my eye for several reasons. The primary thrust of the article shows how the growth of alternate private genealogy databases has understandably piqued the interest of law enforcement agencies. Investigators now often use a technique known as familial searching, a technique that seeks to identify a potential suspect’s surname through DNA analysis focusing on the Y-chromosome. As a result, individuals lose their right of defense against self-incrimination simply because a male relative’s DNA information held by private businesses is easily available to law enforcement officials on a “fishing expedition.”

Privacy advocates have long warned against the creation of giant, centralized genetic databases.

Several other items are mentioned in the same article:

Newspaper Archive Inc. pays $100,000 for Deceptive Online Practices

NA_LogoStackedIn the June 24, 2014 newsletter, I published an article entitled Heritage Microfilm and Under State Review After Complaints. The article is still available at Newspaper Archive Inc. provides online access to digitized newspapers from across the country. The company’s customers are mostly genealogists, historians, and others interested in retrieving old newspaper articles. The article stated:

“Heritage Microfilm and, 855 Wright Brothers Blvd., Suite 2A, [Cedar Rapids, Iowa] are accused in dozens of complaints filed with the state and the Better Business Bureau of not allowing subscribers to cancel services, refusing to grant refunds and failing to answer calls or emails.”

It took a while but the case has now been settled.

Ancestry Releases Transparency Report, Updated Privacy Statement and Guide for Law Enforcement

Ancestry has released the first Ancestry Transparency Report, which covers law enforcement requests to Ancestry sites for member data in 2015. Yes, the law enforcement folks are spying on you and on other genealogists.

The announcement in the Ancestry Blog states, in part: “As we continue to make our members’ privacy a priority, our intent in issuing this report is to help explain to our members and the public the types of law enforcement requests Ancestry and its family of companies received, how we responded, and the nature of the investigations that sparked those requests. With each request, we continue to represent the rights of our members and always advocate strongly for their privacy.”

You can read the full article in the Ancestry Blog at