Legal Affairs

Florida Becomes First State to Enact DNA Privacy Law, Blocking Insurers From Genetic Data

Florida on Wednesday became the nation’s first state to enact a DNA privacy law, prohibiting life, disability and long-term care insurance companies from using genetic tests for coverage purposes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1189, sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. It extends federal prohibitions against health insurance providers accessing results from DNA tests, such as those offered by 23andMe or AncestryDNA, to the three other insurers.

Sprowls, the House speaker-designate, called the legislation a “major victory for Floridians” that “will make Florida the leader in the nation in protecting our residents and our citizens’ genetic information” when it was adopted by the House, 110-0, and the Senate, 35-3.

Yonkers, NY Birth and Death Records Go Online For First Time

Reclaim the Records claims another victory for genealogists! The following is from the Reclaim the Records announcement at: https://us11.campaign-archive.com/?u=5f700fdc65a51d3813e67dab2&id=c08aa3aa97:

HELLO, YONKERS!
RECLAIM THE RECORDS WINS OUR FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FIGHT FOR
19th + 20th CENTURY BIRTH AND DEATH RECORDS FROM YONKERS, NEW YORK

THEIR FIRST-EVER PUBLIC AVAILABILITY, NOW ONLINE AND FREE!

Hello again from Reclaim The Records! We hope everybody has been hunkered down safely and soundly for the last few months, maybe working on some genealogy from home with some of the records we’ve helped release online over the past few years. Well, we’re back to announce some great new records you might want to check out while you hunker in your bunker. And as always, these new records we’ve acquired and published are totally free.

After literally years of negotiating and haggling (although luckily stopping short of yet another lawsuit), we are pleased to announce the first-ever publication of tens of thousands of late nineteenth and early twentieth century births and deaths for Yonkers, New York. We’ve photographed the alphabetical indices, and for most years we were able to photograph the full birth and death registers, too!

And none of these record books had ever been available to the public to use or browse before, not even on microfilm at a library. And the people listed in these records were generally not in the statewide birth and death indices that we previously acquired and published for New York.

These photos are all new, and they’re gorgeous:

Click on the above image to view a much larger version.

Congress Members Express Concerns About Politicizing the U.S. 2020 Census

The following is a message sent by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

The 2020 US Census has already experienced a number of problems, including going to the US Supreme Court over a citizenship question, inadequate funding, and a delay in the contractor contracts. Now there is concern expressed in an article in the New York Times that two new top level positions were filled with outside the agency political appointments which is unprecedented –and that is what is raising concerns about making the census partisan.

Until now only the Director of the Census Bureau, its Congressional liaison and its spokesperson have been political appointees. “For decades, the agency’s directors and top managers have been career statisticians, economists and survey methodologists — sometimes eminent ones.”  The new appointees are:

Census Has New Method for Privacy but Researchers Want Proof

The Census Bureau claims to have improved its ability to provide accurate data without risking the privacy of its responses, but experts are concerned there isn’t time to test the method before the data is published. The tweaks to the new method are critical to an accurate population count, one that will affect legislative mapmaking and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funds.

“Unfortunately, the tabulation, documentation and quality control processes required for public releases of data products are enormously time and labor intensive,” Michael Hawes, the Census Bureau’s senior adviser for data access and policy, said in a statement. “With the 2020 Census now underway, we are unable to support the release of another full demonstration product.”

2 Sentenced to House Arrest in Long-Running Scheme to Steal Rare Books

I wrote about this crime when the accused were arrested. My earlier articles may be found at https://bit.ly/37NRKLT and https://bit.ly/30ZNUOD. Now the two men have been tried and sentenced. According to an article at https://bit.ly/2YisB99:

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

“A former archivist and a bookstore proprietor who had been accused of stealing about 300 uncommon books and different artifacts from Pittsburgh’s central library — objects that may price greater than $eight million to interchange — had been every sentenced Friday to a number of years of home arrest, prosecutors stated.

Bad News: SB 372 Passes Georgia’s Legislature

The following was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

On June 18, 2020, the Georgia House of Representatives passed SB 372 by a vote of 157 to 2. In March, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 52-0. Despite letters from the genealogical community to House Committee and leadership the Georgia Legislature seemed unwavering in their determination to enact a provision in their public health and modernization bill with the NAPHSIS advocated embargo periods. The bill changes the birth records embargo from 100 years to 125 years and death, marriage and divorce records from 75 years to 100 years.

Lagerfeld’s Fortune: Seven ‘Heirs’ Left in Limbo, an Accountant Who’s Gone Missing, a Suspicious Tax Tangle… And a Cat That May Get Millions

Oh, the life of the rich people. However, when they pass away, the legal problems of probating the will can be very complex.

According to an article by Alison Boshoff in The Daily Mail website:

Karl Lagerfeld in 2014

Karl Lagerfeld — the titan of Chanel and Fendi — loved nothing more than to create a sensation in life. And, following his death in February 2019, a final scandal has been brewing which once again is captivating the fashion world. At stake is the ‘Kaiser’s’ fortune which is said to stand at £178 million ($224 million US), but may in fact be closer to £400 million (more than $500 million US).

His heirs are now bickering among themselves over who Lagerfeld loved best, and who will therefore be getting the largest slice of the loot. Lagerfeld’s beloved cat, Choupette, may become a very rich kitty as well.

This article has it all: money, a Rolls-Royce, a house in Vermont, another in Biarritz, a £25 million ($31 million US) apartment at the top of a block in Monaco with 360-degree views, traveling only by a private jet, and sex. The article really belongs in a Hollywood gossip magazine but I suspect genealogists will enjoy reading about sorting out the heirs. After all, we are used to reading old (and usually simpler) wills. This one is different!

Use of Genealogy DNA in an Iowa Cold Case Conviction Was Unconstitutional, According to the Defense Attorney’s Claims

The state’s use of genetic testing to convict an Iowa man in a 40-year-old cold case was unconstitutional, according to a motion filed in Linn County court.

Jerry Lynn Burns, 66, was found guilty in February of first-degree murder in the 1979 stabbing death of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko in Cedar Rapids. While waiting to receive the mandatory life sentence that comes with a conviction on that charge, Burns’ attorney has asked the court to give the Manchester man a new trial.

“Those were issues that we raised earlier and we wanted to reurge them in hopes that the court reexamines them,” Leon Spies, Burns’ attorney, told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday.

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.