Legal Affairs

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.

More on USCIS Proposes Fee Increases for Genealogy Records

The following announcement was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee, and originally was posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert message list. It is also republished here withJan’s permission:

On November 15, I posted to this forum [see https://blog.eogn.com/2019/11/15/uscis-proposes-fee-increases-for-genealogy-records/] about the proposed fee increase by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for genealogical files. USCIS proposes a raise in its two Genealogy Program fees from $65 to $240 and $385 and possibly more if you require paper copies. These are a 269 percent and 492 percent change respectively (if I did my math correctly). While I wrote only about the genealogy fee increase in the 92 page proposed rule there are other immigration fees being increased.

A coalition of genealogists, historians and records access advocates have created a portal about this with suggestions. Please see: https://www.recordsnotrevenue.com/

This is an uphill battle and only with thousands of comments submitted will we have a chance to change these proposed fees.

Have You Claimed the Most Valuable Asset your Ancestors Passed Down to You?

Simon Black writes the SovereignMan blog. He is a political and financial conservative and writes about all sorts of topics. I read most of his articles and find that I agree with some of his articles and strongly disagree with some others. However, this week he wrote an article that may interest many people with immigrant ancestors who arrived in the U.S. within the past 2 or 3 generations. I don’t consider this particular article to be either conservative or liberal. Instead, it simply describes the facts.

In Have you claimed the most valuable asset your ancestors passed down to you?, Simon Black writes about the legitimate ways of obtaining a second passport. Having a second passport will allow you to travel or even live in the country that issued the passport. This can greatly expand your options to live and even be employed in another country. These passports are not available from all countries but several countries do offer “citizenship by descent and means that you could be eligible to get a second passport at almost no cost if you have parents, grandparents, or in some cases even great grandparents who came from a number of countries which offer citizenship to the descendants of their citizens.”

With most second passports, you do not need to give up your American passport or citizenship. Having a second passport simply provides you with more options. Many people already possess dual passports.

Simon Black writes:

USCIS Proposes Fee Increases for Genealogy Records

The following message was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies,  (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced through the Federal Register that they intend to increase the request fees charged by them, including for genealogy services.  Currently, the G-1041 Index Search Request is $65 and form G-1041A Genealogy Records Request is $65. The USCIS proposes to raise the fees to $240 and $385 respectively.  These are a 269 percent and 492 percent change respectively (if I did my math correctly).  They are based on the projected costs and volumes of the genealogy program. The search fee is non-refundable if nothing is found in their search. The projected costs include a portion of Lockbox costs and an estimated staffing requirement for genealogy workload.

23andMe’s Stance on Protecting Customers’ Data

The following is from an article by Kathy Hibbs, 23andMe’s Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer, as published in the company’s blog:

“A Florida judge recently issued a warrant granting law enforcement access to search the database of GEDmatch, a small publicly accessible DNA and genealogy research site. Allowing law enforcement access to GEDmatch’s nearly one million users should trouble anyone who values people’s right to privacy.

“It certainly troubles us here at 23andMe.

“Perhaps just as disturbing is GEDmatch’s apparent lack of scrutiny and challenge of the validity of the warrant issued.

Warrant Issued Permitting Police Full Access to GEDmatch Database

I bet this issue gets debated in the courts before long!

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

Accessing public DNA databases to find a potential familial match for a criminal act such as murder or rape started in April 2018 when California police used GEDmatch to identify someone whom they believe is the Golden State Killer. Since then there have been many law enforcement agencies that applied the same method to their own cases. Private DNA testing firms such as 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc. have pledged to keep their client’s genetic information private, and GEDmatch, a public site restricted police access earlier this year, by requiring the use to opt-in for law enforcement access to their genetic information.

Last week a detective in Florida announced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference convention that he was successful to “penetrate” GEDmatch and search its full database of almost one million users. It appears to be the first time a judge approved such a warrant. With a court overruling the company’s policy may be a game changer for those who upload their genetic information to such a site. Remember, when you are sharing your genetic information, that encompasses not only your own personal information, but those family members who share your DNA. It is anticipated that a similar approach will be used to see if law enforcement may access the larger private genetic databases.

So Why Lock Up the Birth Records?

It seems that every week we hear of one more situations in which some politician or bureaucrat is trying to restrict access to public domain vital records. Everybody is trying to lock out everyone, including genealogists. Our right to access to public domain birth, marriage, and death information is being threatened constantly under the guise of “preventing identity theft.”

Balderdash!

(That’s as strong a word as I will use in this family-oriented publication.)

I am sure that the politicians love the limelight back home when they can brag that they have taken action to “prevent identity theft.” Heck, nobody is in favor of identity theft, right? Therefore, just proclaiming to have taken some token action under the smoke screen of “preventing identity theft” is sure to win a few more votes in the next election.

“Facts? What facts? Don’t bother me with facts, I’ve got a re-election campaign to win.”

Have Polish Ancestry? You may be Able to Obtain Polish (and European Union) Citizenship

Thanks to Poland’s liberal citizenship laws, thousands of people of Polish descent born in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Israel, South Africa and many other countries hold dual nationality and an EU passport. There are many advantages of having Polish citizenship now that Poland is a part of the European Union. With Polish citizenship, doors to living, studying and working in Europe are open.

A past article in the Australian Times states:

Your Comments are Requested Concerning an Interim Policy Concerning Forensic Genetic Genealogical DNA Analysis and Searching

The following is an IAJGS Public Records Access Alert:

I would encourage those who are interested in forensic genetic genealogy and law enforcement access to submit comments to forensicgenealogy@fbi.gov before November 1, when their interim policy becomes effective.

To read the interim policy go to:

U.S. Department of Justice, Interim Policy on Forensic Genetic Genealogical DNA Analysis and Searching (2019); https://www.justice.gov/olp/page/file/1204386/download

How can I Be Sure My ‘Re-print’ and ‘Use’ of Information in Newspaper Articles and Genealogy Books is ‘LEGAL?’

If you are planning on publishing information that was at least partially obtained from other publications, you need to read an article by Judy G. Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist, in her blog at: https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2019/10/10/the-history-in-the-news/.

It explains copyright issues in plain English. I saved the article in Evernote. You also could save it in OneNote or in any other application where it will be saved and easily findable in the future should you ever have questions about the copyrights involved with republishing.

The Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Sexual Assault Kit Task Force Pilot Program to Perform Genealogical Database Searches to Identify Rapists

Cuyahoga County will use a new federal grant to hire a private lab to conduct genealogical searches in hopes of identifying up to 10 “John Doe” rape suspects. Since 2013, the prosecutor’s office has secured 146 “John Doe” indictments based on DNA profiles found in rape kits that did not result in a hit or match identifying a suspect.

The genealogical pilot project will be paid for with a federal grant, which is one of two that total $3 million. The grants were awarded to the prosecutor’s office, which leads the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, by the U.S. Department of Justice. The grants also will allow the task force to complete more than 1,200 sexual assault investigations that remain open, including paying for training, victim advocacy, research and travel expenses.

You can read more in an article by Rachel Dissell in The Plain Dealer web site at: https://tinyurl.com/eogn191002.

The Messy Consequences of DNA and the Golden State Killer Case

From an article by Sarah Zhang in the highly-respected The Atlantic web site:

“Tools meant to reunite families are now being used essentially to get families to put their members in jail.”

While few of us anticipated the intersection of genealogical DNA databases and police cases, many of us were intrigued when the combined efforts of law enforcement and a genealogist resulted in the identification of the suspected Golden State Killer last year. Now that precedent has opened the field to other cases, questions arise surrounding the ethical and legal aspects of these unforeseen applications.

Here are a few other quotes from the same article:

“Police officers were uploading crime-scene DNA to genealogical databases without any formal oversight, and prominent genealogists disagreed bitterly on how far they should be let in. The debate became so toxic that genealogy groups on Facebook banned any discussion of law enforcement. Decades-old accusations—unrelated to genealogy—were dragged up to discredit vocal members. People were blocked. Friendships ended. At a genealogy conference in June, the different sides ignored each other from opposite ends of the bar.”

U.S. Justice Department Sets Rules for Using Genealogy Sites to Solve Crimes

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has released new rules governing when police can use genetic genealogy to track down suspects in serious crimes—the first-ever policy covering how these databases, popular among amateur genealogists, should be used in law enforcement attempts to balance public safety and privacy concerns.

The policy generally limits law enforcement to considering genealogy sites when a candidate sample belongs to a possible culprit, or when a likely homicide victim is unidentified. Prosecutors can greenlight the use of these sites for violent crimes beyond murder and sexual assault, but only when the circumstances create a “substantial and ongoing threat” to the public. Agencies can’t use the sites unless a sample has first been uploaded to the FBI’s DNA profile database and hasn’t produced a match. Also, the investigators in the relevant jurisdiction need to have followed “reasonable investigative leads,” and case info need to be entered into national databases for missing people and violent criminals.

Utah Adds More Privacy to Family Information Submitted to Online Genealogy and DNA Web Sites

Utah is now a safe haven for digital privacy and a model for the rest of the country to emulate. In March, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law a first of its kind privacy bill, HB 57, which prevents law enforcement officials from obtaining user data from third-party providers such as genealogy sites, Google, or Facebook just by asking.

The new law says anyone who sends personal electronic information through a remote computing service — like the “cloud” — has a reasonable expectation of privacy. In order to access that data, the government must obtain a warrant.