My Two Cents – Genealogy and Privacy Restrictions

I just received an email from a “new” cousin after another cousin directed her to my web site. She was not yet in my database; only her father, with the latest information from the 1930 census.

It got me thinking — again — about genealogy and privacy restrictions on records.

Why are there such ridiculous restrictions on records?! Because people are scared of identity theft even more than privacy, I suspect. From any article I’ve ever read, not one single case of identity theft has ever been traced to a genealogy web site. I guess for some, it’s privacy, but seriously, 90 years of privacy?

Really, if someone died in 1974, why do I have to wait 50 years to order his death certificate? He’s dead. He doesn’t need the privacy anymore. And it’s not like I’m going to try to pass myself off as a man born in 1919 in Odessa.

Hungary has apparently just instigated a new restriction for all vital records newer than 90 years. It goes into effect in 2012 (but the Family History Library is already restricting the films and won’t order them from the vault).

Maybe all these archives should cater more to genealogists. Why is it that at every county clerk or health department, I have to order certified copies for $30? Genealogists are perfectly happy with cheap photocopies. We want the data, not the fancy paper and the raised relief of the state seal.

I remember when SS-5s went from $7 to $27. Right before the deadline of the price change, I ordered at least a dozen SS-5s, probably more. I ordered for anyone I could think of at the time whose I didn’t already have; related to me or married into the family, it didn’t matter. Why can I order a document created during a person’s lifetime (with more accurate information of their birth and parents) but not their death certificate? Of course, this isn’t the best example because we can still order them, they just cost more now.

So let’s take Los Angeles, for a better example. The last time I went to the County Court, instead of stopping at the main desk and shelling out money for certified copies, I went down to the basement where they let me see cheap photocopies of up to five records. I was not allowed to keep these copies (although I once brought my scanner). So they’re willing to make me these viewable copies for FREE, but they’re not willing to sell them to me for $5? They’ve already used the paper and the ink to print them, taken up an employee’s time, but they insist I give them back. It’s not like I can take a cheap photocopy and use it to steal someone’s identity. And if I could use the data without a certified copy, they’ve just let me see it for free anyway, so I have all the information on it.

So seriously, when will these places come to their senses? Ever? Probably not. I still have to wait 50 years for a copy of a death certificate so that when I finally get it to try to track down the informant, they’ll probably be dead already too and I may never find a living cousin in that family. Instead, I have to rely on my distant cousins (especially with the common surnames) to search for their family tree online, to know far back enough to overlap my information, to find my web site, and to fill me in on the last 50, 70, or 100 years of our mutual family history.

One thought on “My Two Cents – Genealogy and Privacy Restrictions”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. It’s frustrating having to jump through hoops or pay through the nose just to get a little information on my family. When my daughter started school, they refused to take my mother’s copy of her birth certificate. I had to pay $10 to get a certified copy of my own child’s birth certificate just so she could attend school. I don’t understand it.

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