Privacy Laws affecting Research work

Unfortunately, we live in an age of identity theft and computer fraud. Fake identification for illegal aliens and criminals and other types of identity theft has caused tighter laws on information.

These shifting laws create great hardships for document repositories/archives in that they are having to pull books or microfilms or microfiche at times from the shelves that make this published information no longer available to researchers. This can vary from country to country and state to state and even within states.

Finding a proper balancing act will continue to be a problem. We urge caution in finding proper limits.

While their are many examples for and against here’s one to illustrate:

A family wishes to research their family history on the great-grandmother’s ancestry. Their great-grandmother is deceased and died in 1904. She died just after child birth. Most civil records published in Wyoming began recordings in 1906. The father in addition to the loss of his wife and newborn child had several other small children to care for. A major work accident crippled him resulting in his being committed to hospital and insane asylum. The youngest daughter was adopted. This adopted daughter is now deceased. All of the other children are deceased as well as the great-grandfather and have nothing in their records to help.

The adoption was thought to possibly have more information. Wyoming State law requires that only grandparents, parents or guardian of the child can get the records. Hoping the records would tell more about the mother the court was petitioned as none of those are living. The Court said that although we were not direct descendants of the adopted daughter we could have the state supplied confidential intermediary review the records for information on the mother or other helpful information since our clients were direct descendants of the mother. Again they said they would grant for the records to be searched then said they would have a confidential intermediary contact us. Without notice they quickly changed their mind and correspondence revealed the change of heart. The Judge rather than helping the family did not want to set a precedent and said since the law is still on the books that the state legislature would have to be petitioned to change the law. The question should be who is harmed by providing the information if any. Other examples can go the other way. We don’t think their is an easy catch all solution but closing off all information is also not an answer. And tying things up in legal fees, courts, and legislatures is also not the answer, but something needs to be done.

Laws are changed every day. We hope you’ll talk to your legislatures, be aware of the laws, actively petition for law changes that make sense and protect opportunities for research that allow families to learn their heritage.

[2011 Update – Nothing has changed on Wyoming law. Numerous old laws still remain on the books that should be struck down due to outdated, discriminatory and more. Many States continue to reduce access to records. More needs to be done.]

Something to consider. For us and for them, for generations. James.

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