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West Virginia pulls records offline

The fracas over identity theft by misuse of Social Security numbers has claimed another victim.

WVaIt used to be that all microfilmed death records in West Virginia, whether originating from state or county records, were available for searching online at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History website.

State death certificates are on microfilm 50 years after the death, so records through 1962 are online today.

Some counties, however, had death records that were just a little newer — not much, mind you, but just a few years. The most recent death records were those from 1971 — more than 40 years ago.

Those most recent records are not online any more.

Why?

Go to the West Virginia Division of Culture and History death records search page today and, for the first time, you’ll see this message in bold type with a heading in red type:

Attention:
Due to concerns about county death records which are less than 50 years old having social security numbers available for viewing online, we have blocked searching for all death records less than 50 years old. The 1963 deaths will become available on January 1, 2014.1

The August 2013 issue of the newsletter West Virginia Archives and History News tells the story:

West Virginia Archives and History’s free, searchable online database, West Virginia Vital Research Records (WVVRR), includes West Virginia county marriage records from the inception of each county up through the last year of records microfilmed in each county. County birth records are online from the beginning of recordkeeping in 1853 up through 1912, since they are held back 100 years for placement online. State death certificates have always been withheld fifty years before going online and are currently available from their inception in 1917 up through 1962. The following notice is now posted on the Death records search page: “Due to concerns about county death records which are less than 50 years old having social security numbers available for viewing online, we have blocked searching for all death records less than 50 years old. The 1963 deaths will become available on January 1, 2014.”

West Virginia county death records, until recently made available from 1853 through the last year microfilmed in each county (ranging from 1967 to 1971) online, now are available only after reaching the fifty year mark, due to concerns about Social Security numbers appearing in these records online. Currently county and state death records through 1962 are accessible. 1963 county death records and state death certificates will be made publicly available online January 1, 2014. Subsequent years of birth and death records will go online each January.

The Quick Guide to Death Records, available as a PDF on our Web site and as an Archives Library handout sheet has been updated, as has the Guide to West Virginia Vital Research Records article online. Both are available through links on the State Archives Web page (http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvsamenu.html) and the WVVRR Web page (http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_select.aspx).2

The idea that the simple presence of a 40-year-old social security number on the death record of an individual gone for more than 40 years is enough to warrant reducing public access to records by yanking them offline leaves The Legal Genealogist practically speechless.

Just what exactly do we think we’re protecting ourselves from with this sort of reaction, and why isn’t it better for all to know that this particular Social-Security-number-and-name combination belongs to someone no longer with us?

It boggles the mind.


SOURCES

  1. Search Death Records,” West Virginia Division of Culture and History (http://www.wvculture.org/ : accessed 8 Aug 2013).
  2. West Virginia Archives and History News, Vol. 14 (August 2013): 4, 6; West Virginia Division of Culture and History (http://www.wvculture.org/ : accessed 8 Aug 2013).
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