Records access issues need our voices

Records access is the single most important issue to the genealogical community.

The Legal Genealogist submits that it’s really pretty simple: no records, no genealogy.

So whenever there’s a chance to speak out on records access, we need to do so. And right now, we can speak out in favor of a proposal in Virginia and against one in Massachusetts.

The Virginia issue: Say Yes to House Bill 306

House Bill 306 is being fast-tracked and will come up for a vote in the Virginia Senate as early as next week. It proposes raising the county clerk’s recording fee from $1.50 to $3.50 –and the money will help support the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program.

As explained by Mary Vidlak, President of the Virginia Genealogical Society:

“Deed recordation fees support the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program. This program conserves and preserves the records in circuit courts throughout the commonwealth. The current fee of $1.50 is insufficient to conserve circuit court records and reformat them at the Library of Virginia.

These records are vital for the work we do in researching our Virginia families.

The bill may have an uncomfortably narrow margin in the full Senate. All members of the Senate need to hear from as many of us as possible urging support of this bill.”1

Those who live in Virginia can contact their own state senator; those of us who live elsewhere can choose a senator from a district that includes our ancestors’ homes. In either case, we can get names and contact info at the Virginia General Assembly website.

Action on this issue is urgent: the bill could be voted on early next week. Let’s raise our voices at support records access in Virginia.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts… say NO to closing records

The movement is growing to oppose the proposal by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in his 2020 budget to end more than 300 years worth of open records policies in that state, and close vital records for decades after the events recorded.2

Yesterday, Ryan J. Woods, CEO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), issued a statement strongly opposing the proposed closure of birth and marriage records for 90 years from the date of birth or date or marriage, and death records for 50 years from date of death. Woods said the closures would unreasonably “limit public access to primary sources of information that are used each day by our organization and others to teach families about their own history and to add to the collective historical knowledge of our Commonwealth and the diverse groups of people who now call it home.”3

Noting that FBI crime statistics show that record closure periods have no relationship to whether consumer identity theft takes place, Woods added that “(r)estricting access to vital records that are already in the public domain and have been for centuries is not an effective way” to protect the public’s interests.4

We can add our voices to those of Woods and others by email (Rep. Michlewitz’s email address is Aaron.M.Michlewitz(at) mahouse.gov) or by regular mail (addressing comments to the committee chairman at the State House, 24 Beacon St., Room 243, Boston, MA, 02133).

It’s really pretty simple: no records, no genealogy.

Speak out and ask Virginia to say yes to H.B. 306.

And ask Massachusetts to say no to closing vital records.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Yes in Virginia, No in Massachusetts,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 14 Feb 2020).

SOURCES

  1. Email, Virginia Genealogical Society to VGS members, 14 Feb 2020.
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Open since 1641…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 31 Jan 2020 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 14 Feb 2020).
  3. Ryan J. Woods, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, NEHGS, to Aaron Michlewitz, Chairman of the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means, 13 February 2020; copy provided to JG Russell by email.
  4. Ibid.
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