Friday, December 09, 2005

One Town Clerk's War on Terror

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Sylvia Gould takes her job as town clerk of Hampden, Vermont, very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she has restricted public access to vital records even before new federal requirements go into effect.

"I think it's my responsibility as a town official and an American to keep birth certificates out of the hands of terrorists," Gould says. "The president has made it clear that we are the first line of defense."

Hampden birth, death, and marriage records are now kept in a lead-lined vault below the town office, guarded 24 hours a day by an armed sheriff's deputy.

Some genealogists are dismayed by the new obstacles Gould has placed in their paths. Researchers now have to produce three pieces of identification and undergo biometric scanning before being admitted to the vault, and even then are only allowed access to records on which their own name appears.

"It's a damn shame," says lifelong Hampden resident and amateur genealogist Herb Bollman. "She won't let me see my parents' marriage record without bringing one of them along. Of course, they both died ten years ago. Sylvia went to the funerals."

But not all Hampden residents are concerned.

Local plumber Ahmed Hamid needed a copy of his daughter's birth certificate for her application to preschool, and found Gould's policies reassuring.

"A little inconvenience is a small price to pay for our nation's security," says Hamid. "Sure, the body cavity search was uncomfortable, but Mrs. Gould does it to everyone, right?"

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