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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What Part of 'Vital Records' Don't You Understand?

In the interest of national security, South Dakota has taken the bold step of preventing people from knowing when their grandparents got married. They took this step to satisfy requirements of a federal law that hasn't yet gone into effect, and that makes no mention of marriage records.

"There will be nothing involved with marriages," Charlie Rothwell, director of the federal Division of Vital Statistics, said of federal law changes. "For the most part, this will be involved with birth certificates."
The state's new vital records law, passed last year, "makes no specific mention of indexes," which is why the state registar banned access to indexes. The law also makes no specific mention of bathrooms at the South Dakota State Archives, but it's unclear whether registrar Kathlene Mueller wants to ban access to those as well.

Health Department officials have decided to allow only card-carrying members of the state's newspaper association and the South Dakota Genealogical Society to get non-certified informational copies of vital records. But journalists are turning up their noses at the notion of backdoor access, for the reason set forth by Cindy Eikamp—editor of the Aberdeen American News and unrepentant genealogist.
Eikamp, an amateur genealogist and at one time a member of the state society, said she would not rejoin just to get records.

"We're part of the public," she said. "And if the general public does not have access to something, I don't think the press should work special deals to have access." [Link]

Dave

In some places, public access to original records absolutely needs to be shut down. Decades of poor management and/or neglect have left some records looking more like confetti. I know it can be exciting to find family records, but you shouldn't be able to grab a handful of paper fragments and dust, throw them in the air and celebrate.

And don't underestimate the greed factor. I can't imagine how records closed to the public, but available for an upfront fee (regardless of whether the record actually exists or not), are not profitable for local and state offices.

Locally, I'm worried that Missouri may have jumped the gun with their plans to index and scan death certificates over 50 years old going back to 1910 and put them online. The first phase of that project, which I volunteered for, was supposed to go online last summer/fall. The longer this gets dragged out, the more I fear there will be a policy shift and we won't see what could be the best local resource. All I need is for that database to go online for a couple of weeks... :)

Chris

You make an interesting point about limiting physical access to records. Even state archives sometimes fail to require the white-glove treatment when patrons handle old documents. It's always a thrill to hold the original, but I'm generally content with just a well-shot reel of microfilm.

As my mother once said to an overeager grandchild, "Touch with your eyes, not with your hands."

Anonymous

Actually South Dakota closed the vital records 1 Jul 2005. There was supposed to be a $5 membership card from the SD Genealogical Society to allow "members" access to the indexes. How to get the card is a well-kept secret except for a mention on the SD Department of Health Genealogy page. Oh, but it was ok for the SD Department of Health to sell the marriage and death indexes to ancestry.com. Between the vital records and abortion issues...anyone offer asylum to SD residents who flee the state?

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