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Who Needs Access to Public Records?
Records created by the federal and state governments are public documents. These records are created in accordance with the law, and are maintained and stored over time in order to give us access to our history. The need to access these records goes well beyond compiling family histories and is affects people in many industries.
Forensic genealogy is genealogical research, analysis, and report writing that requires attention to legal and sometimes scientific implications. Forensic genealogists are often called upon to testify in court. Because they work with 20th and 21st century data their needs are often curtailed by overly restrictive public access regulations. The work of forensic genealogist spans a broad spectrum, and includes researching unknown or missing heirs for probate, military repatriation, dual citizenship, immigration, oil and gas/mineral rights, adoptions, and guardianships, just to name a few!
Congress sent a mandate to the US military in 2009 to redouble their efforts at finding and recovering the remains of servicemen missing or killed in previous wars. In order to do this, they hire accredited genealogists who must locate present day family members of these fallen patriots for two reasons. First, they need to identify the actual remains, using both genealogy and DNA technology. The remains are handed over to the soldier's legal next of kin for burial, and to provide closure to the family. The use of Social Security Death Index and all vital records is critical in locating these family members.
Family Health Histories Save Lives
The Surgeon General of the United States has an initiative to encourage everyone to create a family health history. We have helped that along by giving you this form to fill out. You can fill it out online, then when you have finished, save it to your computer and you can then print it out and take it along to your doctor's appointments.
Not everyone knows exactly how their family members died. Family stories will say someone died of old age or of heartbreak. A death certificate will give you the detailed information you need, including age at death. When physicians look at inherited diseases, the age at onset is critical.
For this reason, every American needs acccess to vital records. We all have a right to know what diseases we may have inherited. Closure of vital records kills that opportunity. Literally.
MGC's Family Health Pedigree to fill out online and save.
A person dies. No one knows how to reach the family. The coroner’s investigators have exhausted their resources. A remarkable group of researchers called Unclaimed Persons uses their genealogical and investigative skills to locate the next of kin.
Unclaimed Persons has been working for five years and found kin for countless deceased individuals and closure for their families. They have a Facebook page for all the people who support their work.
If you would like to also volunteer to help work cases, you can register for a membership on the Unclaimed Persons forums.
It's not just genealogists and historical researchers who want to view these records. Journalists need access to government records in order to main transparency in government. The Freedom of Information Act is a start, but when records are closed off to the public it's an invitation for political hijinks! "Open government is good government" is the cry of the Sunshine Week people. Launched in 2005, Sunshine Week has grown into an enduring annual initiative to promote open government and push back against excessive official secrecy. They have an annual "Sunshine Week" conference to illuminate the problems and enable citizens to fight for the right to access public records. They appeal to journalists, civic groups, educators, elected officials, and private citizens to become involved in this cause.
Freedom of Information Act Requests