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Open Records and Freedom of Information Act

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Jan Meisels Allen, IAJGS Vice President and Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee keeps MGC up-to-date on legislative developments. Here is a summary of her latest announcement.
State vital records laws that redact or restrict information can stymie genealogists.  A recent example is Virginia's law allowing only Virginia residents the right to access public records. According to the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) there are eight states that have or have had similar provisions: Arkansas, Georgia, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania,  Tennessee,  and Virginia.  See: http://tinyurl.com/99emf8o.
Several groups and individuals are taking this provision to the U.S. Supreme Court. One person from Rhode Island and another from California are challenging the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provision on access for only Virginia citizens. Two Federal appellate courts have each ruled differently, which is why it is being appealed to the Supreme Court. A decision by the Supreme Court whether it will hear the case has not yet been rendered. 
The NFOIC has on its website a listing of the State Freedom of Information Laws, at http://tinyurl.com/8elu8f5.
Some states no longer provide cause of death on death certificates--and this is tragic, as knowing our family medical history can save lives.  Keep an eye on the recent lawsuit in Indiana where an individual and a newspaper (the Evansville Courier Press) are suing the Vanderburgh County Health Department to obtain access to cause of death, stating that death records are public records, while the Health Department interprets the law to have cause of death restricted.  To read more go to: http://tinyurl.com/8dm3xz5.


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Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt is a Board-certified genealogist specializing in Massachusetts research. She has been taking clients for sixteen years and researches a variety of topics from Mayflower lineages to locating townlands of Irish immigrants. She is a case worker under contract to the US Army on repatriation cases, helping to locate family members of servicemen missing or killed in previous conflicts. She currently serves as a director at Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and editor of the FGS Voice Newsletter, and is past president of MGC. You can read her personal blog at http://pk-pollybog.blogspot.com.

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