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Letter to Chairman Charles Murphy
April 10, 2010
Rep. Charles Murphy
Chair, House Ways and Means Committee
Room 243, State House
Boston, MA 02133
Dear Mr. Chairman,
It was great to meet you in Methuen last week. I know that we both hope that committed and hardworking representatives like Methuen's Linda Dean Campbell will be successful at weathering anti-Washington sentiments. At that time, I promised to send you the White Paper developed by Massachusetts genealogists discussing vital records issues and concerns. I have enclosed that paper here. It is also available from our website as a download from the homepage.
The Massachusetts Genealogical Council is a consortium of genealogy and historical societies and libraries in Massachusetts. We have 22 member societies. Since 1980 we have had the responsibility - on behalf of Massachusetts genealogists - of monitoring government activities that might impact genealogists. In advocating for genealogists we have come to understand the concerns of many of the groups looking at vital records access.
One of the most confusing parts of this issue relates to federal legislation requiring records computerization and security papers. That legislation cannot be implemented until the federal regulations are in place. They are stalled. With the change from the Bush to the Obama administration in Washington, the path forward is not clear. Massachusetts complied with the driver's license requirements some time ago - the only part of that federal law for which regulations have been adopted.
M.G.L. Chapter 17 Section 4 already answers the issues the town clerks are trying to address in H2064. First, it mandates that the Registrar of Vital Statistics determines what paper will be used by town clerks and his own office. Want security paper? The registrar can just say so. Second, Chapter 17 Section 4 created a Special Committee on Vital Statistics that includes town clerks and genealogists. That committee weighs in on regulations. Want to define the computerized database elements? Just submit the database design to the committee for approval.
Third, the registrar already has the ability to involve investigators in suspected cases of fraud. H2064 also gives the registrar the ability to close the records based on suspicion. This leads to the ridiculous situation in which a person can go around showing a forged birth record but no one else can refute that record because the registrar has closed the original and correct record.
In every other case in the General Laws in which a vital record is closed, the public has recourse to the probate court to request that the record be opened. That recourse is omitted in H2064. This is serious because forged and fraudulent records are a persistent problem in probate court cases regarding paternity or inheritance. For these reasons the trier of fact in matters of vital records should continue to be the probate judge.
We would be happy to discuss vital records legislation with you, your staff, and with town clerks.
Barbara J. Mathews, CG