21 October 2011
nealogical community has been trying to improve access to vital records in . SB 865 which was introduced in the General Assembly earlier this year was referred to a legislative commission for further study. The Joint Commission on Health Care issued a report in September which proposes even worse restrictions on Vital Records access in Virginia . Virginia
nealogical societies have responded, but the members of the commission need to receive personal emails from many ge nealogists before 22 November 2011. Even If you are not a resident of but have ancestors who lived in Virginia , mention where your ancestors lived and why it is important for you and your extended family to have access to death records to determine your family's health history. Virginia
This is a serious threat to vital records access in
. The Virginia Ge Virginia nealogical Society has been actively involved and has provided the attached detailed summary about the status of the legislation and how you can help. The names and email addresses of the members of the commission are also included in this summary – reproduced below in its entirety.
WILL THERE BE IMPROVED – OR EVEN MORE RESTRICTED –ACCESS
’S VITAL RECORDS? VIRGINIA
nealogists, vital records - public registrations of births, marriages and
deaths - are critical building blocks in ge
nealogical research. Lineage societies typically require vital records certificates as proof of 20th century births, marriages and deaths. Apart from providing the proof necessary to establish a direct line, the vital records of an ancestor’s siblings may help trace a family’s movements and provide critical clues.
Access to vital records for ge
nealogists varies widely across the country; some jurisdictions make their vital records “open” records accessible to the public with no delays; others can have records “closed” to the public for as long as 125 years; and whether ge nealogists or remote family members can access any “closed” records also varies from state to state.
VDH unfortunately restricts access to its “closed” records to “immediate” family members, excluding grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc. VDH also refuses to turn over its vital records to the Library of Virginia (“LVA”), the Commonwealth’s archival agency, even after the “closed” period ends, or places restrictions on widespread release of the “open” records which VDH provides to LVA.
In the 2011 Virginia General Assembly (January-February 2011), Senator Harry Blevins of
introduced a bill (at the request of a local family history researcher) modestly designed to provide for public release of VDH vital records once the “closed” period ends. This bill, 2011 SB865, was not passed in the 2011 General Assembly, but was referred for study to a legislative commission, the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC). Chesapeake
The Virginia Ge
nealogy Society (“VGS”) became aware of the study in March, 2011 and offered comments urging i) that death certificates held by VDH should become open records immediately, since there were no legitimate privacy or identity theft reasons for keeping death certificates closed, and ii) that the definition of family members who could access “closed” vital records should be significantly liberalized.
VGS and LVA worked with JCHC staff in June and July to try to educate staff about ge
nealogists’ need for these records. This included supplying articles on the use of vital records, samples of records, copies of the U.S. Surgeon General’s materials emphasizing the importance of family medical histories, and supplying information from physicians about the importance of death certificates in compiling family medical histories. The staff were also told about the frustration of researchers in being unable to access family members’ records, and wondering why ’s 20th Century vital records are not being put online, as the vital records of many other states are. Virginia
VGS was therefore very disappointed when a JCHC staff study was released on September 19, providing eight options to legislators on the Commission which were confusing at best, and included potential new restrictions, not liberalization, on access, as options. Indeed, staff verbal comments suggested support for closing all records (including the open county and city marriage and death records) and lengthening the closed VDH period to 125 years for births and 75 years for marriages and deaths.
While the staff report suggests exploring an Ancestry-type indexing system of the VDH database to allow improved access, the staff made it clear that VDH, not LVA (which has the ge
nealogical experience) should do this, potentially taking vital records away from LVA.
The deadline for comments to the Commission was October 6, only seventeen days after release of the staff report. VGS attempted to spread the news about the report and the eight options it offered, and suggested positions for the ge
nealogical community, along with legislators’ addresses.
VGS filed its own comments with the Commission, pointing out omissions and inconsistencies in the staff report, and broadly urging vital records reform.
A large number of comments from ge
nealogists and societies were submitted to the Commission, and copies sent to individual legislators.
However, whether or not VGS members commented earlier to the Commission, there is still time to contact the individual legislators who are members of the Commission.
The Commission is scheduled to take up the issue of public records access at a November 22 meeting in
Even though the official comment period to the Commission has closed, individual legislators will still pay attention to your emails received before November 22.
Please take the time to send an email to the legislators who are on the Commission (at the email addresses below), emphasizing the need for reform of
’s vital records. Virginia
Messages to legislators should mention SB865, and ask legislators to support reform of
’s vital records, at the November 22 meeting namely: Virginia
1. Family members (liberally defined) should be granted liberal access to “closed” records.
2. Death certificates should become “open” public records immediately, not after 50 years (or longer). There are no legitimate identity theft or privacy reasons to keep death certificates “closed”.
3. Once vital records held by VDH are no longer “closed”, VDH should turn over these public records of LVA and make them available to researchers.
4. Please thank Senator Blevins for leading this important reform effort.
This study may be the only opportunity for
vital records reform in a generation; and there is a real risk that if enough ge Virginia nealogists or societies do not write Commission members and their own legislators, that the “closed” periods could actually be lengthened.
Please send your email to Commission members as follows:
Senators, General Area, Email address
Linda T. Puller, Fairfax, Prince William, firstname.lastname@example.org
George Barker, Fairfax, Prince William, email@example.com
Harry B. Blevins, Chesapeake/Portsmouth, firstname.lastname@example.org
Edd Houck, Fredericksburg/Orange, email@example.com
Louise Lucas, Portsmouth - Brunswick, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ralph Northam, M.D., Norfolk, Matthews, Eastern Shore, email@example.com
William Wampler, Bristol and Southwest, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patricia S. Ticer, Alexandria/Arlington/Fairfax, email@example.com
House of Delegates, General Area, Email address
Ben Cline, Amherst – Lexington, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Brink, Arlington, email@example.com
David Bulova, Fairfax, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosalyn Dance, Petersburg, email@example.com
Scott Garrett, M.D., Lynchburg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Algie Howell, Norfolk, email@example.com
Harvey Morgan, Gloucester, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Nutter, Radford/Roanoke, email@example.com
John O’Bannon, M.D. Henrico, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Peace, Hanover, email@example.com
In block form, these email addresses are:
firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
and write your own legislator if you live in
. If every VGS member were to email the members of the Commission in early to mid-November, the cumulative effect of this would be hard for the Commission to ignore. VGS will continue to work for improved access to vital records, and will report on this in future issues of the newsletter. Virginia
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