Category Archives: Genealogy Rights

Your Rights

How Much Privacy Have We Lost?

The Hartford Courant has an article from The Chicago Tribune, How Much Privacy Have We Lost? (which I couldn’t find on the Tribune’s site), by Eric Benderoff and Jon Van, about just how much privacy we have lost in this day and age. It’s a two-page article and worth a read – even as we are happy the internet can help companies provide incredible amounts of genealogy information, they are also providing incredible amounts of personal information about living individuals.

Excerpt from the article:

Indeed, people now should assume that an extraordinary amount of personal information is readily accessible to casual acquaintances or strangers, be it the price paid for a house or the details of a nasty divorce.

A quick Google search can reveal where someone went to high school, an old resume or a casual – even catty – reference on someone’s Web log. Dig deeper, and court records and other official documents can reveal who was arrested for driving under the influence.

As courts and other agencies digitize this information, entrepreneurs have figured out how to tap into this broad database that records the private lives of everyday Americans. And in places where officials have not yet put the information online, companies have sent out workers to manually scan the documents, said Jim Dempsey, policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Websites such as,, Reverse, and even genealogy sites, such as, make this information accessible for a fee.

New Jersey Awards Counties/Municipalities Millions for Records Preservation

With all of the talk lately of states trying to close off public access to many records, we have this glimmer of good news – The Associated Press/Newsday are reporting that New Jersey has designated millions of dollars for the preservation of public records and archives. All 21 counties and 40 municipalities are set to receive the money, which can be used for everything from new employees designated for the preservation, new equipment, duplication services, and training.

New Jersey’s Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells told the Star-Ledger of Newark that it will allow them to “..adopt 21st-century technologies to drive down the cost of government records’ creation, maintenance and storage, while expanding public access..”

Good news if you are a genealogist in New Jersey or are doing genealogy research concerning New Jersey. It’d be nice to think that other states might see the benefits (among other things, they mentioned the savings it will generate to work on perserving these records now), and might even think about pulling back from trying to close off public access to public records.

Canadians, Become Part of History Through Census

Kate Trotter has an article in the Quesnel Cariboo Observer, Become part of history through census, that discusses the ongoing debate in Canada over allowing people to hold back their 2006 Census information from future generations. To be more precise, Canadians can opt out of having their census information released in 2098 (the normal 92 year cycle), and genealogists are working to insure that they realize the impact this would have.

Just say yes, and you can become part of history.

That’s the message Gordon Watts and other genealogists want to get out before May 16, Census Day.
If each person’s “yes” box is marked, the information in the census can be released in 92 years.
“If they say ‘no’ or neglect to answer the question, their response will be considered to be no. Then, for all intents and purposes, when the 2006 census records are released in 2098, those people will have ceased to exist,” Watts said.

Up to this year, information gathered by census-takers was released after 92 years. But as of this census, the information will be sealed from public view unless permission is given this year, and for each successive census.

Panel Vows to Fight For Access to Records (The AP Gets It)

An article from Elizabeth M. Gillespie, for the Associated Press, Panel vows to fight for access to records, gets into an issue that is going to be cropping up a lot more as time goes by, access to public records. The article is about the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee, and their fight to keep access open.

She mentions something very interesting (at least coming from a genealogist’ perspective), about how organizations like this, as well as the AP itself, could team up with genealogists. Excerpt from the article:

Newspapers need to find more allies in their fight to get access to public records, since government agencies keep coming up with more ways to keep them secret, a panel of news executives said Thursday.

Decisions to classify government documents rose to roughly 15 million in 2004, the most recent year available, up from about 8 million in 2001, said Andrew Alexander, Cox Newspapers’ bureau chief in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee.

At the same time, the government has been denying a growing number of public records requests.

“The Freedom of Information Act seems to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis,” Alexander said.

He suggested the battle could become less daunting if newspapers can forge stronger ties with non-journalist groups that value open access to public records and meetings.

Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press, suggested partnering with genealogy experts, who rely heavily on public records laws to mine historical data.

“We don’t talk to that group of people very well, and they could be very powerful allies,” said Carroll, one of four executives who spoke on a freedom-of-information panel at the ASNE annual meeting.

Last month, Carroll noted, the AP found in a 50-state survey that 616 new laws restricting access to government records, databases, meetings and other public information had been passed since Sept. 11, 2001, while 284 laws had loosened access.

In plenty of cases, panelists noted, governments shut down access to records without any apparent legal backing.

Sounds like Kathleen Carroll (as mentioned above, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press) understands the genealogists have a very vested interest in keeping access to records open, and could be a powerful friend – there are a lot of genealogists in the US and elsewhere, and many are older, a demographic which votes quite a bit more than younger folks.

You can read the full article at:
The Twin Cities/Pioneer Express (MN)
The Star-Telegram (Dallas/Fort Worth)

Canada, 2006 Census, and Your Rights

The Durham Region News has an article by Jeff Hayward,
Choose ‘yes’ on Census, urges group
, that is pushing Canadians to check off ‘Yes’ on releasing their census information in 92 years.

An Uxbridge organization wants residents to know that their future relatives might never know they existed if they don’t check off ‘yes’ to a question on an upcoming government census.

The Uxbridge Genealogy Group has put a call out to residents to inform them 2006 Canada Census forms are being distributed in the near future. This year, for the first time in 340 years, according to the group, residents will have a choice whether their information can be released in 92 years.

If you check ‘no’, future genealogists will be faced with gaps in their family history research.

“You should know that if this question is not answered ‘yes’, or is left unanswered, your descendants will be unable to find information on you in census records in the future… so far as the census is concerned, you will not have existed,” said Eileen Wilson, vice-chairwoman of the genealogy group.

I’m sure most genealogists will check off yes, but many people will not or will not understand the implications.

On a related note, in the US, they are currently doing a “test” run of the 2010 census which has caused a lot of controversy among some groups of people, namely due to the “YOU ARE REQUIRED BY LAW TO RESPOND” theme on the census information as well as the questions asked. From a genealogist’s perspective, the questions asked are interesting. As a private citizen, I found the information very intrusive, but that’s for another article.