Thursday, July 17, 2008

Historical Record Access USA

Pennsylvania Historical Record Access: "Currently, all death certificates recorded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since 1906 have restricted access regardless of how long ago a person died. Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records regulations require the requester to supply several pieces of information (including when and where the person died), spend $9 and wait 5 weeks or longer for each and every death certificate. A requester is also required to have a direct relationship to the deceased in order to obtain a copy of a death certificate. Often a requester doesn’t know if the person is related and needs the death certificate to find out. This is especially true when compiling family histories and trying to find the descendents of a common ancestor. The information a requester is expected to supply is quite often the very information a requester is looking for and the very reason for wanting a death certificate.

Many of us have experienced the frustration of either being told the death certificate could not be found or being sent the wrong certificate. Yes, a requester can pay $34 for an extended search of up to a ten year window with the charge of an additional $25 for each extension to that search window. To say the least this is quite costly to the requester and very time consuming for the Division of Vital Records. Sadly it doesn’t always result in a successful search and the fee is not refunded.

Also Pennsylvania doesn’t have a publicly accessible index to see if the person even died in Pennsylvania. So it becomes an expensive guessing game that doesn’t always result in finding a death certificate even when the person actually died in Pennsylvania. Because of the many burdensome and counterintuitive restrictions, the public is not able to use these historic records as much as they should be able to.

We understand the concerns about privacy. However, there is no practical reason to keep all of these records restricted indefinitely. Therefore, our basic proposal is that the death certificates that would be accessible online by the public would have to be at least 50 years old. Currently that would mean only the death certificates of persons who died before 1958 would be made accessible. As each year passes the next year in line would be made accessible online to the public.

Several states have already made their older death certificates available online, including Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Utah and West Virginia. The states of Louisiana, New Hampshire and Vermont are in the process of doing so. For numerous other states there are online indexes. However, Pennsylvania has no publicly accessible index and continues the outdated and costly manual processing of each of its older death certificates one at a time. Click here to see links to the databases for these other states

The Social Security Death Master File (with names, dates, places and numbers, and better known as the Social Security Death Index), which is updated weekly, is a death verification database used proactively to thwart identity theft and fraud. We understand government agencies, banks, insurance and credit card companies use it all the time to verify deaths and to stop the misuse of a deceased person's Social Security number. Expanding our proposed database to include all of Pennsylvania's death records (but with the same limited public access as outlined above) could be used in a similar manner by law enforcement and government agencies. The Division of Vital Records would itself be able to fill requests using the expanded database."

In England and Wales acording to a law effective from 1 July 1837 all birth, marriage and death certificates are publically available - only census and medical reords are restricted.

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