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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reclaim the Records files suit for Missouri Birth and Death Indexes

An interesting phenomenon for genealogists is the fact that many governmental agencies and other organizations restrict access to basic genealogically relevant records without any discernable reason or justification. Sometimes these restrictions are even in violation of the existing laws requiring Freedom of Information or the so-called "Sunshine Laws." One genealogically oriented organization called or Reclaim the Records, is trying to do something about this rather obnoxious situation.'s latest efforts are directed at the State of Missouri's birth and death records. Here is the explanation of the current action from the group's website:
In Missouri, death certificates that are more than fifty years old (i.e. pre-1965) are considered open to the public. But Missouri currently does not have a basic genealogical index available to the public for deaths that occurred in the state after 1965. In early 2016, we discovered that Missouri’s state Vital Statistics law actually may allow for the publication of basic death index data, even though they have not done so in the past. So in February 2016, we filed a request under the Missouri Sunshine Law to get that Missouri state death index released to the public. And in November 2016, that request turned into a lawsuit.
 More information about the process of public record requests, including the Missouri case, can be found on


  1. I'm a genealogist and I understand the desire to have access to records in order to do research, but I the the lawsuit is what has created an obnoxious situation. For what reason do any of us need to have recent births posted online? Reclaim the Records wants the index so they can repost it online forever. What if they get the index, post it online and include a child born in 2015 who is currently in foster care and is eventually adopted in 2018? Courts would seal records to protect the privacy of that child, it's adoptive parents, and it's biological parents, but this database Reclaim the Records wants would include the birth name in it.

    What about a woman who might have escaped an abusive boyfriend while pregnant with his child? What if she is hiding from him in an effort to remain safe? A search of the birth records might help him find her or that child.

    There are numerous reasons we as genealogists should respect the privacy of living people. Above are two of them. While we might be able to get the information anyway and while other states might publish birth or death records, that doesn't mean it is right to put it in a free database online without obtaining the permission of every single living person who has their information shared. Remember, Reclaim the Records is NOT a government entity. What gives Brooke Ganz the right to request a data dump of all the birth information in a state? She isn't even from Missouri.

    I've researched numerous families from Missouri and I've never needed to obtain any information on living people from the Vital Records office. Families can obtain that information if they need it. The type of thing Reclaim the Records is doing is the very thing I fear will cause changes in the laws that will make it more difficult for genealogists and others to get records, even older records, in order to do research. I wouldn't applaud the efforts of Brooke Ganz. I think her actions will harm the genealogical community, not help it.

    1. Your comment goes to the heart of some of the issues involved but includes some hypotheticals that are not supported by the disclosure of a death index. Both of the hypotheticals you posit refer to a birth index. The Missouri action is for a death index. Dead people have no privacy rights at all. Perhaps you should read the links.