Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Cautionary Tale from Reclaim the Records

Some time ago, the organization Reclaim the Records filed a Freedom of Information Act initiative with the state of New York to obtain a huge database of the New York State Death Index.

I'm certain that very few genealogist recognize the incompetence and political barriers that governments raise to prevent genealogists from having access to public records. On a very small scale, I have personally experienced the same problems. Reclaim the Records 16th newsletter should be mandatory reading for all genealogists. Here is the link to the newsletter:

How do you fight the Empire State, and win?

What I thought was most interesting was the part that played in this entire saga. Sadly, the scenario has been played out in Arizona, Georgia, and many other states across the United States.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Actions brought under the Freedom of Information Act usually have nothing to do with genealogy. What is tragic, as explained in the article from Reclaim the Records is that the information obtained has little or no value to the government unless it is monetized. In this case, if you have personally suffered the death of a close relative, you probably realize that there are a number of "fees" and taxes associated with producing death records. For example, in Arizona, if your relative dies you may need as many as eight or more copies of a certified death certificate to satisfy banks, creditors, and other agencies. Each copy of the death certificate in the county where Phoenix is located cost $20. If they make a mistake in the death certificate it cost $30 to correct the certificate.

If you investigate the cost of obtaining a death certificate of one of your ancestors from the state where the ancestor died, you can begin to see that this is a major moneymaking proposition for the states. They pass laws requiring us to provide them with the information and then they charge us to obtain copies of that same information. Subsequently, such as in this case, a large genealogical company comes along and benefits again from the information that we have been required to provide to the state. Think about it.

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