It is critical for all members of the genealogical community to file comments by October 6 with the Virginia legislative commission considering this issue.
Currently, birth records held by the Virginia Department of Health are closed for 100 years, with marriage and death records closed for 50 years. After these time periods, the records are supposed to be turned over to the Library of Virginia (LVA), though VDH has tried to delay this. The copies of marriage and death records at the Virginia county or city level are not closed, but are public records (if they can be found).
VDH has limited access to its statewide “closed” records to “immediate family
members,” excluding even grandchildren.
Senator Harry Blevins of Chesapeake put in a bill in the 2011 Virginia General Assembly to modestly improve access to records, which was referred to the Virginia Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) for study. When the Virginia Genealogical Society (VGS) became aware of this study, it offered comments urging i) that death certificates held by VDH become open records immediately, since there were no legitimate privacy or identity theft reasons for keeping death certificates closed, and ii) that the range of family members who can access closed vital records be significantly liberalized.
VGS and LVA worked with JCHC staff educating staff about genealogists’ need for these records, the Surgeon General’s emphasis on family medical histories, and supplying information from physicians about the importance of death certificates in compiling family medical histories.
We were therefore very disappointed when a JCHC staff study was released on September 19 which is confusing at best, and proposes restrictions, not liberalizing, access.
Indeed, staff testimony made it clear that they supported 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 allowing an Ancestry-type indexing system of the VDH database to allow close relatives access, the staff made it clear that VDH, not LVA (which has the genealogical experience) should do this, potentially taking vital records away from LVA.
I have attached the staff report, which poses eight options for legislators on pp. 23-27. [Emailbvlittle@earthlink.net for a PDF of the full report]
Please email comments referencing SB 865 (with your name and address) to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax them to 804-786-5538, or mail to: Joint Commission on Health Care, P.O. Box 1322, Richmond, VA 23218, to arrive by close of business on Thursday, October 6, 2011. If you are out of state, you might explain that you do research in Virginia, and that closing records will discourage travel to Virginia for research.
If you have examples where your current research has been blocked by VDH, include this.
Please urge the Commission to take the following actions on its eight options:
Option 1: Oppose Option 1, (doing nothing) since Virginia’s overly restrictive laws
should be liberalized.
Option 2: Support Option 2B, reducing the birth records closed period to 75 years.
Option 3: Support Option 3B to open marriage records now.
Option 4: Support Option 4B, in principle, but instead of 25 years retention of death
records, open them immediately.
Option 5: Support Option 5 (disclosure of decedent’s social security number).
Option 6: Support Option 6, and urge that “family members” be defined liberally.
Option 7: Support Option 7, and urge that “family members” be defined liberally.
Option 8: Support Option 8 in principle, but the Library of Virginia should create and
operate any index of vital records, since it has the expertise to do this.
Unless extensive public comments are received by October 6, Virginia’s vital records
may become closed, threatening genealogical and family medical history research, and
blocking new members for lineage societies.
Please send in your comments now!
Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS
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