Posted by Jessica Murray on March 9, 2016 in Website

Imagine a world where access to genealogically important records is cut off. That is becoming a reality in some states across the country and the legislation is spreading. Thankfully, a very vocal group of genealogists is rallying support and advocating on behalf of family historians to prevent laws from cutting off access to valuable records.

Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the Public Records Access Monitoring Committee of International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), shared some of the hurdles genealogists are encountering.

Tune in below to learn more about RPAC‘s efforts and how you can help,

Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights

WHEREAS, Americans have pursued the research of their family heritage since the beginning of our country; and

WHEREAS, millions of Americans derive enjoyment from genealogical exploration, consistent with the pursuit of happiness recognized by the founders of our country in our Declaration of Independence; and

WHEREAS, Americans derive substantial emotional benefit from genealogical exploration into their heritage; and

WHEREAS, many Americans derive financial benefit from the practice of professional genealogy and have performed such throughout this nation’s history; and

WHEREAS, genealogists make meaningful contributions to the fields of forensic genealogy, identification of kinships, determining the facts in legal cases such as probate court, cases involving tribal and other relationships; and

WHEREAS, thousands of historical and genealogical societies, libraries, museums, and other institutions and associations have been established throughout our land to assist all Americans in the pursuit of their family heritage; and

WHEREAS, genealogy adds substantially to the ethnic, cultural, and racial richness of which our country is composed; and

WHEREAS, the American people have recognized that the right to open government and unfettered access to the records of our government are rights which find expression in the constitutions and legislation of our federal and state governments and which enrich the lives of all Americans; and

WHEREAS, genealogists have been at the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve the precious records and documents of our genealogical and historical heritage; and

WHEREAS, genealogists, no less than other Americans, are vitally concerned for personal privacy and safety from untoward acts that diminish our freedom; and

WHEREAS, most records, including vital records, have, for all of our nation’s history, been substantially open to access,


That we, the undersigned genealogists, in pursuance of our individual and collective rights as

Americans, do hereby


That genealogists possess the right to the pursuit of genealogical exploration through unfettered access to the records of our government; and

WE CALL upon our governmental representatives to recognize our rights by;

PRESERVING the freedom of the American people to access the public records of our government in a timely and orderly manner through appropriate legislation; and

REFRAINING from legislation which would prevent or render extraordinarily difficult access to the public records, principally birth, marriage, and death records collected by our state and federal governmental agencies; and

PROMOTING those principles that enhance, not diminish, our freedom of access to records; and

CELEBRATING with genealogists the valuable benefits of exploring, researching, and compiling the histories of our families, and as a result, the history of our exceptional nation.

To sign the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights, visit

Jessica Murray

Jessica serves as Social Media Manager for Ancestry, United States.


  1. Donald Leon Gray

    Amen! Much interesting historical information is derived via Genealogy which enriches our love of this country.

  2. Duane

    While I certainly support this statement, I find that it misses a very critical topic. In order to have “unfettered access to the records of our government,” the government must have useful records to access. Attention should be given to the substantial reductions in individual information that are being forced upon the U.S. Census. The Canadians have had the same problem but it has been taken care of by their recent election. This may not matter to you today, but the genealogists of the future will be faced with massive difficulties.

  3. Denise Moss-Fritch

    Reminds me of the restrictions at state level limiting vital records access across the USA in the 1990s. The push at that time by genealogists changed the proposed legislation to permit access to those who had a relationship to the individual the records identified. Yet, we seem to be looking at restrictions of government records yet again. What amazes me is these records restrictions violate the existing federal Freedom of Information Act and similar legislation at state levels.

  4. Tim Corcoran

    Very important and we should all support these efforts in any way we can, including contacting our legislators.

  5. Monika

    I do have a problem with the term “unfettered access”. In the day and age of identity theft, I, for one, am quite comfortable with the idea that “you” (be “you” a genealogist or anyone else) should have restricted access to information about me for as long as I am alive. It does not help to show the profile page of a living person as “living”, thereby hiding all of the information on that profile page from other members on, if records about me can be found on For example, I (along with anyone who pays for ACOM membership) can find my “Naturalization Records” on In addition to giving my full name and date and place of birth, as well as my address here in the United States, it shows numerous signatures including the names, addresses and signatures of my (friends) witnesses. This much information being out there, under the pretext of being available to genealogists, could be something that an identity thief could have a field day with! What makes you think that they do not subscribe to Genealogy should deal with those that came before us, not with the living unless they want to be identified. Not to mention that the junk tree builders, who have already declared me dead (which is why I can see the profile page they created about me on their trees) have added that Naturalization Record onto their tree along with lots of other misinformation (like having declared my mother and me dead when we are not). So, yes, I am quit omfortable with having easy access to records about those who have already passed on, but not about the living!

  6. Louise Hanson

    Monika, I appreciate your concerns, but I doubt you will find many identity thieves who will pay the high ancestry fee when all they need to do is google someone’s name to have easier and less expensive access to your information.
    Illustrating how difficult it has become to access some records, I have had a very difficult and expensive time attempting to get a copy of my mother’s birth certificate from New Jersey. First< I filled out the vital records form and sent it with a money order for the fee. They sent it back, requiring another copy of my photo ID. I included that and mailed it back. They sent it back, now wanting a copy of my birth certificate. I included that and mailed it back. I next received it back, now wanting a copy of my marriage certificate because my name now is different from what is on my birth certificate. Not having a copy of my marriage certificate, I called New Jersey Vital Records and explaining that I did not have a copy of our marriage certificate, but could send a copy of the California marriage index and she told me that that would suffice. So I sent that off, along with everything I'd already sent, which was now costing quite a bit in postage. Would you believe, they sent it back again. Apparently the copy of the marriage index was not sufficient after all; it must be a marriage certificate. Well, I sent for my marriage certificate and received it five weeks later. As it stands the certificate would not be of any use, as when we filled out the license application 54 years ago, I was unable to give much information about my mother and father, as I had been raised in a foster home from the age of seven and therefore knew very little about them at the age of 21. I had put down that my mother was born in Norway, which is what I had been told. It wasn't until I got a copy of her social security application that said she had been born in New York. As it turns out, she herself didn't know where she was born, as New York had no record of her birth. I finally found her and her parents in the 1920 census, where it showed she was born in New Jersey! So, to end this lengthy missive, I have not as yet sent back to New Jersey for my mother's birth certificate, as I have not found a way to get by with a scantily filled out marriage application.

  7. Monika

    @Louise Hanson. Sorry about the nightmarish experience you had. That does, however, not negate my own experiences. When I had my purse stolen a few years ago and I reported it to the police, the police officer told me that it is common practice for a thief (identity thief or other thief) to go onto to see whether (s)he can determine the maiden name of the person from whom (s)he has stolen/attempts to steal the identity, because most people use the maiden name of their mother as a password (as did I until he told me that!!!). What makes you think that a fee of $300 for the year is too much for an identity thief to pay? That is laughable compared to what an identity thief can make if stealing someone else’s identity! When it comes to privacy rights I always prefer to err on the side of caution. Also, when I wrote to that person on ACOM who had declared me and my mother “dead” (we are both still very much alive), I informed her (via ancestry message mail) in a very nice way that her information was incorrect and asked her to, please, show my mother and me as living. I received an e-mail from her (she had gone on Intellus to find my e-mail address) in which she was irrate, telling me that she refused to show me and my mother as living and threatened me not to interfere with what she wanted to put into her ancestry tree. She added that she was going to physically come after me and (writing to me at night time) she added “Ask me how many lights are currently on in your house?” I had to involve ACOM to ask her to stop showing me and my mother as dead. So, at ACOM’s request, she removed the date she had chosen to have me and my mother die, and replaced the date with the words “rat’s ass”. As such, by still adding words in the “death” line she continued to show us as “dead” and all the information about me and my mother (much of the information was incorrect, interspersed with the accurate information that she found about us on ACOM such as my Naturalization records). When ACOM told her to stop doing that she made her tree private and, if I had to bet money, I bet she still shows us as dead to the many guests she had on her tree. So, you see, we all come from a place of our own experiences.

  8. Monika

    ….and, furthermore, if it was that difficult for you–A FAMILY MEMBER–to obtain your mother’s birth certificate, why should it be that easy for ANYONE to obtain MY Naturalization records, which show my name, my birth date, birth place, current address, signature, and addresses and signatures of my witnesses, on ACOM? Something is definitely “skewed” here. Maybe you should try to obtain your mother’s birth record on ACOM! 🙂

  9. Joyce

    I too have issues with showing ceertain specific info on about living people. I searched myself and my husband one day and was appalled to find records that NOT ONLY showed the date we were born, but also where we were born AND our parents names—PRIME info for identity theft…LUCKILY the IS a way to have those records removed if you request it–as I did.

    MONIKA go to the record you don’t want out there and request that record be deleted from the database.

    This is NOT tha fault of ancestry–this is due to certain states just throwing all kinds of info out there with NO regard to security for the individuals on these records.

    ON the other side of the coin, future generations won’t be able to find those records, so what I did was to make a copy and put in my gallery so that when I die, future generations will be able to find it.

    Doing that is a win/win I think.


  10. Monika

    Hi, Joyce. actually, I did do that shortly after I discovered the record on ACOM. The people I spoke with said that it is a “public record” and that, as such, I could not do anything about it. Whom did you successfully complain to?

  11. J. Dalsow

    The solution seems simple to me. Give access to records of individuals who have been deceased for more than 20 years. Their details are no longer useful to identity thieves. Oh, and by the way, Ancestry is absolutely on the radar of wrong doers, and the government.

  12. A. Wood

    J. Dalsow – I don’t think 20 years is long enough. Someone’s mother may have died 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but if the child is still alive then the mother’s maiden name is still an identify theft issue for the adult child. However, I agree with your sentiment that Ancestry is among the wrong doers by their refusal to eliminate ‘public records’ information by using the disclaimer that the records are public and they did not create them–that is just passing the buck. By putting large databases of public records on their website that contain information about living people, Ancestry has put their own self-interest (money) over ethics and the rights of individuals to protect their privacy. In that regard, I believe no company, private or public, has the right to sell or publish information about living individuals without their consent, and I believe the private or public organization should be the one to ask the individual for permission to sell or publish their private information and not have the right to do so with the disclaimer that if the individual wishes their information to be private they have to notify the organization to that effect. At the time of the original ‘contact/contract’ between an individual and an organization, company, public utility, etc., the company should ask whether the individual wishes their information remain private or if it is OK to sell or publish it. Just because an individual buys a product or service should not entitle an entity to automatically use our personal information as they see fit when it has nothing to do with the product or service we purchased. We did not purchase a product or service with the idea that our personal information would be sold or published as part of the bargain, and all the fine print inherent in most, if not all contracts, in that regard should be illegal.

  13. Monika

    PANIC TIME! I tried to go onto When I sign in, instead of seeing MY trees, trees come up that are NOT mine. I have three computers at home. One lap top and two desk tops. Same results on all three computers. First time I sign in I get the Willis tree. Have no idea who that is. Second time, I get the Kfamily tree. Again, have no idea who that is. Next time I sign in I get the Wagner /Hartsough Waites/Rodgers Family Tree, and now the Allen Family Tree. None of my trees are available to me, but all these trees are showing up on my account as if they were my tree. Does anyone else have this problem right now…Tuesday night?

  14. J. Dalsow

    Monika – Take a deep breath. While Ancestry isn’t listing trees that are NOT mine, I found that several of my Family Trees are NOT listed under the “TREES” drop-down. The option to see “More…” like there had been, has been changed to “Create and Manage Trees” at the bottom of the list. When I go there, all of my trees are listed. As a backup, I have bookmarked all my trees. As long as they still exist on Ancestry, and Ancestry has not changed the URLs, I can get to them. Suggest you address your issue with Ancestry. Hang in there kiddo!

  15. J. Dalsow

    A. Wood – In regard to my posting of March 13, 2016 at 9:10 am, my message regarding access to records was NOT directed at Ancestry, but to all record-keepers; federal, state, county, etc. Perhaps you are right that 20 years from their death is too soon. Alternatively, records could be released 72 years after their death, like US Census records. What do you think?

  16. Monika

    @J. Dawson – Well, everything was back to normal this morning. But, no–what was weird was that it listed as “MY” trees– e.g., in the” last viewed tree” section– trees that are in no way shape or form connected to my trees. That freaked me out a bit. Because it makes me question whether–if this happens to someone else who ends up with MY trees showing in his “last viewed tree” section–could they delete my tree??? Anyway, all is well that ends well and my trees are back and these other unknown trees that were showing on my site as if they were trees that I had created, are gone. P.S.: I had already figured out that “Create and Manage Trees” section. But that had nothing to do with showing trees in my “last viewed” section which I had never viewed and have no interest in. It was a weird experience, though! Thanks for caring and giving your feedback!

  17. A. Wood

    J. Dalsow – I wasn’t necessarily singling out Ancestry but included it among all the other entities that brush aside privacy rights. Yes, I believe a 72 years hold on certain records should be the norm just like the census.

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