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GENEALOGY TODAY: States considering easing access to vital records

Virginia and Pennsylvania are considering easing restrictions on
vital records in response to pressure from genealogists, and are
soliciting comments from researchers.

In Pennsylvania, Vital Records Bill SB-361 unanimously passed the
Senate Appropriations Committee on Sept. 19, and unanimously passed
the full Senate on Wednesday.

Now it must pass the state House of Representatives. 

The bill would classify death certificates over 50 years old and
birth certificates over 105 years old as open records filed in the
Pennsylvania State Archives. At that point, it would be possible
for the records to be digitized and placed online. Without this
change in law, the records would remain restricted forever.

Your visit, phone call, and letter or even a short email sent to at
least one state representative could make a difference. Hearing
from organizations, their constituents and others including
out-of-state residents could prove decisive in getting the bill
passed. The bill is discussed in detail along with a sample letter
in support of it in the Sept. 20-21 “Latest News” section at

The Virginia Legislature is considering changes to the law covering
access to vital records that could either expand or severely limit
researchers’ access to birth, marriage, and death records. Vital
records are currently held by the Virginia Department of Health
(VDH) with birth records closed for 100 years, and marriage and
death records closed for 50 years. At that time, the records are to
be turned over to the Library of Virginia (LVA). The VDH wants
these time periods lengthened. It now limits access to its “closed”
records to “immediate family members,” excluding even

The Virginia Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) has conducted a
study of the issue and supports closing all records (including
county and city marriage and death records) and changing the closed
VDH period to 125 years for births and 75 years for marriages and
deaths. Copies of marriage and death records at the Virginia county
or city level currently are open when they exist.

The Virginia Genealogical Society (VGS) has offered comments urging
that death certificates held by VDH become open records
immediately, since there is no legitimate privacy or identity-theft
reasons for keeping them closed, and that the range of family
members with access to closed vital records be significantly

Unless extensive public comments are received by Oct. 6, Virginia’s
vital records may be closed, threatening genealogical and family
medical history research, and blocking new members for lineage
societies. All members of the genealogical community are asked to
file comments by Oct. 6 with the Virginia legislative commission
considering this issue.

The bill includes eight options. It’s recommended that option 1
(doing nothing) be opposed, since Virginia’s overly restrictive
laws should be liberalized, and that the remaining eight options be
supported. The text may be viewed at

Please email comments referencing SB 865 (with your name and
address) to:, or fax them to 804-786-5538,
or mail to: Joint Commission on Health Care, P.O. Box 1322,
Richmond, VA 23218. Out of state comments might explain that you do
research in Virginia, and that closing records will discourage
travel to the state for further research. If you have examples
where your current research has been blocked by VDH, include this
also. Remember, time is of the essence.

Betty Lou Malesky, certified genealogist, is past
president of the Green Valley Genealogical Society. Contact her at
bettymalesky@ The society’s Web site is

© 2011 Green Valley News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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