Debra S. Fleming has been a practicing genealogist for nine years. She is the Genealogy Instructor for the University of South Florida OSHER Lifelong Learning Center where she has been teaching Genealogy Courses since early 2007. She is a graduate of Florida State University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in her passion, Religion and has attended the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR). She is currently a member of the Genealogical Speakers Guild (GSG), The Association of Professional Genealogists (
APG) and the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE). You can learn more about Debra S. Fleming at http://www.theancestrydetective.com/.
The library recognizes its growing genealogy clientele and strives to support with a developing genealogy collection. The primary focus of the library’s genealogical collection is information relating to the State of Florida, especially information pertaining to local families and history. Material dealing with the Southeastern area of the United States (Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina) is also considered a priority for collection development.
APG FLORIDA CHAPTER MEETING MINUTES
May 2, 2009
The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. in the conference room of the Alachua County Library in Gainesville, Florida. President Alvie Davidson presided.
The following members were present: Jack Butler, Juanita Friedenberg, Amy Giroux, Bonnie Kohler, Patricia Rand, and Ann Staley.
Minutes of the previous meeting on February 7, 2009, were reviewed and accepted.
Amy Giroux, treasurer, reported a current balance of $1,055.58.
Alvie spoke about efforts by the Records Preservation Access Committee (RPAC) in regard to New York City's current restriction of access to its contemporary death index. In addition, he encouraged members to write to their state representative in support of Preserving the American Historical Record (PAHR) bill HR2171. The bill would provide funds to archivists.
Juanita suggested making the information about dues and where to mail the check for dues more prominent on the APG Florida Chapter Web site.
Jack reported on his efforts to post the newsletter/blog on the Web.
Amy inquired about the status of the APG Florida Chapter banner. Alvie will follow up on getting a new banner made.
A motion was passed to spend $500 to partially fund a Friday luncheon at the November 2009 FSGS conference at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto Place hotel. Jack Butler agreed to speak at the luncheon. He will need a projector and screen.
Jack also agreed to be in charge of the Ancestors Road Show at the 2009 FSGS conference. Other members offered to assist him.
The next meeting will be in Vero Beach on August 1, 2009.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:56 a.m.
Bonnie Dunphy Kohler
President Alvie Davidson presided, and the following members were present: Cindy Davis, Juanita Friedenberg, Debbe Hagner, Bonnie Kohler, Marta Metcalf, and Gladys Paulin. Joseph E. Spann, Jr., Library Manager of the Polk County Historical &Genealogical Library, also attended the meeting.
Actions of the Records Preservation Access Committee were discussed. Alvie noted that Pennsylvania would be allowing public access to death records.
Alvie stated that Ann Staley suggested that the minutes of the APG Florida Chapter be sent to all members of APG who reside in Florida.
The next meeting of the Chapter will be held on Saturday, May 2, 2009, at 9:00 a.m. at the Indian River County Main Library, Genealogy Department, in Vero Beach. Alvie will contact Pam Cooper, the librarian, regarding the program and/or a tour of the library.
At the conclusion of Chapter business, Joe Spann presented "Florida Railroads, Historical and Genealogical Resources." During the presentation,the name of Seth Bramson, an authority on railroads in Florida and author of books about the history of the Jewish community in Miami Beach, was mentioned as a possible speaker for the Chapter meeting on May 2, 2009.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.
Ten APG-FL members participated: Jack Butler, Pamela Cooper, Alvie Davidson, CG; Cindy Hineman Davis, Amy Giroux, CG/CGL; Bonnie Kohler, Donna M. Moughty; Gladys Friedman Paulin, CG; and Richard Robinson, CG, and Ann Staley, CG.38 conference attendees participated by making advance appointments and meeting with a professional genealogist-consultant.
Question 2: Did the session start and end on time?
Question 3: Did the professional genealogist appear to be knowledgeable in the subject area of research related to your research problem?
Question 4: Was the genealogist able to help you in your research?
Question 5: Did the professional genealogist offer suggestions for further research?
Question 6: Did the professional genealogist give you a completed Research Suggestion Form?
Question 7: Would you meet again in a free session with a professional genealogist at a future conference? Yes=20
Question 8: Would you meet again with the same professional genealogist and be willing to pay a reasonable rate for services?
Yes=17 No=1 ?=1 No response=1
The participatant's evaluation sheet also provided a section where additional comments could be added. These are those additional comments:
“Really appreciated time offered.”
“Pam was thorough and very pleasant, plus very knowledgeable. Her computer wouldn’t operate so we ‘winged it’, however I’ve many leads to follow I didn’t know of or think of.”
I look forward to this each year”
"Very good suggestions”
“Eagerly looking forward to suggested leads. Many thanks”
“Donna Moughty was very helpful. I look forward to contacting her.”
“Very helpful. Many fresh ideas and different approach to the problem. I feel that I have a good chance of solving this mystery. I am very encouraged and I intend to e-mail Ms. Davis of my accomplishments. Thoroughly enjoyed the session.”
“He didn’t get a ‘eureka’ for me, but confirmed that my searches were on target’
“Pam Cooper did an excellent job”
‘I would have liked to have visited a little more…15 minutes is just not enough time when you hit a brick wall (maybe 20 minutes) I have to say I was impressed with the way it was done. It was done very tactfully, Kudos”
“I have a plan now”
“Good ideas and I will follow the clues. He said he would get back to me.”
“I did not bring any of my records as I did not know that this service was to be offered.”
A few suggestions were also made by the professionals who participated:
My suggestion: When the attendees sign up for the conference, either a written or e-mailed notice could be sent announcing the Road Show. That way everyone could prepare what they need to bring for their consultation.
The meeting began at 12:03 p.m. in the Phoenix meeting room of the Sheraton Orlando-North Hotel in Maitland, Florida, during the 32nd Annual Conference of the Florida State Genealogical Society, Inc. President Alvie Davidson presided.
The following members were present: Jack Butler, Pamela Cooper, Cindy Davis, Juanita Friedenberg, Amy Giroux, Bonnie Kohler, Marta Metcalf, Donna Moughty, Gladys Paulin, Jackie Reiss, Dick Robinson, and Ann Staley. Sheryl was a visitor.
The minutes of the September 25, 2008, teleconference were discussed. A copy was not available, but members acknowledged receipt of copies prior to the meeting.
The need for a new APG Florida Chapter banner, due to the APG logo change, was discussed. Alvie will consult with Jean Kelley about getting a replacement banner.
Alvie Davidson reported that support of KGROW (Keeping Genealogical Records Open Work Group) has been taken up by the Association of Professional Genealogists national organization.
Dick Robinson resigned as the newsletter editor due to work demands. Jack Butler agreed to take over the duties of editor.
Meeting places for 2009 were discussed. The proposed schedule is February 7, Bartow, Polk County Library, Joe Spann to talk about the Florida Railroad; May 2, Vero Beach, Indian River County Main Library, topic to be decided; August 1, Gainesville, Gainesville Public Library, Bobby Powell to talk about the library collection and possible tour of the PKYonge Library.
Election of officers for 2009–2011 was held. Bonnie Kohler was elected Secretary; Juanita Friedenberg was elected Chapter Representative.
The meeting was adjourned about 12:30 p.m.
Bonnie Dunphy Kohler, Member
The APG Florida Chapter held its meeting on 25 September by teleconference.President Alvie Davidson arranged for and presided over the teleconference at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 25, 2008.
The following members were present: Amy Larner Giroux, CG; Bonnie Kohler; Ann Staley; Cindy Davis; Debbe Hagner; Gladys Paulin; Juanita Friedenberg; and Dick Robinson.
The APG Florida Road Show for FSGS was discussed. Alvie stated that Ken Macomber, who had organized the Road Show in the past, had given him a file that contained the forms and procedures for the Road Show. In turn, Alvie distributed the file to the participants of the teleconference. Alvie described the Road Show and asked for someone to run it at the FSGS conference in November.
Gladys Paulin described the procedure as the patrons filling out a questionnaire for the Road Show on Friday and then being assigned a 15 or 20-minute time slot for consultation on Saturday. APG Florida Chapter member Road Show assistants assigned the patrons to the professionals.
Juanita offered to help. Cindy said she would organize the Road Show. Ann Staley said she was not available to help because she was assisting with organizing the conference.
Alvie said he would be available to staff the APG Florida Chapter booth most of the time. He said he needed a couple of other people to assist him. Juanita said she would help.
The APG Florida Chapter annual meeting/luncheon was discussed. The meeting will be held at the FSGS conference on Friday in one of the session rooms. Ann Staley said a session room would be available, as room availability was built into the conference contract. Alvie said he would make arrangements for the lunch.
Debbe stated that not everyone who desired a consultation at the Road Show could be accommodated last year. Cindy said that the Road Show booth could be available on both Friday and Saturday. Gladys reminded her that the consultants needed some time to prepare for some of consultations. It was agreed that the questionnaires would be filled out on Friday, and the appointments would be on Saturday.
Cindy stated that the consultations would be promoted on Friday, to facilitate more appointment slots being filled on Saturday.
Alvie said he would be available for genealogy research questions at the APG Florida Chapter booth.
Cindy will e-mail members about the Road Show arrangements.
Alvie will e-mail members regarding the lunch.
Amy stated that 26 members had paid dues. Gladys added that the dues were for year 2008.
Offices up for re-election in 2008 are Secretary and Chapter Representative.
Alvie asked for volunteers for the nominating committee. Bonnie, Dick, and Juanita volunteered. Bonnie was assigned chairman.
The deadline for nominations is 30 days in advance of the annual meeting. Consent of the nominees is required by two weeks prior to the meeting.
Returning to the topic of the Road Show, the following members offered to be consultants: Gladys, who said she would also relieve Alvie in the APG booth; Ann; Debbe; Dick; and Alvie.
Debbe asked if the consultants were permitted to attend any of the presentations. Ann replied that only those who paid to attend the sessions were permitted to attend.
Amy asked Ann if the lecture schedule had been set. Ann told Amy the times she would be speaking. Ann said that Ann Osisek would be publishing the lecture schedule.
Alvie said he would get some help with the APG Florida Chapter booth and that he would send details in e-mail.
Debbe commented that she didn't feel that anyone staffing the APG Florida Chapter booth should sell any of their products there. She thought it was okay if someone displayed their business card. The comment was made by Alvie and/or Gladys that our chapter did not have a tax exempt number, and there should be no selling at the booth.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:37 p.m.
Bonnie Dunphy Kohler
Difficulties in scheduling the regular August meeting led to consideration and discussion of alternative meeting technologies. Alvie Davidson suggested a video conference call using Skype video, or, failing that, a teleconference using Skype. Skype is a system that allows, after downloading the Skype software, free voice and video calling, IM and SMS on a wide range of operating systems and mobile devices.
Skype is a for-profit company, to be sure, but they have very cleverly introduced their VOIP communications system to the world of the internet by allowing free download of their software and free use of it to make Skype to skype calls. Their profits are made through the growing number of Skype to non-Skype phones and through their partnerships with companies such as Verizon, Panasonic, LG, and Samsung, among others. Unfortunately, too few members had the technology to allow its use for the meeting under discussion, but it looks worthy of consideration for future use.
Alvie Davidson, through his work with the Records Preservation And Access Committee, and Jack Butler, though his day job, have had extensive successful with meetings via teleconference, and Alvie suggested using that system for the meeting in September. Alvie will set it up and will email everyone with a telephone number and code to be entered so that members can join the conference call.
It seems likely that these technologies and others currently being developed or improved will eventually play a significant role in our business - routine communications, remote meetings, and even remote presentations/lectures. The technology train is picking up speed - it is time that we consider getting on board.
Tallahassee (north Florida), May 3;
Open, possible Aug. 2; and
Chapter annual meeting during the Florida State Genealogical Society annual conference in Maitland (north of Orlando), Nov. 14-15.
Alvie Davidson, CG, and Ann Staley, CG, and others will attend the 30th NGS Conference in the States and Family History Fair in Kansas City, Missouri on May 14-17. Who else is going? Please post on the Chapter mailing list....
Member profiles will resume in the newsletter's next issue... Chapter members agreed at the Feb. 2 meeting to write a letter of support on behalf of the Polk County Historical Genealogical Society Library to Polk County commissioners. Librarian Joe Spann, a new member of the Chapter, reported that the library is in serious financial trouble. It is one of the largest regional research libraries on the East coast and has hosted several Chapter meetings.
At the February meeting, held at the Polk County Historical and Genealogy library in Bartow, Lake County, Florida, Chapter President, Alvie Davidson presented attendees with copies of the new APG logo and the new APG Florida logo. That new logo now adorns the top of this blog/newsletter.
Alvie and Jean Kelly passed along the news about the acceptance of our KGROW document by NGS, FGS, RPAC, and IAJGS. The indication is that Kathy Hinckley, Executive Director of APG is waiting for final approval by all APG Board members, following which the document will be published in a future issue of the APG Quarterly.
Following the business meeting ( see Minutes below), Jack Butler presented "Read all About it! Finding Kin in Early Newspapers."
Minutes of the 8 February Business Meeting:
The meeting was held at the Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library, Bartow, Florida. The business meeting began at 9:00 a.m.
The new Board was introduced. Officers present: Alvie Davidson, President; Jack Butler, Vice-President. Other members attending: Jean Kelley, Dick Robinson, Gene Bremer, Donna Moughty, Gladys Paulin. Joe Spann, Librarian of the Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library, attended as a guest.
The old minutes from 2007 were reviewed by Jean Kelley, including a review of the Board actions done via email for 2007. There were no Board meetings held in 2007, except for the annual meeting in November. The last Board meeting held, other than at the 2006 and 2007 annual meetings, was October 2006. Minutes of that meeting were approved by the Board via email vote on 1 November 2007.
Alvie Davidson handed out copies of the new APG logo and chapter logo designs and there was discussion of the new APG Florida logo.
The status of the KGROW document was reviewed. Alvie announced that the KGROW document has been approved by NGS, FGS, RPAC, and IAJGS. Kathy Hinckley, Executive Director of APG is waiting for final approval by all APG Board members. It will be published in a future issue of the APG Quarterly.
New Business: Alvie explained that because of budget cuts the Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library is in serious financial difficulty, and would like our help. He introduced Joe Spann, Librarian, to explain the situation which is as follows: The Library is a department of the Polk County, Florida government, and Joe and the other library employees are county employees. With recent tax cuts and the prospect of future tax decreases, the Board of Commissioners has ranked the library as "low priority." The Library's budget of $37,000 has been cut by $50,000, with the excess $13,000 coming out of the library's reserve. Joe is asking that APG Florida Chapter write a letter of support to the Chairman of the Polk County Commissioners, stating how important the library is to the professional genealogical community.
Future meeting places and future programs were discussed:
Alvie announced that Yolanda Lifter has resigned as program chair, and he is filling that position at present. He stated he would like to have the next meeting on May 3rd at the State Library in Tallahassee, and Deanna Ramsey will be asked to give a technology presentation. Jack Butler will co-ordinate with the library, and Deanna.
Alvie then asked for suggestions for future meetings. Jean Kelley suggested that it could be beneficial if we could coordinate our meetings in conjunction with local genealogical society's conferences around the state. For example, the Tallahassee Genealogical Society is having Megan Smolenyak in for a conference on March 3. If it had been known ahead of time, we could have had today's meeting next month in Tallahassee. Donna Moughty began looking up state wide conferences on the internet to see what was already announced, little was yet posted on the FSGS website. Gladys suggested it was too much to have a meeting in Oct and the annual meeting in Nov. Jean suggested perhaps combining the August and October meetings into one in September. Donna mentioned this was when the Florida Genealogical Society (Tampa) has an annual conference.
The program portion of the meeting was held upstairs in the 2nd floor meeting room. Members present were: Alvie Davidson, Jack Butler, Gladys Paulin, Gene Bremer, Jean Kelley, Donna Moughty , Karen and Mitch Brown Dick Robinson. Guests were Juanita Friendenberg, Tampa; Doug Barnett and wife, Satellite Beach, and Joe Spann, Bartow.
Jack Butler gave a presentation titled "Read All About It" "Finding Kin in Early Newspapers.
After the program we had lunch together at Perkins restaurant.
The Saturday will start with our board meeting at 9 a.m., Jack’s talk at the general meeting at 10, followed by an option lunch with colleagues at a nearby restaurant. Members and guests are welcome to attend all three events. President Alvie Davidson asks members to bring ideas for programs and other chapter activities to the general meeting.
You won’t “read all about it” here. Instead, you’ll have to come to our next meeting in Bartow on Feb. 2 to “hear all about it.” Vice President Jack Butler's presentation is “Read All About It! Finding Kin in Early Newspapers.”
By Alvie L. Davidson, CG
I first want to say that I deeply appreciate the membership electing me president of APG Florida. I promise I will do my very best to maintain the chapter as one of the best in APG and provide members with valuable networking and learning opportunities.
Everyone should try to attend our first meeting of the year on Feb. 2 at the Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library, 100 East Main Street, Bartow. Our new vice president, Jack Butler, will reprise his FSGS conference talk, “Read All About It.” This will give our members an opportunity to hear a very fine talk that they may have missed and to get to know Jack better. Bring any ideas you have for meetings or to improve our Chapter. Please see a previous article in this edition for more details on this meeting.
Secondly, I want to keep our meetings interesting so everyone will feel they were very worthwhile. I would also like to vary the locales of our meetings more. We have not had a meeting in Tallahassee, so I would like to have one there at the Florida State Library, possibly on 3 May. This might seem a bit far for some to travel, but we can arrange car pooling. What better way is there to network with colleagues, attend an informative meeting, and maybe do some research?
For the second year, Chapter members will help FSGS conference attendees solve their "brickwall" or other tough research problems.
The event, Ancestors Road Show, was very popular last year, serving 53 attendees. Ken Macomber, CG, Road Show chair and Chapter vice president, says he could use more volunteers.
Consultants will assist three people an hour, each for 15 minutes. Macomber says the time was expanded to 15 minutes this year to allow for deeper consultations. Registration for the event will be Friday, Nov. 9 from 1:15-5 p.m. The consultations will be Saturday, Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Chapter will also host a vendor booth at the conference. Contact Chair Alvie L. Davidson, CG, if you would like to help staff the booth.
Chapter members enjoy:
Florida has some of the outstanding genealogists in the nation -- and they are members of the Florida Chapter. Envision yourself learning and sharing ideas with the masters....
Chapter Treasurer Amy Larner Giroux, CG, CGL, and Membership Chair Debbe A. Hagner, AG, are now collecting dues for 2008.
Member renewals are just $10. New members pay $20 for the first year only. Members who attend the FSGS conference in November started a tradition in 2005. They brought a check to pay the next year's dues. Be sure to bring one if you'll be at the conference in Orlando on Nov. 9-10 and give it to either Amy or Debbe. Don’t miss out associating with colleagues in the Sunshine State. Make out your check (payable to Florida Chapter of APG) right now.
A Chapter-sponsored position paper (see THE SUN, JULY 2007) to gather support to keep genealogical records open is getting favorable comments from genealogical organizations that have informally reviewed it.
The paper, prepared by Keep Genealogical Records Open Workgroup (KGROW), has been reviewed by the major genealogical organizations. Based on suggestions, KGROW will revise the document and ask the organizations to formally support it.
Founding members of KGROW are Co-Chairs, Jean Foster Kelley, CG, Tampa, Florida, Richard F. Robinson, CG, Boynton Beach, Florida; and Information Officer Alvie L. Davison, CG, Lakeland, Florida; Melinde Lutz Sanborn, FASG, Derry, New Hampshire; and Frederick E. Moss, JD, LL.M., Plano, Texas.
Dick Robinson takes an extensive look at how and why lawmakers are closing and restricting the basic tools of genealogists--vital records, especially birth certificates. He concludes that new laws are just hampering genealogical researchers and not actually preventing identity theft or terrorism. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of Digital Genealogist, available online by subscription.
Identity thieves aren’t stealing public genealogy records
Why are government officials trying to limit access to those records on and offline?
By Dick Robinson, CG
Copyright © 2007 by Dick Robinson. ALL RIGHTS Reserved.
Genealogical records are our lifeblood. Take them away or limit them, then we can’t research online or in person without difficulties. Restricted access to records is caused by poor funding, increased fees, missing or damaged records, or what some call just a knee-jerk reaction to protect privacy and help prevent terrorism.
Take a look at some headlines on http://genealogyblog.com/under “Public Records in Crisis” during the past year:
Massachusetts Vital Records May Be Closed
There Goes Your Privacy - One Byte at a Time
Access to Public Records Closes at a Frightening Rate
More on the “Ludicrous” Closure of South Dakota Public Records
Colorado Moves to Close Access to Public records
Restricting access to vitals
Many government officials around the country have been trying to restrict access to vital records. That includes birth, marriage, and death data online and in governmental offices. An Associated Press 50-state survey last year showed that 616 new laws restricting access to government records, databases, meetings, and other public information had been passed since Sept. 11, 2001. Only 284 laws had loosened access.
Closing or restricting access to records hampers genealogists. It creates a “widespread fear” of losing public records. Why? Many legislators and public officials believe that closing or limiting access to records will reduce identity theft and help prevent terrorism.
ID theft is a big, serious problem. It claims more than 10 million victims a year, costing consumers and businesses $50 billion a year, according to the FBI, in time and money to repair credit records and restore peoples’good names. “Identity theft occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes,” says the Federal Trade Commission. That information includes credit card, Social Security and driver’s license numbers and other personal information. Many people commonly label vital record misuse as identity theft; others like to use a more specific term, such as birth certificate fraud.
Gen data the problem?
Does genealogical information really contribute to identity theft? Proponents of restricting records say studies show that easy access to vital records significantly contributes to identity theft that may lead to terrorism. But a number of genealogists say that’s not true. There’s no evidence that criminals are stealing data from public records. For the past 20 years, genealogist Richard Pence, former newsletter editor of NGS’ Computer Interest Group, has been challenging anyone to give him a documented case of genealogical data fraud. He says they may involve vital records or genealogies. The documentation may be police or court records or a verifiable news article. Over the years, he’s received “occasional nibbles” that didn’t meet his criteria.
Public officials are just jumping on a runaway band wagon. It started rolling after the terrorists’ 9/11 attack in New York City in 2001. The Millennium Plot terrorists obtained credit cards and drivers’ licenses with stolen data. Where are the facts connecting public vital records that genealogists use to identity theft? genealogists ask. Experienced genealogists never come to a conclusion without proper analysis of all the facts!
Michael John Neill, a nationally-known genealogy researcher, speaker, and author says there’s no studies that show easy access to vital records significantly contributes to the identity theft problem.
Several reasons may be responsible for the belief that limiting access to public vital records may help prevent identity theft or even terrorism. Many legislators, even those sponsoring bills limiting access to vital records, don’t know all that’s in the bill and how it will affect genealogists. Sometimes when bills are passed, many governmental workers may misinterpret or not evenly apply law restricting public records.
A number of state legislators push for limiting access to vital records when they don’t really understand the situation, critics say. When an Indiana bill was filed last year to limit access to death information, Leland Meitzler wrote, “Another do-gooder congressman [legislator] has it figured that limiting access to death data is in some way going to protect folks from identity theft. It’s too bad that these legislators don’t take time to study the facts….before they try to show that they’re actually doing something in the statehouse.”
“Sadly,” says Pence, a former journalist, “it is the media. The media accepts at face value the cries of alarm from those who are making a living by scaring the bejabbers out of the public.” He cites what he believes is a flawed 2003 survey by the Federal Trade Commission that showed 27 million identity theft victims in the past five years.
Connecticut professional genealogist Dr. Robert L. Rafford blames a national association of state vital records offices for spreading misleading information about birth certificate fraud. He says the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems does not document its statement that implies that studies of the federal Inspector General “encourages change in access to birth certificates….” The 2000 study of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Offices of Inspector General reviewed previous federal reports on birth certificate fraud since 1976, with no mention of limiting access to them.
Standard documents recommended
In the absence of studies linking public vital records and fraud, let’s also take a look at the classic example of identity theft and terrorism. The 9/11 commission extensively studied what could be done to prevent another terrorists’ attack. In its 585-page report, the main recommendation of the commission on identify theft was that birth certificates and drivers license formats be the same in every state. These documents are the bread and butter tools of identity thefts. Authorities often do not recognize fakes because there are so many formats used. What was not said is important for genealogists. They did not suggest that access to public birth certificates or other vitals records be restricted.
Doesn’t make sense
Further, genealogists complain that vital record restrictions just don’t make sense. Identity thieves typically steal credit card, driver’s license, and social security numbers of many people at once. They don’t try to get individual records like birth certificates through vital records departments, according to Neill. They don’t diligently search for vital records on microfilm like genealogists do. For thieves, it’s just not practical to spend hours getting copies of public vital records of their victims, says Neill.
Hackers, employees to blame
Instead, you often hear about computer hackers or some unscrupulous employee stealing valuable personal data. Rafford says he concludes from his research that “a tremendous percentage of identity thefts” are done by governmental, banking, and data processing employees who don’t need vital certificates. For example, the media reported in late March of this year that hackers stole 45.7 million credit card numbers from shoppers at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores. They also got numbers for drivers’ licenses and military identification cards of another 455,000 people.
ID theft stories foster warnings
Neill says that such stories foster warnings about protecting personal data. You may be advised to shred discarded personal information or never give personal data to unsolicited e-mail from financial institutions. “Rarely is one told to go to the courthouse and shred your birth certificate so someone cannot make a copy of it,” jests Neill. In fact, you likely won’t see any terrorists or identity thieves there either. They rarely, if ever, go to any of the 10,000 different agencies here that can issue birth certificates.
Causes of ID theft
It’s just easier to get doctored birth certificates or other fake documents at a host of websites. Thieves do not search your garbage for personal data as much anymore or steal wallets or purses as often. They can just get about anything they need online cheap. In secret chat rooms, they openly trade stolen data worldwide as it crawls by on stock-like tickers, reports MSNBC’.com’s “Red Tape Chronicles.” A related NBC Dateline investigation quoted an expert who said thieves pay as little as $5 to buy someone’s name, address, Social Security number, credit card number, and pin number.
Where do they get that data? Much of it comes from stolen laptop computers and from hackers who break into systems of large and small companies, says the expert. Identity theft today with computers appears to be much easier than ever before. So why would thieves resort to combing public vital records? Genealogists know how hard it is sometimes for them to confirm that they have found a certain person’s vital record. Imagine, says Pence, how hard it would be for a crook who knows nothing about genealogy to coordinate data from vital records to commit a crime. Should online genealogists fear having their identity or personal data compromised? Pence answers, “It never hurts to be careful, but the danger of having one’s identity stolen is almost nonexistent.”
Stealing from the dead
Other ID thieves steal information about the dead. They can get names and addresses from obituaries. Then they buy their Social Security numbers and other personal data on the Internet for only $15 or so. With this information, they can get credit cards or open checking accounts or buy merchandise in the names of deceased people, according to scam expert Sid Kircheimer. Experts advise that you should not give the deceased’s day and month of birth (provide just the year) in obituaries and to notify credit agencies and credit card companies right after someone dies. Send them their death certificate, he advises.
Some people believe that genealogy websites contribute to identity theft. A couple of years ago the Utah attorney general claimed that family history websites were feeding ID thieves with social security numbers (SSN). But Pence says that that if someone used a SSN in the Social Security Death Index they would likely be caught by financial institutions who routinely check the same database.
What can be done
In today’s world, it is not clear what information is private. In genealogy, though, for people born since the last public U.S. Census in 1930, all data is usually considered private except the surname and gender. Pence advises never post online or give information to others about living people, including the importing and exporting of GEDCOM files.
Instead of restricting public records, Rafford recommends that government and private companies do a better job of policing its employees. He notes that many states have taken some action. States generally restrict birth records. Florida, for example, allows the child on the certificate or the child’s parent, guardian or legal representative to obtain birth certificates. All birth certificates become public record 100 years following birth.
Rafford’s state of Connecticut only allows members of approved genealogical societies who present photographic identification to see or receive birth records less than 100 years old. California issues birth and death certificates stamped “Informational, Not a Valid Document to Establish Identity.” Several years ago California took down its online index of vital records and prohibited its agencies from selling them. However, they had been widely distributed, and are sold today online by private companies, according to Pence. He says the sales have resulted no reports of fraud.
States are also trying to decide whether to provide public records online 24 hours a day or just when county courthouses are open. Florida temporarily banned court records on the Internet while the pros and cons were studied. States also must now follow the federal Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. It prevents most public access to birth and death certificates for 70 to 100 years. The law allows states to set up its own rules and decide whether to provide an exception for genealogical and historical societies.
“Family historians need to be on the forefront of making it clear to our elected officials that access to vital records is not the real problem,” Neill writes on his website. Other genealogists say why close or limit access to records and punish people who don’t misuse them? It will just hamper genealogical researchers and not stop identity theft.
Dick Robinson is a certified genealogist, personal historian, and author of books and national magazine articles. He is legislative chair of the Florida State Genealogical Society and Florida Liaison to the Records Preservation & Access Committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and National Genealogical Society. Robinson, a professional journalist who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, has written several articles on records preservation and access. He is the founding president of the Florida Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists.