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By Barbara Mathews, CG®

My friends will attest that two of my burning concerns are the preservation of records and our rights to access them. As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), I advocate for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participate in RPAC’s monthly conference call. Beginning today I will also report monthly to you about the records issues.

What is RPAC? It is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. In addition, non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.

This month there are two important topics of national interest (legislation involving the Social Security Death Index, and release of the 2011 Model Act and Regulations), and two local topics (North Carolina, and Georgia).

Legislation Impacting the Social Security Death Index

RPAC has been tracking newly introduced legislation in Washington, DC, to see if it will impact genealogists. So far, the following bills have been introduced. Some of these bills are reintroductions of bills which were considered in the last two-year session of Congress but did not move forward. They had to be submitted again to be considered by the newly elected Congress.

Many of these bills are scheduled to be studied by a subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. The Social Security Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Sam Johnson (TX 3). Congressman Johnson had several hearings last year on this topic.

The terminology used below might sound new. The bills refer to the Death Master File (DMF) which is a database that underlies the SSDI. Genealogists gained access to the SSDI as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit that resulted in a settlement many years ago. In order to close access to the SSDI, a bill would have to remove it from its current coverage by FOIA.

RPAC will continue to monitor for new bills or scheduled hearings over the next two years of the legislative session. When something interesting happens, we will let you know.

Bill Number

Sponsor Short
Committee Concerns

HR 295

Richard Nugent (FL 11) Protect and Save Act of 2013 Social Security subcommittee Closes SSDI and takes DMF out of FOIA coverage; also mandates that federal agencies work together to prevent fraud

HR 466

Michael Capuano
(MA 7)
Security Death Master File Privacy Act of 2013 Social Security subcommittee Closes the SSDI; takes DMF out of FOIA coverage

HR 531

Kathy Castor
(FL 14)
Tax Crimes and Identity Theft Prevention Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, And Investigations Closes SSDI for up to three years; also mandates that federal agencies work together to prevent fraud

HR 926

Thomas Petri
(WI 6)
Social Security Identity Defense Act of 2013 Social Security subcommittee Establishes process to report misused numbers to the FBI

2011 Model Act and Regulations

The registration of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces is done on the local level, that is, by 50 states, 5 territories, the City of New York, and Washington, DC. Information contained in those records is shared with U.S. government entities such as the Social Security Administration.

To ensure successful sharing, the U.S. government has made available text that states may elect to use for law as well as for regulations describing how those laws are implemented. States are not required to conform to the Model Act and Regulations. Each state, city, or territory is free to implement laws and regulations for its own needs. Nonetheless, the Model Act can have significant impact. For example, the movement of state vital records offices into state Departments of Public Health was first advised by the 1977 version of the Model Act.

Beginning in 2009, a committee formed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened to update the 1992 Model Act. The National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) approved the update by resolution 8 June 2011. NAPHSIS is an association of representatives from the 57 states, cities, and territories. Members of the organization had participated in the drafting of the new Model Act.

Previous iterations of the Model Act have gone through periods of public feedback and revision before approval by the federal agency involved. The 2011 revision has not yet been made available for public review by DHHS (see their note here) and so it is not yet considered final. In the meantime, several state public health departments developed legislation that conformed to the unreviewed version of the Model Act. This past Friday, 1 March 2013, at noon Eastern time, NAPHSIS independently released the 2011 revision of the Model Act on its website. It can be downloaded here.

What does the new version do? It incorporates changes in technology over the twenty years since the 1992 version. It also changes the records closure periods. Please compare these periods to the ones currently in law in the states in which you research. If they differ, it would be wise to work with local genealogy societies to monitor for the introduction of state legislation affecting records closure.

  • Birth records closed for 125 years.
  • Marriage and divorce records closed for 100 years.
  • Death records closed for 75 years.

Topics Involving Local Records Access and Preservation

North Carolina’s Department of Public Health requested that the University of North Carolina’s School of Government study the 2011 Model Act and report back on its potential impact to the state. The UNC SOG researcher requested an interview with a BCG representative.

The questions sent in advance were aimed at the needs of the family genealogist. In my response, I focused on the roles of Board-certified genealogists within the genealogy community. A strong message was included about the importance of the Genealogical Proof Standard in reaching sound identity and kinship conclusions. Several associates supplied me with anecdotal information that supported the importance of the GPS. You can find my written response here: BCGresponseUNCquestions4Mar2013.

In Georgia, the House passed a bill to move the Georgia State Archives over to the management of the University of Georgia System. House bill H.B. 287 has moved to the Senate, where it will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee. RPAC requests that genealogists write to the chair, Senator Jack Hill, to express their support of this change. Background on this issue can be found on the RPAC blog here. The dire state of the Georgia Archives has been noted outside the genealogical community, for example, in the blog of the American Bar Association posted here.

If you have records or preservation issues that need to be addressed, RPAC’s list of state liaisons is available here. If your state is not represented, please send an email directly to

Board-certified genealogists with questions about access or preservation issues should feel free to contact me through the online roster. Please let me know how these issues affect you.