Daily Court Reporter - News Proposed bill that would disclose century-old records is genealogist's dream
Proposed bill that would disclose century-old records is genealogist's dream
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
In the age of Ancestry.com and 23andMe, consumer products that allow individuals to trace their family lineage and define their genetic make up, a proposal by lawmakers to make public records sealed for 100 years or more would aid in such endeavors.
"This is important information one would need to discover their family's heritage or the history of their region," a joint sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Rick Perales of Beavercreek, told lawmakers during sponsor testimony of House Bill 139.
Succinctly, the bill would eliminate the disclosure exemption for any permanently retained public record 100 years after the date of its creation, except for records protected by the attorney-client privilege and trial preparation records.
Such records include:
County home registers,
Children's home registers,
Juvenile court cases,
Inheritance tax records, and
Veterans' relief records.
"This legislation seeks to unseal these documents 100 years after the creation of the document," Perales said. "The sealed time period of 100 years takes into consideration any complications or emotional impact that opening these records might have for certain individuals since it allows the timespan of at least one generation to pass.
"This is similar to the federal policy to lift restrictions on United States census records after 72 years."
Galen Wilson, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration's Office of the Chief Records Officer of the Federal government, said these records are invaluable to a society.
"Closure of these records is based on a general understanding of a person's right to privacy," Wilson said, noting that he was speaking for himself, rather than in any official capacity for the National Archives. "Longstanding principles of common law state that this right expires at death.
"Records must be temporarily closed to satisfy this right to privacy. But in some Ohio counties, these records remain closed forever, creating a disconnect affecting both custodians and potential users."
Wilson characterized the continued practice of exempting disclosure as nothing more than misguided paternalism.
"Somebody might be embarrassed, even a century later, so best to just not let anybody see them," he jested. "We will protect you from yourself.
"Never mind that the people saved from potential 'embarrassment' are the very researchers who want to see them."
He offered his own circumstance in tracing his family's history back to England.
"A 42-year-old man named Sykes Hinson died in 1853 in London, England's infamous Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum," Wilson continued. "He was my great-great-grandmother's brother.
"Am I ashamed of the fact that he spent at least the last quarter of his life in an insane asylum? No. Am I interested in his story - why he ended up there, how well he was treated, how and why he died there? Yes."
Thankfully for Wilson, the English records were available to him.
"But if the records were in Ohio, my ability to access them would be at the whim of a county judge," he said.
Perales said the century mark appears to be an adequate amount of time to pass before sensitive personal information is released.
"HB 138 is supported by County Archivists and Records Managers Association, and has been through preliminary vetting with state agencies and organizations including the office of the Ohio Attorney General, and so far has received no opposition," he added.
Several other states already have passed open access legislation for similar types of historical records.
Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, jointly sponsored the bill with Perales, while another four House members have signed on as cosponsors.
A fourth hearing of the measure had not been scheduled as of publication.
Date Published: December 7, 2017