RD108 - Public Access to Vital Records

  • Published: 2012
  • Author: Joint Commission on Health Care
  • Enabling Authority: Letter request from Senate Committee on Education and Health

Executive Summary:
Senate Bill 865, introduced by Senator Harry B. Blevins, sought to make genealogical records in Virginia more accessible to the public by amending the Code of Virginia § 32.1-271(D) to require the State Registrar to make birth, death, marriage, and divorce records available to the public when statutory timeframes for privacy expire. SB 865 was passed by indefinitely in the Senate Committee on Education and Health and a letter was sent to the Joint Commission on Health Care requesting the submission of a written report to the Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee, the bill patron, and the Senate Clerk’s Office.

The Office of Vital Records, which is housed in the Virginia Department of Health and supervised by the State Registrar, is the primary repository of vital records in the Commonwealth. Code of Virginia § 32.1-271(D) establishes the following timeframes for the public release of records maintained by the State Registrar:

Birth records – 100 years after the date of birth.
Death, marriage, and divorce records – 50 years after the date of occurrence.

In addition, the Library of Virginia maintains birth, death, and marriage registers for 1853-1896, which are accessible to the public. Also, local circuit courts maintain marriage and divorce records that are open for public inspection.

Allowing public access to vital records is a policy decision which requires balancing the competing priorities of the privacy of an individual’s records and public access to those records. There are numerous reasons that descendants or genealogists may be interested in accessing vital records including: to determine genealogy, to understand family medical histories including hereditary diseases, or to fulfill religious practices. Concerns related to allowing increased public access include: identity theft, privacy of personal and family records, and potential loss of revenue for the Office of Vital Records. Based on the study findings, Joint Commission members voted to introduce legislation to decrease from 50 to 25 years the time period that marriage, divorce, annulment, and death records maintained by the State Registrar may be made public information. Three bills, Senate Bill 309 and Senate Bill 310 by Senator Harry B. Blevins and House Bill 272 by Delegate Christopher K. Peace, were introduced during the 2012 General Assembly Session.

Joint Commission members and staff would like to thank the numerous individuals who assisted in this study, including representatives from: Ancestry.com, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Identity Management and Information Protection, Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access, eCitizen Foundation, Experian, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Library of Virginia, Missouri Department of Health, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Technical Information Service, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Social Security Administration, Supreme Court of Virginia, TransUnion, U. S. Secret Service, Vermont Department of Health, Virginia Bankers Association, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Genealogical Society,

Kim Snead
Executive Director
April, 2012