Monday, September 10, 2007

Privacy in Texas

Several discussions on legal and ethical issues lately. As a newcomer to the genealogical community, I don't know how common this is. I have come upon another one that's troubling me.

Last night, doing some research on a surname in Texas I came across the Ancestry databases of their birth, death and marriage indexes. Several states have their death indexes online. This can be useful. Missouri even has their death certificates online - up until 1956. But they stop with certificates less than 50 years. They have no index for recent deaths either. The St. Louis Public Library has an index for Post Disptach obituaries that isn't complete, but when it is, will be up-to-present. This doesn't trouble me much, since all the people in the index are deceased.

But indexes of births and marriages for people who are still living? The Texas birth index at Ancestry is for 1903-1997. The marriage index is for 1814-1909 and 1966-2002. If I had been born in Texas, I'd be on it, as would my parents, and grandparents. The birth index gives names of both parents, with maiden name for the mother. Combined with the marriage index, this provides an easy reference to track the generations. There is a large gap in the marriage index, but still, while the census stops at 1930, if the family remains in Texas, you can pretty much keep on going until the current generation of parents. And then at several phonebook websites (Or on Google if you figure out the city they live in) you can probably find the phone number of the living generations. And give them a call and say, Hi, I'm a cousin.

It certainly might not be advisable to start out the conversation that way. And you might do better trying to find their address and writing a "blind inquiry" letter to them. (Uncle Hiram has some good advice on that.) It's way too easy to hang up a phone. But Texas certainly makes it easy. I'm not sure how many other states do this. Randy at GeneaMusings back in February suggested California was the only other one. Chicago (Cook County) recently announced it is putting a lot of their vitals online - with an estimated date of arrival in January, but I don't know if this will include recent vitals.

He also asks for input on the privacy issue. I didn't see his post back then (see first paragraph) but I'm giving it now, I guess. I don't like it.

Well, that is, looking at it from the perspective of somebody tracking me down - online - within a couple hours of fairly easy research - if I don't want to be tracked down that easily. I don't have to worry about that, I don't live in Texas.

But I do have some Texas relatives. I now know their names. I won't mention the surname. And while I'm not about to pick up the phone, I think I'd be silly not to write a couple letters. Gives them the option of not replying. I might even play 'dumb' and say that I think 'we may' be related. Don't want to scare them by telling them that I *know* we are. Of course, I'd be surprised if this hasn't been discussed in Texas newspapers, and they know full well how easy it is. So they might see right through my facade.

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