Thursday, June 21, 2007

Look-Up Volunteerism and Ethics

I recently received a request to look up the birth record of an individual in one of the microfilmed Michigan county birth records libers which I have on permanent loan at my local Family History Center. What stopped me in my tracks was that the requester mentioned that this individual was currently residing at a certain location in that county.

I replied, stating that the county birth records I had access to were only filmed to about 1918, and that "I am reluctant to look up records on persons who may be living. If [this person] is currently living, I suggest that you contact [him or her] yourself to obtain [his or her] birth date and place."

Even having access to county birth records as late as 1918 presents a bit of a dilemma: Michigan privacy law only allows access to birth certificates that are 110 years old, and grants them only to certain persons, such as heirs or legal representatives. Of course, if one was born in Michigan, one may obtain one's own birth certificate, but must provide ID and other documentation to procure it. I usually don't hesitate to look up birth records for the early part of the twentieth century; but then, in the past, the only people who have requested these stated their ancestor or relative was deceased.

So my unspoken question to the requester is this: Why did you ask me to look up this person's birth record, if he/she is still living and you could ask him/her yourself?

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