Closing Access to Washington Vital Records

This is an ALERT to proposed changes to access to Vital Records

in the State of Washington, SB 5332-2019-20.

Currently, Washington is an open records state. Change has been proposed by the Dept. of Health to restrict access to Vital Records in our state. DOH is proposing changes based on a “best practices” in vital records control and recommendations from the Federal Government, citing privacy concerns and identity theft. These changes will affect all genealogists!

Here is a brief summary of the proposed changes:

Placing restrictions on release of records to the public:

  • 100 years for live birth and fetal death
  • 50 years for death, marriage, divorce, annulment, legal separation and dissolution of domestic partnerships

Placing restrictions on who certified copies of Vital Records (birth, death, marriage, and divorce) may be released to:

  • Birth Certificates will only be released to the “subject of the record” (yourself), the subject’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, step-parent, sibling, grandparent, legal guardian, legal representative or authorized representative before the 100 year embargo.
  • Death Certificates will be released to the decedent’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, step-parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, legal guardian immediately prior to death, legal representative, authorized representative or next of kin as specified in RCW 11.28.120 before the 50 year embargo.
  • Certificate of Fetal Death will be released to a parent, a parent’s legal representative, an authorized representative, sibling or a grandparent before the 100 year embargo.

New Provisions:

  • The State may issue an informational copy to a vital record to anyone. Informational copies must contain only the information “allowed by rule”.
  • Informational death copies will not include information related to the cause of death and manner of death.
  • “Authorized representative” will include genealogists. This will require a notarized letter of permission from next of kin and personal identification.
  • Applicants will be required to provide identification and proof of relationship to obtain certified copies of vital records.

WSGS has been working with the Records Preservation and Access Committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies on this issue.

WSGS has taken the position that:

  • Vital Records are the backbone of our profession and hobby. Access to these records is essential to our work and embargo periods to records are unnecessarily restrictive.
  • We support keeping all Vital Records open. Access to vital records has not been demonstrated to increase the risk of identity theft. We believe that keeping birth, marriage, divorce and death records open does more to prevent identity theft.
  • Keeping the cause of death on Informational Death Records is essential to genetic and forensic genealogists.
  • We support proposed changes to cover the cost for providing access to Vital Records.
  • Redaction of Social Security numbers on an Informational Copies of Vital Records is supported.

We are asking all of you to please contact your local Senator, the members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and the sponsors of the bill; Sen. Jamie Pederson, Sen. Ann Rivers, Sen. Claire Wilson, Sen. Maureen Walsh, Sen. Emily Randall, Sen. Annette Cleveland and Sen. Marko Liias. This bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 at 10am. Please submit your comments before Thursday!

Senate Law & Justice Committee: Sen. Jamie Pederson Sen. Manka Dhingra Sen. Mike Padden Sen. Jeff Holy Sen. Patty Kuderer Sen. Jessie Salomon Sen. Lynda Wilson

The proposed changes to the Vital Records Initiative, SB 5332 – 2019 – 20, can be read in its entirety at the link below. You can use this link to access a copy of the bill and/or make comments. Watch on TVW.

Thank you for your attention. Sincerely,

Virginia Majewski, President, Washington State Genealogical Society

15 comments on “Closing Access to Washington Vital Records

  1. Diane K McCoy says:

    Not much time to comment on this. I think it is a bad idea Sure doesn’t give an opportunity to get the needed documentation for previous generations.

    Redacting the soc is a great idea.

    • JGBC says:

      No! Redacting the SS# and cause of death is an idiotic idea. The SS# is for a deceased person and already online in the SSDI!

  2. Mimi Miller says:

    It is vitally important that we contact our senators and encourage them to stop this proposed bill now. We are the voters, they are suppose to represent us, and if we don’t speak up they won’t hear.

  3. Barbara Mathews says:

    Identity theft is not eliminated through records closure. By comparing the amount of years birth and death records are closed in each state against data from the Federal Trade Commission, Reclaim the Records produced a graph of ID theft vs. records closure. The results were that the line was flat. ID theft had nothing to do with whether or not records were closed or open.

    You can see the graph here:

  4. Carol Strube says:

    Please keep them open.

  5. Ginny Bond says:

    Please keep access to these records open. They provide invaluable information to those of us doing research on our family history.


    drastic action. this will exclude many genealogists doing family research. if your grandfather or gr-uncle, or cousin are dead, who do you get permission from? how would you even know who to contact?

  7. Felicia Addison says:

    This breaks my heart that we have to fight for this. Please keep the records available to the many genealogists and family historians that depend on them.

  8. Susan Ruske says:

    I hope they have a change of heart. This would hurt more than help the people. Families and genealogists need access to these vital records to learn about their ancestors. Identity theft will occur with or without these records. Keeping them Open makes them easily traced if there were any people trying to do such a deed and probably protects them more by remaking open for all to see. My father died when I was only eighteen years old. His parents died when he was in his early teens. These records connect families back together. We can learn the details from the records, then study the history of the area and come to an understanding of how they lived and what was happening in the world at that time. This information is a priceless treasure for the families left behind. Please don’t take that away.

  9. J rabanal says:

    All people have a right to know about their ancestors.. you must have better things to address. Why make it more difficult!

  10. Jeni says:

    I do not live in Washington so unfortunately, I cannot help by contacting a representative, however, if someone can get a message to one or more of them, other states have started to protect certified vital records by issuing a informational index for births, including first, middle initial, and last name of the child with date and place of birth along with the name of the parents, WITHOUT including the certificate number or by substituting an Informational index number that corresponds to in a state security level database with the actual birth certificate number. Although the index record cannot be used for proof of identity, it can be used as a reference source for genealogists. Might be worth the time to suggest it as a compromise to the complete closure of records.

    • Patty Olsen says:

      A big part is they want to redact the cause of death for people trying to see if “it’s heredity.” For us whose Grandma died at 27 and you NEVER knew anything about her family because Grandpa remarried and moved to WA from SD, the trail stops.
      There’s proof that identity theft has NOT come from birth, death, marriage & divorce certificates. I’m sure they’d love to blame us, sloppy credit card mgmt.

  11. Cindy Taiclet says:

    I do not live in Washington state, but I was born and raised there. My family settled there in the late 1800’s and the majority of my family history is there. My family did not keep records and I rely heavily on accessing this information in order to publish our family history. I understand wanting to remove social security numbers, but please leave the other records available to us as they are. Indexes do not always give you the complete picture and are not a good primary source.

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