Looking for your grandfather’s 1919 birth certificate to fill out your family tree? Need your mother’s 1943 death certificate in order to file an insurance claim?
Under current Georgia law, you face a lengthy and costly challenge getting those vital records, which are currently closed to the public. At one time, records were available to the public for free, but now they’re only available through the Georgia Department of Health’s Vital Records office — if you meet certain requirements and are willing to pay $38 a copy for documents.
But a bill before the Georgia legislature would reverse changes made last year, making it easier to access these old records again.
HB 92, which will be heard this Friday at 8 a.m. by the Georgia House Government Affairs Committee, would make birth certificates available after 100 years instead of waiting 125 years. Death records would be available after 75 years instead of 100.
The bill must pass out of committee and be voted on by the full House and go to the Senate by Crossover day, which is expected to be March 4, in order to have a chance of becoming law.
If HB 92 becomes law, you’d be able to get your grandfather’s 1919 birth certificate for free online at the Georgia Archives’ Virtual Vault or for 30 cents a copy in person at the archives in Morrow. Georgia began keeping birth and death records in 1919.
A coalition of genealogists, researchers and others are “stirring up a hornet’s nest” to try to get the bill passed. They’ve written and called Georgia lawmakers pressing them to pass the bill. The group has also contacted associations statewide that are affected by last year’s changes in the law.
“It’s not only genealogists who get stopped in their tracks in research. It’s historians, scholars, authors, medical researchers, criminal investigators, and the list goes on and on,” said Elizabeth Stewart Olson, a professional genealogist in Suwanee. Olson also is president of the Georgia Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists.
“This puts another layer of restrictions on people who rely on these records to do their jobs or people who bring history and information to the public,” Olson said.
The records are so vital to Olson’s work that she was able to identify and track a particular cancer that was passed down to various generations of one family using death certificates.
Last year’s restrictions — which came through SB 372 — places particular hardship on Black people trying to trace their family lineage because records dating back more than 100 years often didn’t list enslaved people by name. Thus birth and death certificates, which provide information such as parents’ names, are often the only link to the past for many Black people.
“Had it not been for my great grandfather’s Georgia death certificate, I would never have been able to identify my great-great-grandfather who was enslaved,” said Emma Davis Hamilton, a Decatur family researcher. “These records are important to black families. It’s imperative HB 92 passes.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Read about HB92 here.
If you agree, call members of the Georgia Government Affairs Committee, ask them to pass the bill. You can find members here.
Go here to let the Georgia Department of Public Health know you support HB92 and you want access to Georgia’s vital records.
(Header: Public Records via Unsplash)