Tuesday, May 19, 2009

San Diego County Vital Records - you gotta pay to see them!

My SDGS colleagues Peter Steelquist, Joan Lowrey and Marna Clemons are featured in the article County now charging to view birth, death files by Jeff McDonald in the 19 May 2009 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The article notes that:

"Peter Steelquist knows most of the clerks at the Recorder's Office by name. He appreciates their help looking up birth and death records, even brings them boxes of chocolate every now and then. The amateur genealogist from Mission Hills used to visit the second floor of the County Administration Center every week to research the ancestors of friends and relatives. But his regular trips have all but stopped since last month, when the county began charging money to view many of its public documents."

The reason for the change in policy:

"Diana Bradrick, the chief deputy recorder/county clerk, said the county should have been imposing a fee all along. She only found out customers were not being assessed fees during a departmentwide review last month. “There simply isn't authority not to collect the fee,” Bradrick said. “It was being waived, but without there being any authority to waive it, and I didn't realize it.”"

What caused the change?

"For years, customers were permitted to scrutinize birth and death records free – as long as they didn't need copies. The office historically has charged for informational and certified copies of records. A clerk would jot down the requested name and dates, retrieve the record and bring a copy back to the counter, where the requestor was allowed to take notes. The copies were then destroyed. All that changed a couple of weeks ago, Bradrick said, after a woman turned up at the counter seeking birth records for a five-page list of people.
“It must have been 100 names,” she said. "

Read the entire piece.

Here is an example of how genealogists were working with the county clerk employees to provide a service for queries and heir searchers and someone comes along with a five page list and ruins it for everyone.

I've been researching queries for San Diego County as part of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society Research Chairman duties for six years now, and have always requested the informational copy of vital records for my "customers." They wanted the copy anyway, so if I was sure that we had the right person, it was easy to obtain the vital record copy and pass the cost on to my customers.

Times are hard economically right now, and I'm sure that all government offices that provide similar services will be looking hard at the processes they use to serve the public. It seems to me that vital records copy services could be a money maker for the counties. In my experience, it takes the clerk less than five minutes to look up and print out, on a certificate form, the vital record, and in California the charge is $12 to $17 for each record.

I guess that there will be no more chocolates for the county clerks. Too bad. But it will save Peter money in the long run.

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