New Oklahoma vital statistics law highlights restricted access in Kansas

To the chagrin of genealogists and researchers, Kansas joins the federal government in severely limiting access to birth and death information.

okgovlogoExcept for instances where determining the parentage of a child is relevant to a limited class of legal proceedings, Kansas law, specifically K.S.A. 65-2422d(c), does not “permit inspection” of birth and death records unless the Kansas Department of Health and Environment “is satisfied the applicant therefor has a direct interest in the matter recorded and the information contained in the record is necessary for the determination of personal or property rights.”  As a practical matter, this means the only folks with a decent chance to get a copy of birth or death records are the immediate family members of the subject.

Moreover, any birth or death delivered by the department to the clerk of the district court in the county in which the birth or death took place “shall be considered confidential and shall not be disclosed to the public.”  Finally, there does not appear to be any provision in Kansas law for birth or death information to ever become public, even after 75, 100, or 125 years, as set forth in the Model Vital Statistics Act.

However, Oklahoma has recently amended its vital statistics law in a way that preserves privacy and gives researchers the ability to obtain meaningful information. Now, O.S.S. 63 § 1-323, among other things, provides details about who might have a “direct interest” in the records, such as a parent, personal representative, or an attorney involved with administering an estate.

Most importantly, the amended statute provides for an “online public index that includes, as is applicable, the name, gender, date of birth, date of death, county of birth, and county of death of all persons in its records. Birth data shall not be added to the index until twenty (20) years after the birth. Death data shall not be added to the index until five (5) years after the death. The index shall be made available online at no cost to users.”

In the Oklahoma State Department of Health press release accompanying the amendment, Registrar Kelly Baker said that her office “has worked diligently over the years to preserve the integrity of birth and death records, protect the identify of our citizens, and we continue to preserve the historical documents of our state and families.”  Oklahoma Genealogy Society President Mike Birdsong said that the database will allow users to “immediately access records which helps verify an ancestor’s data,” and that when considering “the privacy rights of living and recently deceased Oklahomans,” the “index is a good balance between protecting privacy and researching family records.”

Finally, while the Oklahoma law previously allowed for public disclosure of death certificates after 75 years, the amendment makes them publicly available after 50.  Birth certificates remain unavailable to the public until 125 years “after the birth.”

Thus, the new Oklahoma statute prevents unreasonable invasions of privacy, while still allowing access to information related to births and deaths so valuable to genealogists and other researchers.  Additionally, birth and death records should be available to the public after a certain number of years, consistent with the Model Vital Statistics Act. The legislature should strongly consider any proposals that bring Kansas law in line with these precedents.

Max Kautsch is the Kansas liaison for the Records Preservation and Access Committee.  Send him an email here.