As strange as it may seem tracing recent generations can be harder than tracing older ones. One of the main reasons for this is Data Protection here in the UK and within the EU. Apart from a few exceptions (namely GRO indexes, public electoral registers and telephone books) many records are closed to the public for 100 years.
In general Archives etc. assume a lifespan of 100 years. The date starts from the last entry in that specific book or register. This means that records concerning children (schools etc.) are closed for 100 years from the last date of entry. You may find that some privately held records are not closed even though by law they should be. Records for adults may only be closed for 75 years, but some organisations will keep to a general 100 years regardless. Records containing a mix of children and adults (workhouses etc.) will be closed for 100 years from the last entry.
So what happens if you want to access a record in an Archive that is closed for Data Protection reasons?
In general one of three things can be done:
- If a book or register spans a range of years of which some are over 100 years old whilst the later ones are less than that, the Archivist can bind up the later records so you cannot access them but you can see the earlier records. If this option is not offered than ask if it is possible. Sadly with staff cuts they may not have time to do it there and then so you may need to arrange to return another day.
Of course that will not help you if you want the ‘hidden’ part. So what are your other options?
- Data Protection does not allow family historians any exceptions for accessing closed records. What is important to remember though is that Data Protection stops when the individual has died. This means you can still apply to have the record copied or transcribed as long as it does not impact on any living person AND you can prove the individual involved is dead. There will be a charge for this and the cost will be dependent on the organisation you approach.You will need to complete a 3rd Party Access Request Form and produce a copy of the death certificate. Some organisations may allow you to simply provide the date and place of death so they can check it with the General Records Office, but you need to confirm this before you make the request.It is possible for the organisation to refuse requests but they must inform you of the reasons. One reason could be that for nature or sensitivity of the record in general. Other reasons may relate to preventing crime, ongoing legal proceedings or the possibility it will harm a person or business.Repeated requests by the same person or group, or requests that will take too long to carry out may also be refused. If you are making a very general request, you should try to narrow the scope of the request. Having a tight time scale and specific details would help. Asking for details of all the John Smith’s in the Workhouse records is not a good idea. If in doubt always ask the Archivist for their advice as they have a duty to consider what advice and assistance they can provide.
In the case of family historians it is more likely to be refused if the time or cost involved is. The maximum limits are currently £600 for central government, Parliament and the armed forces searches and £450 for all other public authorities.
- If the records you wish to access are about you personally you can apply to see all of the information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The FOIA came into force in January 2005 and gives people a right to access information about themselves which is held by public organisations and businesses.You will have to prove your own identity and address. Email is generally not used to send this information as it is not very secure and anyone set up an email address and pretend to be you.You should only be charged the cost of copying the information and posting it to you. Some archives do not make a charge at all, however I have noticed a few do charge a flat fee for searches which appears to go against the legislation. Always check before you send in any request.
Other Closed Records
One other reason why a record may be closed to the public is due to its condition. The primary aim of our archives is to protect and preserve records for the future. If a record is too fragile to be accessed by the general public you can apply for the archivist to either copy (if possible without the risk of causing further damage) or provide a transcript of the entry. There will be a charge for these so please check with the relevant organisation.
There are ways of accessing many closed records, but as always if in doubt ask the archivist.
NOTE: the above only deals with the UK. Always check your own local guidelines
If you need help with your research visit my main webpages: Research Family History
For more researching tips read my other blogs: Research Tips
How to access information from a public body: https://ico.org.uk/your-data-matters/official-information/
What is the Freedom of Information Act?: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-freedom-of-information/what-is-the-foi-act/