What are Public Records? How are Public Records Collected?
When people are looking to find information about someone, they tend to run a Google search or find them on social media. However, when someone is looking for information that one does not tend to publish about themselves like a criminal past, a divorce, or lawsuits they would first thing about a private investigator. There is a much simpler process to find this information that can be accessed for free, or for a very affordable price. This process is through public records. This article will describe what public records are, how they are collected, and where to find them.
What Are Public Records
Public records are essentially a document containing information that is recorded and stored by a government and has been deemed to be accessible by a member of the public. Public records come in all forms and can be paper, photographs, and maps, or stored on electronic media, such as CDs, DVDs, and computer databases.
The reason that many records have become public is because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Passed in 1967, the FOIA has provided individuals with the right to request access to records from any federal agency. This law was passed for reasons of transparency and allows citizens to know about government dealings. As this law was passed on a federal level, it requires all federal agencies to disclose any information requested unless it falls under an exemption such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.
Many states have passed their own FOIA laws albeit at different levels, for example, some states will only allow members of the family to access certain documents, while others allow anyone to view these records.
Public records can be split up into two main categories, the first is information about people, and the second is about government. Information about people is usually handled on the state level, and information about government is handled on the federal level. The reason for this is that the federal government does not often deal with individuals, rather the country as a whole, while state and local governments deal on a more micro level involving individuals.
Some examples of Public Records are:
- Court records
- Birth records
- Death records
- Marriage records
- Criminal records
- Statistical data
- Business records
- Meeting minutes
- Voting records
- Government financial records
How Are Public Records Collected?
Public Records are created, collected and kept by the government agency that is responsible for the record. For example, State Health departments maintain birth records, death records, adoption records. Courts maintain marriage records, divorce records, and court cases and law enforcement agencies maintain arrest records, criminal records, and traffic violations. These are also the agencies that are mostly responsible for providing access to their own records.
There are also government agencies that were created that collect records from around the country and make them accessible to the public. The two prime examples of this are the National Archives and the Office of Information Policy a branch of the Justice Department that is responsible for the FOIA.
The National Archives was established in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt, but it holds records dating back to 1775. Aside from historical records like the Louisiana Purchase and the Declaration of Independence, the collection of the National Archives range from slave ship manifests, to military records. The National Archives maintains only those Federal records that are deemed to have continuing value, which comes out to between 2 to 5 percent of all records in any given year. The National Archives now has about 10 billion textual records, 300,000 films, 400,000 video and sound records, and 50 million photographs. The National Archives have a searchable database of all records that have been digitized.
The FOIA works in a different way and is more of a liaison between individuals requesting information and the agency responsible for supplying it. There are currently 118 different federal agencies that are subject to the FOIA. Many records are available by search, but if not then they will help you request the document from the agency you need the record from. You can submit a request on their website, but it is necessary to be specific about the type of information you are looking for or your request may be rejected.
There are also a large number of background search and people search companies that provide their services by collecting large amounts of public records and making them searchable by a person’s name. As the FOIA allows anyone to access these records, some companies have collected billions of records from both federal and state agencies and combined with algorithms make it very easy to find records relating to any individual in the US. Some examples of these companies are TruthFinder, GoLookUp, BeenVerified, and CheckPeople. This method of finding public records allows people to find records without having to contact government agencies and is instantaneous.
What Public Records Can Help You With
Public records have many uses both professionally and personally. Some of these uses include:
Reconnect- Public records often have the address or contact information about people, so if you remember someone from your past that you are looking to get in touch with again you may be able to find their information through public records. Genealogy- Most Genealogy sites have a public records section, the reason for this is simple, records help you establish dates, relatives and more. Your father may not remember much about his grandfather aside from his name, but when you find records connected with his name, you will be able to find out a large amount of information, past marriages, children, court records and more.
Dating- When beginning a relationship, there are many things you don’t know about the person you are dating. With these unknowns comes certain risks. With public records, you can find out if your partner has a criminal past, was ever married, and if they have any lawsuits against them.
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