Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iowa, RPAC, and Voting

The Great Seal of the State of IowaNo, I am not about to rehash what today’s news is telling us about Iowa and political PACs. Instead, I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about RPAC and the availability of Iowa’s vital records.

RPAC is the Records Preservation and Access Committee, a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies and other participants. One aspect of RPAC’s mission is to advise the genealogical community about legislation and laws affecting access to public records with genealogical value.

My understanding is, RPAC’s non-profit status precludes it from actively lobbying governments. They inform. Action is up to us.

That said, RPAC advises against acting out of panic. We don’t want to “exacerbate otherwise negotiable issues.”

One of the publications of RPAC is an executive white paper titled “Open Access to Public Records: a Genealogical Perspective.” It includes a table listing state-by-state availability of vital records. Here’s the entry for Iowa (current as of 18 December 2009):

State Record Type Year Begins Access (Closed, Open, Restricted) Years Restricted Copy for Genealogical Purposes Statute Notes
Iowa Birth 1880 Restricted 75 Special access permits given to genealogists 144.43 Out-of-wedlock, fetal death and adoptive birth records closed
  Marriage 1880 Restricted 75   144.43  
  Divorce   Restricted 75   144.43  
  Death 1880 Restricted 75   144.43  
  Adoption   Closed        

If I understand the publication correctly, RPAC recommends restricting birth records for 100 years, deaths for 25 years, and providing open access to marriage and divorce records.

According to the white paper, Iowa restricts access of all vital records to 75 years. Is that still the case? Any truth to the rumor that the department of health is imposing a more stringent policy? If you have experience researching in Iowa, I’d like to confirm or put this rumor to bed.

If you live in Iowa and want more access to vital records, contact your state legislators and let your vote be heard.

For more information, visit the RPAC website at .


  1. Perhaps it is still to early in this morning and I do not fully understand the report which is showing all the vital records in Iowa have a restricted time period. I have been researching here for more than a dozen years and I still have found full access to birth, marriage and death records. The year 2011 found me doing some additional research in eastern Iowa and one of the court houses did have some sort of restriction on a portion of the more recent death records. This was strange as I visited several court houses on that trip and only the one had the policy. I was in my local court house just yesterday and there was no restriction on any of the vital records, so I am still lost about the RPAC report!!

  2. I sent this onto the Iowa Genealogy Society ( as they should be an expert in this Iowa information. Hope that they correct any inaccuracies.

  3. Colleagues,

    The RPAC Blog announcement of the publication of the RPAC White Paper in February 2009 included the following:
    “ We envision that this will be a living document. Updates and corrections are welcomed and should be submitted to .”

    I wish to renew the invitation to submit updates and corrections. It will greatly assist our effort to improve this needed resource if your suggestions are provided to us at . Please be as specific as possible. Thank you.

    The Executive Summary currently includes the following explanation of “Recommendations” made in the RPAC White Paper: “In the pages that follow, we have made some recommendations representing the minimum public access to vital records that we view as essential. By doing so, our intent is to exhort those jurisdictions whose access provisions are more restrictive to move, at least, to that level. We support open records and it is definitely not our intent to suggest that the more “open” jurisdictions need to adopt more restrictive measures.”

    We anticipate significant additional legislative and regulatory activity this Spring, all of which may impact our access to the records we need. Please monitor the RPAC Blog at for the latest developments.



    Frederick E. Moss, J.D., LL.M.
    RPAC Member


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