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The History of Public Domain Genealogy Records

While historians and genealogists have been researching and maintaining family records for many centuries, the method with which they do so has changed dramatically throughout the years.  Additionally, access to genealogy records, including public domain genealogy records, has also varied.

Some of the first historians of genealogical data were family members themselves.  Whether simply keeping old letters and keepsakes or filling out a family tree in the cover of a Bible, genealogy records were kept within each family.  As technology progressed, so did the accuracy of genealogy records.  The federal and state governments kept more detailed records of births, deaths, and marriages (previously only recorded by families or churches).  As these records were created, the information was also placed into the public domain.  Census data is also in the public domain, although there is a 72 year access restriction on it (meaning that currently, the latest year accessible is 1930).

Technology also provided easier methods for accessing public domain or free genealogy records – the internet.  With the advent of computers and internet, genealogy searches could be conducted more efficiently and from remote locations.  Additionally, this spurred many volunteer organizations to assist with organizing the public domain genealogy records into a more usable format.  Many historical societies, universities, and churches sponsored efforts to index and catalogue past genealogy records.  While copyright laws have protected some genealogical sources, many genealogy records are freely available in the public domain today.