Public Records? Where? How?

Kenneth Smith
March 4, 2009 — 1,353 views  
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Most people know about public records, that the government holds all kinds of paperwork on everyone. However, when it comes to searching for someone in the public records, things become a little murky. What information is available? Where to find the information? And how to get at the information? Starting off, there is the federal government. The great thing is that the federal government has all kinds of records, from deferral tax filings to passport information and everything in between, even possibly and FBI file. The bad news is that the federal government is vast and information is not centralized. You will need to locate the agency that handles the information that you need to access. Next, there is this misnomer about what is considered "public information" and the preservation of "privacy." Specifically, the federal government will not release information that is deemed private, even though everything is inherently labeled as "public information." There is, however, the Freedom of Information Act, which allows you to file a claim to have access to government records. Through this process, you can access quite a bit of federal records. However, a great deal will still remain off limits because of privacy issues. Next, there is the state government and their public records. Every state keeps their information and there is no centralized government access point. Everything is usually kept at the particular state's capitol. There are state criminal records, child support records, education records, and much, much more. Some are available for the asking in one state, while in another state the same information is protected under the Privacy Act. Again, the Freedom of Information Act also applies to protect state records. And, again, access to the information may come down to someone making an official decision to release the information or not because of privacy issues. The next level is the county and their public records. Like the all public records, this information is also spread throughout the United States. You will have to go down to the county courthouse and the county government offices to access these records. From birth certificates to marriage records to tax lien records, there is a great deal of information available. Even when you know what you are doing, the digging around might take a little time. Lastly, there are civil records. To a lesser extent, most city records will not be that extensive. However, the city police department may have some records available. There are also private city records, such as hospitals, clinics, and cemeteries. These latter records, however, fall out of the jurisdiction of public records.

About the Author

I am a librarian and my website is designed to help you with public records. People come to me all day at the library. You, too, can get help from me. I am just a click away:

Kenneth Smith