Aside from the obvious difference of searching for deceased ancestors as compared to living missing heirs, the availability of research resources between the two is different especially prior to 1941 as compared to after 1940 and since 1974. This is mostly due to the privacy rules and laws that affect the availability of records to the pubic over the past 70 years.
The biggest difference with missing heirs research is the “72-Year Rule” that limits the release of the U.S. Census records. The most recent U.S. Census available to the public is 1940, with the 1950 Census scheduled to be released in April 2022. The U.S. Census information collected from questionnaire responses from Respondents or U.S. Census Enumerators going door to door collecting Respondent information is placed directly with the U.S. Census Bureau and is not shared with the public or any other government agencies. The specific use for this information is to determine representation in Congress, funding and resources for local infrastructure, 1st responders, elderly housing, schools, hospitals, and local business needs based on the region’s population and demographic.
The Privacy Act of 1974 and its amendment created a code of fair information practices that governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personal information. These records are maintained in systems by various federal agencies. This affects the availability of many records, what information is released to the public, and varies based on the jurisdiction and organizations housing the records. Some may provide an “unofficial record” that for example limits the information provided on a death certificate such as the names of the parents of the deceased but not the cause of death, while others only provide information to individuals who can prove they are related to the individual on the record they are requesting. This allows the family of the individual to get the information they need while otherwise maintaining privacy.
Ancestral research focuses mostly on resources such as U.S. Censuses, genealogical publications, state and local vital records (birth, marriage, death), passenger manifests, immigration and naturalization records, library archives and manuscripts, newspaper articles, obituaries and death notices, historical society accounts, biographies, military records, city directories, cemetery records, church records, probate records, wills, and voter registration, etc.
As a result of privacy rules and laws, many resources have been restricted to include U.S. Census, military records, state and local vital records collections, church records, passenger manifests, cemetery records, and voter registration.
For missing heir research this has resulted in greater dependence on newspaper articles, obituaries and death notices, probate records, wills, on-line directories, and library resources. However, perhaps the biggest difference is the addition of social media to include Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn since these resources provide first-hand information.
The research resources utilized for missing heir research, as compared to ancestral research, has become necessarily less dependent on resources limited by privacy laws and more dependent on social and print media. Having the skill set for both types of research is necessary and rewarding, especially when it comes to meeting our client’s needs.