TOWNSHEND, Vt. (AP) – For Robert Du Grenier, a historian and geneologist, the best part of the town report might be the annual listing of vital records – the births, deaths, marriages, and now civil unions that have taken place the year before.

It’s the first thing many people look for. And it’s a rich source of information for geneologists.

“It’s this great social document,” said Du Grenier, vice president of Townshend’s historical society.

But it’s also a tradition whose time might be passing. Some town officials have stopped publishing the records because of concerns about privacy and security.

Townshend’s auditors – the officers who in each town have the final say in this matter – removed the vital records from Townshend’s report in 2000 because of those concerns. Auditor Craig Hunt, a sometime historian and geneologist, is sorry they’re gone.

“It’s a small governmental record which I think is part of what keeps a community a community,” Hunt said. “But we live in the 21st century, and we can’t pick up a newspaper…and not read about homeland security and all the things that are going on.”

Vital records are a good one-stop source of information for geneologists and historians.

“We adore them,” said Marjorie Strong, a librarian at the Vermont Historical Society Library. “You look 100 years ago, and you find it all. It makes it a lot easier.”

For that reason, some Townshend residents protested their removal in 2000, and are trying to get them restored. Du Grenier said one of the worst things about the change is that his son’s birth in 2000 was not recorded in that year’s report. Moreover, Du Grenier, a sculptor who helped write and publish a Townshend history last year, worries that the loss of the records will hinder geneologists who travel to Townshend seeking information about ancestors.

“That’s been a huge database for us for finding births, marriages, deaths, etcetera,” he said. “That’s kind of the only thing that stays around 100 years, the published town report.”

Institutions that work with clerks, such as the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, have held seminars in recent years suggesting that printing detailed records might lead to identity theft and other problems.

The records are public and available elsewhere, including the state archives in Middlesex.

“It’s kind of nice to have it in several places, but the state is keeping track, and the town is keeping track in its own records, so those are the spots you’d go to,” said Strong, who said she understood why security concerns would lead auditors and clerks to leave the records out of town reports.

The topic of vital statistics is a hot one among town clerks right now. There are many different approaches.

Woodstock Town Clerk Jerome Morgan puts in numbers, but no names.

“There would be pages of stuff if I tried to print all that out,” Morgan said. “Besides, none of them live in Woodstock anyway; they live in Hollywood, Boston, New Jersey. Very few people actually live in Woodstock and get married here.”

He added that most of Woodstock’s births and deaths take place across the Connecticut River at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

“There are all kinds of complicated issues,” he said.

The town of Dover publishes the names and dates.

“Our people in our town like to read it,” said Town Clerk Mary Lou Raymo. “We even tell how much everybody earns, that works for the town.”

After discussing the practice with many of her colleagues, Marshfield Town Clerk Bobbi Brimblecombe decided this year to put in the names of babies born – and their parents’ names – but not their birthday or town of birth, as she has in previous years. She plans to ask Marshfield residents at Town Meeting Day what they would like to see in the future. She knows the vital records are a popular feature.

“It’s the first thing that everybody looks for,” she said.

The tiny Northeast Kingdom town of Granby prints all the vital statistics.

“We are small and the whole community likes seeing that info in the report,” wrote Town Clerk Nellie Noble in an e-mail. “I always check and get written permission on births first though.”

But Hardwick only prints the number of births, deaths, marriages and civil unions because of concerns about identity theft.

“It’s just so much better for everybody,” said Hardwick Town Clerk Gerald Hall. “Anytime the office is open, the records are open to the public.”

Du Grenier wants Townshend’s vital records restored to the town report. He acknowledges that researchers can look in the town vault for the same information – or at the state records building in Middlesex – but he argues that publishing them in town reports makes it more likely the records will survive in some form.

“If it’s only located in one place, the chances of it getting stolen or lost are much greater,” he said.

Du Grenier isn’t willing to run for auditor to change the situation – “I’m no good with numbers,” he said – but he’s planning to bring the matter up at Town Meeting and see what other residents have to say.

“Somebody else changed it; I just want to get it back to what it was,” he said.

AP-ES-02-16-04 1326EST



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