Let’s look at some of the types of records that are generated about you that are, by federal, state and local law, considered “public” – that is, anyone can have access to these records with a simple request to the appropriate authority. These records are collected and maintained by public-sector institutions such as government agencies or licensing boards.
- When you are born, there is a birth certificate registered.
- If you have a license to drive or hunt; own a gun or a pet; operate a boat or airplane; sell liquor or dispense prescription drugs; operate a restaurant or beauty parlor; work as a health-care provider or interior designer; or any of hundreds of other types of licensed activities, you generate a public record.
- If you served in the military, there is a record of your military service and discharge.
- When you are married the marriage license becomes a public record.
- When you have or adopt children, their births and school registrations are recorded.
- If you register to vote, there is a record in the state voter registration files, along with a record of whether or not you voted in previous elections.
- If you give money to a political candidate, there is a record of the amount you gave and who received the campaign contribution.
- If you divorce, there is a public record of the terms of settlement.
- If you own property, there are records with a description of the property and how much you pay in property taxes.
- If you are arrested, there is an arrest record and if you spend time in jail there is a log of your stay there.
- If you go bankrupt, there is a court bankruptcy filing that details the financial arrangements to which you and your debtors have agreed.
- If you go to civil or criminal court for any reason, as defendant or plaintiff, there is a court record.
- If you get injured working for a public agency your worker’s compensation claim is public.
- When you die, there is a record of the death. If you failed to leave a will, the probate court records about the dispersal of your earthly goods are public.
All of this means that public records are extremely valuable information sources about individuals. News professionals need to conduct background checks on people in the news. Strategic communications professionals need to conduct research about their clients to see if they can pay the bills or if they have image or licensing problems. We will discuss some of the search tools to help locate public record information later in this lesson.