It is illegal to post digital copies of Wisconsin birth, death and marriage records online

+13 votes

A member of the Technology for Genealogy facebook group posted this notice.  I have removed the digital copy of my 2x great grandmother's death certificate from and  Has anyone else heard about this law?


Wisconsin Vital Records Law

It is illegal to post on-line the digital copies of Wisconsin birth, death, and marriage certificates in Wisconsin.

See the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society (WSGS) Newsletter for October 2014, page 23,

"Wisconsin Legislation: Posting Vital Records Online", by Vickie Schnitzler

for a full explanation of how that law pertains to you as a genealogist.


in Genealogy Help by Meghan Dewhurst- Conroy G2G6 Mach 2 (23.4k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
Can you provide a link to the story?
Hi all,

Is there anyone who is a member of the society who can, wihtout breaking copyright, post the article? It's a member only site & there is no mention about copyright infringement on the home page.



Hi all,

The best I could find was 

see section Wisconsin Vital Records

P.O. Box 309

All the best 


5 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer

rather than looking for an article, I just looked up the law:

69.24 Penalties, syas:

"(1) Any person who does any of the following is guilty of a Class I felony:

(a) Other than as authorized under s. 69.21 (2) (d), prepares or issues any paper or film which purports to be, or carries the appearance of, an original or a copy of a vital record, certified or uncertified, except as provided under this subchapter or s. 610.50 and except for any hospital which issues any written announcement of the birth of a person to the parents of the person if the announcement contains plain notice that the announcement is not for official use.
(am) Makes available to the public in electronic format an uncertified photocopy of a vital record for an event occurring before October 1, 1907, that is issued under s. 69.21 (2) (d)."
by Rob Ton G2G6 Pilot (275k points)
selected by Maggie N.
Just a question...  How can they claim copyright on something made before 1907? Documents published before 1927 can no longer be copyrighted.


Simple... they are not claiming copyright under USC 17 - they have simply passed a new law. But, I do think the above quoted section needs to be read in context of the section it refers back to.. 69.21(2) (d) says [Emphasis added]:

1. An uncertified photocopy of a vital record for an event occurring before October 1, 1907, other than a vital record held by the state registrar and any local registrar, is subject to this paragraph and may not be made available to the public in electronic format, but is not otherwise subject to the limitations of this section or the requirements of s. 69.22.

2. An uncertified photocopy of a vital record described in subd. 1. shall have on its face the following text: "UNCERTIFIED COPY. Not valid for identification purposes. It is illegal to make this document available to the public in electronic format.".

3. The holder of the vital record from which uncertified photocopies may be made and issued under this paragraph may establish fees for the photocopies.

That's paranoid. Why would the state maintain a record of uncertified copies?  

Oh Well..

And why did Vermont pass an act mandating that when serving apple pie (the state pie), a "good faith" effort shall be made to serve it with either 1) a glass of cold milk, 2) a slice of cheddar (minimum 1/2 oz) or 3) a large scoop of vanilla ice cream?

Who knows?

My guesses on the Wisconsin law are: privacy concerns; to prevent identity theft; to prevent inheritance fraud. Or maybe (and in my cynical opinion more likely), recognizing the increasing popularity of genealogy/family history, it is simply a cash grab - forcing people to purchase their own copies of vital records from the state registrar and fining people who try to go around the system.


In quickly ... emphasize quickly  ... looking at this ... seems to have to do with the way records were collected in Wisconson before 1907.  They were voluntarily submitted by families, in other words self-reported. 

Therefore the state calls them "uncertified."  This law began as a banking and financial services law having something to do with using, or not using, uncertified birth certificates for identification in banking. 

Then it got ammended  ... and ammended ... and ammended, until I cannot actually tell what it means.  I did write to both Wisconson Senators' offices to ask though.  

I refuse to believe Wisconson is going to jail anyone for putting a copy of their great-grandmother's birth certificate on Wikitree!

smiley  Will let you all know if they answer.

I refuse to believe Wisconson is going to jail anyone for putting a copy of their great-grandmother's birth certificate on Wikitree!

If for some reason they did, it would almost be worth it to be a case study for Chilling Effects or the like.

Did you ever get answers?
Nothing.  Not a peep, but I doubt it is high priority.
+7 votes
by David Wilson G2G6 Pilot (104k points)
+4 votes
I recently came across this issue and I had some questions about how to interpret this law so I've recently written about on my own blog and asked Judy Russell at the Legal Genealogist. I'd love to hear any thoughts in the comment stream on my post. My main issue is that the law doesn't say anything about making or possessing electronic copies of these records - it just says you can't share them with "the public." I would even argue that posting them to a tree on does not qualify as making them available to the public - it would only be to users of that site...
by Jeremy Kidd G2G2 (2.6k points)
+3 votes
Look carefully at any vital record document you get from a government agency. I recently got my own birth certificate and those of my mother and her parents from Massachusetts. They all have printed all over them that they are not to be duplicated in any way or you violate state law. Grandparents born in the 1890s? These came from 4 different towns. More and more places are doing things out of paranoia.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (435k points)

"...except as provided under this subchapter or s. 610.50...."  It's always nice to know the exceptions.  You might be doing something completely legal, and be convinced otherwise by reading a statute out of context. 

These laws usually fall under some kind of open-records statute, and the records become public after some period of time.  It makes sense that the same law that forbids them giving a copy of a recent death certificate to an unrelated person also forbids someone who holds such a thing from publishing it.  ('Recent' being defined differently from state to state, of course.)

Also, these are state laws, and the state can't prosecute you outside their jurisdiction.  My semi-informed opinion.  I am not a lawyer.

+4 votes
Update in 2022


This is NOT legal advice. It is merely research:

- It is safe to request and post images of pre-1907 records ( These records are generally available from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

- For post 1907 records, registrars in Wisconsin are supposed to accept vital records requests ONLY from immediate family, certain government agencies, universities, courts, and "a person with a direct and tangible interest in the record." (

- Displaying post-1907 birth certificate seems to be a felony (but keeping a copy among your files is not). Displaying other post-1907 vital records (marriage, divorce, death) is a lesser violation. Lying to obtain a vital record is also a violation, so don't do it. (

- Displaying vital record *indexes* is also prohibited: Birth index records for 100 years (yes, a century), and other vital records for a mere 24 months. (

What does all this mean?

If Aunt Greta was born/married/divorced/died in 1906 or earlier, you can post the birth certificate online.

If any of those events occurred in 1908 or later, you can record the data online, but keep your source offline.

If she was born more than 100 years ago (or married/divorced/died more than 24 months ago), you can use the (offline) Wisconsin Department of Health Services vital record index as an offline source for her birth. You can post the information, but you cannot post an image of the index.
by Ian Weisser G2G Crew (920 points)

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