Searching public records in Alabama
If you are wanting to search any kind of public records in Alabama, whether for family history research purposes, to find out more information about an individual or individuals you are planning to employ or even to check out whether a prospective partner has been telling you the truth about their past, there are several different sources you can use to find different kinds of records. Of course, certain sources and certain records are also governed by certain rules and restrictions, especially when it comes to criminal convictions and court records or more recent personal records, like birth and death certificates. However, many of the more historical records are completely open to the public, which is ideal for those who are trying to research their family tree or their own family history in Alabama. If the records you are looking for are more recent, then while it might prove much easier to find them thanks to the computerization of many public offices in the US, on the other hand there is also more chance that those records will have restrictions on, making the access to the records or the original documents only available to certain people.
Criminal records and court documents
Checking out someone’s criminal history can be a great way to find out personal information about them, such as their full name, date of birth and last known address, as well as any crimes they have been convicted of, charged with or just arrested in relation to. In fact, in many states, searching someone’s criminal record, their arrest record or outstanding arrest warrants can be an ideal way to find out information they might not want you to know. In Alabama, much of this kind of information is restricted to the public and is only available to law professionals and those working in law enforcement agencies. Although outstanding arrest warrants are searchable through the state or local police, details of criminal records and convictions are only available to certain members of the public, depending on the reasons that you want to get access to this kind of information or the kinds of criminal convictions you are interested in researching.
The organization known as the ACJIC or Alabama Criminal Justice Information Centre has access to thousands of documents relating to the criminal pasts of many of Alabama’s citizens, but you have to have a very good reason to be allowed access in order to search through these records. The Centre was developed by the authorities in Alabama as a resource for the state’s law enforcement professionals and police officers from the rest of the country, not for members of the public wanting to get all the gossip on their new neighbours!
However, you can use the resources available on the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Centre website to check details of your own criminal record, of course, either to make sure the details stored there are correct or even to check that you have not been mistakenly recorded as having been found guilty of a criminal offence before you decide to apply for a new job or perhaps a loan. Some employers can get access to these records too, in order to check out the past histories of their prospective employees. Some positions and employers have special dispensation to search these public records, particularly any companies and organizations who are likely to be employing people to work with children, vulnerable adults or those who might have access to sensitive information themselves. In cases where this special dispensation does not exist, employers may ask an applicant to sign a waiver which allows them to search through your public records. You are not legally obliged to agree to this and employers are not supposed to discriminate against you if you do refuse to allow them to search through your historical documents.
The other exception to these restrictions is when it comes to sex offenders or those convicted of any crime with a sexual motive. Thanks to changes to the federal law, which applies to every state in the US, when a convicted sex offender moves into an area, he or she has to register with the local law enforcement agencies, usually the local sheriff’s office, and their location is then recorded on both the National Sex Offender website, maintained by the US Department of Justice in Washington D.C., as well as locally at the Community Information Centre in Alabama itself. This allows concerned parents to find out if there are any previously convicted sex offenders living near an area they are considering moving to or working in a place of employment that may expose their children to undesirable influences. It is not supposed to be used to help hound someone out of any community in Alabama, but merely to keep parents informed and to help them keep their children safe. It is these bodies, the National Sex Offender website or the Community Information Centre in Alabama, that you should also contact if you have information, or suspicions, that an unregistered sex offender may be living in a certain region.
Births, Deaths and Marriages
If you are researching your family tree, if you want to try and track down lost relatives or friends or even check up on whether someone is really who they say they are, you can always search on their birth record, any marriage or divorce records that exist on their name and even the records of their death, if relevant. All of these are public documents many of which are open to anyone and can be accessed easily either online or in archives located within the offices of the Alabama Centre for Health Statistics, the public body responsible for maintaining these records in the state of Alabama.
Searching for someone else’s birth record can be useful in establishing an exact date and place of birth, and in recent years, many of these documents have also started to record the names of the two parents, which will prove very useful for future genealogists. Nowadays, you need a birth certificate that contains all this data in order to apply for a passport or travel visa, so if you have an old birth certificate, or you have lost your old copy, then you may need to apply for a new version from the ADPH. Alabama law restricts those who have access to the full birth records for 125 years from the date of the birth, with only the person named on the certificate, their parents, brothers and sisters, husband or wife, children or legal representative allowed to see the full copy of the document or to order a copy for themselves. However, you can use online search sites to establish if a birth record exists for the person you are searching for, including their date of birth. If you are entitled to see the full record, you can apply for a copy of a birth certificate by contacting the ADPH by mail, telephone, email or by attending any of the county health offices in person.
Marriage and divorce records are also maintained by the ADPH although these are not restricted and can be searched, in full, by anybody, with copies also available to the general public for a fee. Again, these copies can be obtained by applying in person at county health offices, or by applying to the head office in Alabama by email, telephone or mail. You will need to have certain details before you can apply for a copy of an Alabama marriage record, which is why you might need to do some online searching before approaching the ADPH. Divorce records can be obtained in the same way and are not restricted, though you will again need certain facts at your fingertips before making your application for a copy of the document to the ADPH. You will have to pay a small fee for a full copy of the divorce and records only began in the state in 1950.
Death certificates more than 25 years old can be obtained by anyone with the correct information willing to pay the required fee, while deaths recorded within the last quarter of a century are confidential, with access restricted to only the relatives and legal representatives of the deceased, and anyone named on the certificate as a witness or informant. Applications can be made by these people for any death certificates, while the general public can only apply for copies of older records. Again, many online searches will allow you to see if the record you are looking for exists in the state of Alabama, without providing any further details, helping you to decide whether it is worthwhile taking your search further.
Of course, another great source of information for births, deaths and marriages are local newspapers, many of which are stored at local libraries either on CD-ROM or micro fiche, in the case of older institutions or older editions. Modern records may appear online, by using the newspaper’s own search function on its home page.