Historians are criticizing a bill that would seal birth, marriage and death records for 100 years.

The bill, LD 1781, received the support of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature, which held a public hearing on March 3. Supporters have said it will help to prevent identify theft.

But the proposal is being met by considerable opposition.

“We do need to update record-keeping practices to prevent identity theft; however, this bill as written would harm the important work of genealogists,” said Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston. “I support an effort, perhaps a resolve, that would seek a common ground among these competing interests.”

Rep. Edward Mazurek said he has concerns about the bill and its impact on genealogists.

Rockland City Clerk Stuart Sylvester said under current law, anyone can get copies of marriage records. Copies of birth records are also open to the public unless the parents were not married and then the records are open only to the people whose names are on the birth certificate. For death records, the name of the deceased and date of death are available to the public but other information is available only if the person can show a legitimate interest.

Former Rockland Mayor Richard Warner voiced strong opposition to the proposed law in a letter to The Herald Gazette.

“The passage of LD 1781 … would deny the public’s access to municipal records of birth, death and marriage, the most significant and valued body of primary source information available to those of us researching family histories in Maine,” Warner said.

It should be noted that the popularity of genealogy as a leisure time activity is growing rapidly as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age,” Warner said.As a result, genealogy has become a component of tourism in Maine.”

Warner dismissed worries about the records being used to steal identities.

He said forbidding the public’s access to information gathered by municipal, state and federal government, except in cases of a clear threat to national security, is gratuitous censorship.

“The sealing of municipal vital records begs the question of why they exist at all if only the government has access to their contents, bringing to mind the memory hole in George Orwell’s chilling account of censorship and government tyranny in his novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,'” Warner said.

While it is true that dates of birth, death and marriage may be obtained from various sources, such as newspapers, gravestone records, etc., only municipal death records provide us with causes of death, the value of which cannot be overstated,” the Rockland man said.

He said a compilation of a coastal Maine family genealogy included among the descendants a former high school classmate he had not seen in many years. Warner sent him a genealogical report of his ancestors, thinking he might enjoy having a copy.

“I was dumbstruck to receive a thank-you card from his daughter, who wrote that her father’s mother, who complained of a chronic sore throat, had not previously known that her father had died of esophageal cancer, so she made an appointment to see her doctor,” Warner said. “It turned out that she too had esophageal cancer, and its early detection literally saved her life.”