What Are Public Records?
Public records are documents or other types of information kept by government agencies. In many cases, government offices are required by law to keep and maintain copies of certain records, such as death certificates, birth certificates, marriage records, or divorce records. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, public records are available to any U.S. citizen who requests to see them.
Although you might not have much experience with public records, these documents are extremely common, and are helpful for people researching things like legal matters, genealogy, or marriage certificates. Here are just a few public records resources:
- Court dockets
- Census records and data
- Criminal records
- Property information
- Sex offender databases
- Professional and business licenses
- Voter registration
- Birth certificates
- Real estate appraisal records
- Residential addresses
- Bankruptcy information
Court Dockets: A court docket is an official summary of legal proceedings in a court of law. These dockets can have a lot of useful information related to criminal charges, convictions, and sentencing. They can also be useful for determining if a person is currently the subject of any court proceedings, even if no charges have been filed.
Census Records and Data : Every 10 years, a new census is taken to record various statistics for tracking different trends among the U.S. population. The metrics can include the number of people living in a given household, the ownership status of the property, telephone number, name, gender, date of birth, race, and ethnicity. More often than not, this data is used to cross-reference other information when confirming someone’s identity or residency. At the state and national level, it is also used to legislate policy and track demographic changes over time.
Criminal Records: If someone has committed a crime, whether in the United States or abroad, there is a record of it somewhere. These records are generally kept at the city, county, state, or federal level. Most countries have their own records for misdemeanors, felonies, or traffic violations, but for major crimes or crimes that are not bound to a single country, the International Criminal Court maintains records and proceedings.
Professional and Business Licenses: Commercial licenses and permits are issued by government agencies to allow individuals or companies to conduct business. This kind of record is useful for linking certain individuals to a business or commercial address, as well as tracking the history of business transactions. It can be important if a company has done anything to break the law while conducting business.
Sex Offender Databases: This database shows a complete list of anyone who has been convicted of a sex crime. Unless a conviction is reversed due to new evidence or testimony, a person can not be removed from this registry, no matter how much time has passed since the initial offence. Many people find this database useful when moving into a new neighborhood or putting their children into a different school. However, in some states, local law enforcement will notify you if there is a sex offender living in your neighborhood.
Voter Registration: This is not only important for ensuring a healthy Democracy, but also for linking individuals to a county, state, or political party. Though the exact rules and requirements vary by state, every U.S. person over 18 years of age must be registered with the proper authorities if they wish to vote in an election. Once registered, voter registration information becomes public record.
Birth Certificates: A birth certificate generally shows a person’s full name, date and location of birth, and attending doctor. It is one of the most reliable ways to confirm a person’s age, country of origin, and legal identity. These are kept as public records for all U.S. citizens.
Real Estate Appraisal Records: A real estate appraisal, sometimes referred to as a land valuation, is simply an official estimation of a property’s value. These appraisals are made by licensed professionals, whose valuations are then entered into the public record. This is especially useful for those looking to purchase a new home or commercial building.
Residential Addresses: A residential address refers to an address at which a person lives for any period of time. These can change many times over the course of a person’s life, so it is important to keep records of all past and present addresses.
Property Information: While property appraisal records and addresses provide you with information for purchasing a home or locating an old friend, there is other property information that can be useful to you, such as previous ownership, purchase history, tax liens, and crime data for the neighborhood.
Bankruptcy Information: A person may declare bankruptcy when it is decided that they can no longer pay their debts. Bankruptcy allows an individual to be free of the debt through discharge or restructuring. This information is important to know for many reasons, especially if you wish to start a business with someone whose financial history is unknown to you.