Government Records at Our Fingertips

Court Records

Few know that the internet was actually started as a government project. It was created by the department of defense as a way of protecting our government’s infrastructure by decentralizing the computing power to many computers rather than one. But there is no question that the government has benefited from the move toward electronic records.

Over the last decade, the government has made great strides in putting virtually all of our public records into electronic data bases. While not all of them can be accessed freely due to privacy issues, many of them can be searched by citizens which has introduced an era of open access to public documents that was unimaginable before.

The variety of types of public records that are either fully available or are in the process of being converted to online access is amazing including:

  • Marriage records
  • Birth records
  • Death records
  • Sex offender records
  • Court records
  • Bankruptcy records
  • Missing persons records
  • Census records
  • Credit information

These extensive databases provide a tremendous resource to the public for a large variety of information needs. For a business, it speeds up the process of validating information about a potential employees. Before we had online access, just confirming that a prospective employee is a legal resident, that his or her background information check out and to confirm that they don’t have a criminal record took an excessive amount of time and effort. It was so cumbersome that most employers didn’t take those steps which could easily lead to an employment mistake.

The government record that has gotten the most public attention of late is the National Sex Offender Registry. Because sex offenders live under restrictions as to where they can live, work and socialize even after they have served prison time, many people watch these records closely to assure that they don’t expose their children to risks if a sex offender were allowed to move into their neighborhood or into an apartment complex near the school.

The balance of the public’s right to safety and the individual’s right to privacy come into direct conflict with the public release of this kind of information that is on file with government records. While it will take some wise leadership for us to sort that one out, the availability of this much detailed data does make it possible for the public to stay better informed.

The census is a rich source of information, particularly to businesses looking to expand or for a new venture that is writing a business plan. The census provides detailed information about population shifts, concentration of population in certain cities and even in zones of particular cities that can be invaluable to a business looking to locate a service or retail outlet where the potential customer base has convenient access to those services. Census data can provide a framework for evaluating the wisdom of a potential business strategy.

The first step in making this vast data resource part of your research tools is to educate yourself in both what is available from the government records and how to access such records. There are commercial internet resources that will provide search tools to sifting through the huge amount of data available from the government such as While these sources charge for the help they provide, that help may be just the thing you need to make the chore of learning how to use government records less difficult.

Google also provides a good search tool for finding information from government records. To access it, just click on “Advanced Search” from the main Google home page. Scroll down to the bottom of that next page and you will see a link titled U.S. Government. That link will provide you with a search engine, driven by Google’s powerful search capabilities that will help you find what you need.

We can expect to see this resource expanded and made even more accessible in the years to come as the government’s drive to become automated continues. It is economical for the government, which saves tax dollars. Moreover, it places the vast information the government gathers at the fingertips of the public. And this is appropriate as it is the public that pays for government data gathering in the first place.

Public Records

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