Types of Public Records: Federal and State Sources
The types of records available to the public are expansive and informative. This is largely due to the Freedom of Information Act, which directly affects the availability of federal records maintained in federal databases. However, each state still maintains its own privacy and accessibility laws for records maintained locally. Depending upon the type of information you’re searching for, you may need to approach both state and federal agencies in search for the appropriate records.
Federal Public Records
Several types of public records are compiled and maintained by federally-managed and funded agencies. Among these are census records, USPS (United States Postal Service) records, military and bankruptcy records, and SEC filing and political contribution records.
Census records provide information about the population in a given area, such as number of residents, age ranges, income levels and ethnicity information. The USPS maintains address records, so it is possible to request information maintained by this agency per the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at http://www.usps.com/foia/welcome.htm. Military personnel records may be requested at http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/, and these may include morning reports, active duty and Veteran Affairs records, Philippine Army and guerrilla records, and military medical records.
Bankruptcy records are maintained by the federal bankruptcy court system, and are accessible through the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) site at http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/. This site updates public records as they are created, and they are available nearly instantly. Here, you can search for party name or the corresponding court district, and learn about final judgments and agreements in both bankruptcy cases and district court cases.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, maintains records of filings required by all companies such as regular reports and statements. These records can be a good indication of the financial health of a company, and are able to be accessed by the public. The EDGAR database where these can be accessed is found at http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) maintains and provides access to records of political contributions by both individuals and corporations. These are often used to determine who and what is backing a political candidate’s campaign. The FEC site at http://www.fec.gov/disclosure.shtml also outlines laws and regulations pertinent to federal election filing and expenditure requirements and limits, as well as data from current campaigns for seats in Congress or the Presidential Election.
State Public Records
Some public records are created and maintained at the state level, and these can include local political contributions, property records, professional licensing records, and vital records such as birth, death, marriage and divorce records.
You may want to look up property records if you plan on purchasing a new home or piece of land and you want to find out who currently owns it. These records, maintained with the local recorder, will also tell you of any liens against the property such as tax liens or current mortgages. You may also track the history of the property’s owners through past deeds on file.
Vital records will provide you with family information, addresses, full names and possibly even occupation information. Birth certificates will be maintained with the corresponding county offices where the individual was born. The same is true for death, marriage and divorce records; these public records are kept with the corresponding county clerk or recorder where the event took place.
These public records provide a wealth of information about an individual or even a company you’d like to confirm details about for any reason. Personal identifying information is redacted from many public records to help prevent identity theft, but these public records will still provide the details you need to do everything from learn more about a political candidate to finding a lost loved one.
Other Types of Public Records: