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DHS news release

November 24, 2004

Contact: Jim Sellers (503) 945-5738

Length: 460 words

State registrar's office offers fast turnaround for millions of records

It was 4:45 p.m. on the day before Christmas. Jennifer Woodward remembers that the Oregon family was calling from a Washington phone booth at the Canadian border. "You could tell they were cold," she says.

The problem: They were trying to enter Canada, but didn't have the needed birth certificates for their children. "They were desperate," Woodward recalls.


Woodward, who is state registrar in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), just happened to take the call that afternoon. She says her office faxed the records to the customs agent at the border so the family could cross, and then sent the originals to the family's hotel in Canada by overnight mail.


The vital records that this Oregon family ordered are among more than 5 million birth, marriage, divorce, death and other records held by DHS, both in Oregon and backed up in a Kansas salt mine.


"Customer service is one of our top priorities," Woodward says, noting that people coming to the counter in Portland can get documents within 15 minutes and morning phone orders are mailed that afternoon.


People may get more information by calling a recorded message at (503) 731-4095, going to the DHS Web site, or calling (503) 731-4108 to get questions answered.


Also high on the priority list is preventing fraud and identity theft. Woodward says they're careful that records go only to those who have legal authority to have them, and that they have measures in place to help ensure people don't obtain records fraudulently.


She says vital records became even more important after Canada and Mexico began requiring birth certificates or passports for entry, and after the Oregon DMV required a birth certificate before issuing a driver license.


So important are the records to family genealogy that Woodward says nine genealogists come in every Friday morning to transfer old paper records to computer. "They're so passionate about what they're doing, they want to have good accurate data," she says.


The office takes a long view of its work, and its oldest records -- birth certificates -- go back to 1903. "For the baby who's born today," Woodward says, "somebody has to be able to find the record in 150 years."


Fees support 80 percent of the office's budget, with the balance coming from contracts with the National Center for Health Statistics and the Social Security Administration.


Woodward's staff has lots of stories, of which this is a favorite: A man who believed astrological signs could be used to determine compatibility asked for the names and addresses of every woman born under the sign of Leo the Lion in a certain year.


Woodward pauses for effect. "The answer was no," she says firmly.


This story was provided by the Oregon Department of Human Services.