Terry Mutchler discusses the Pa. court case pitting a genealogist against Ancestry.com in Spotlight PA

December 27, 2023

Terry Mutchler, Chair of Obermayer’s Transparency & Public Data Practice, was quoted in Spotlight Pa on Monday, December 25, 2023, regarding the case her client brought against the Pennsylvania agency in charge of a vast array of historical documents and artifacts, as well as Ancestry.com, an online genealogy company used by millions of people to search for family and other records. 

“At the end of the day, here is the question: is it a corporation that owns the historical records of Pennsylvania — or is it going to be the people of Pennsylvania,” said Terry.

What began in 2022 as a one-paragraph public records request has morphed into a full-blown court fight over who owns digital copies of Pennsylvania’s historical records. In September 2022, Terry’s client, Alec Ferretti, a director at Reclaim The Records, a nonprofit that pushes governments to make genealogical information more broadly available, asked the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) for all records the state agency turned over to Ancestry. He also asked for the metadata on the digitized documents, as well as any indexes Ancestry created for them.

PHMC denied the request, saying it had no responsive records in its possession.

For now, both Ferretti’s request and the larger question of who owns the records remain unresolved. 

Read Spotlight PA’s full report: Inside the Pa. court case pitting a genealogist against Ancestry.com.

*Obermayer litigation attorney Evan Kramer is an integral part of handling this case.