What is public record?

March 13, 2005

The following list shows many types of information considered public in Maryland, where you may find it and why it's useful. More examples will run in Monday's paper.

Birth certificates

What it shows: Record of a person's birth in Maryland

Where to find it: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Division of Vital Records

Why you need it: Birth records may be needed to establish citizenship or for the purpose of settling an estate. They are, however, available only to the person named on the record or an authorized representative, who must submit a court order or notarized statement signed by the person named on the record.

Budget expenses

What it shows: Expenses paid with tax dollars (such as cell phones, travel or meals) or government-issued credit cards are public records.


Where to find it: Government bodies have to maintain records of expenses paid in order to account for their expenditures of tax dollars.

Why you need it: These records can show, for instance, if a public official is misusing a government-issued credit card by making unauthorized charges, or making personal calls on a government-issued cell phone. Keeping these records open is essential to the public's ability to watch over government spending.

Business and professional licenses

What it shows: Can show whether a business is licensed to work in the county, municipality and/or state, if any violations have been noted or if any complaints have been filed.

Where to find it: County or municipal offices that require licenses or permits will have an office where these can be found. At the state level, the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation maintains these records.

Why you need it: Knowing whether a vendor is properly licensed to work in the area or whether a professional has any violations or complaints can be helpful when searching for a contractor, real estate agent or any number of other professions. Much of the information is available on DLLR's Web site, but some of the information is not up to date and it may take a request to the agency to get the most current information available.

Campaign contributions

What it shows: The sources of funding for candidates for public office

Where to find it: The county election office or the state Board of Elections

Why you need it: Determining if candidates are being influenced by special interests can be key for voters who are trying to determine which candidate most closely matches their basic views.


What it shows: A record of divorce proceedings in a given jurisdiction

Where to find it: Circuit court

Why you need it: Having divorce records public makes it easy for people who are embarking on second marriages to ensure that their potential spouse's first marriage has ended.

Land transfers

What it shows: Names of buyers and sellers of property, type of property and the selling price and taxes and fees paid

Where to find it: The clerk of courts

Why you need it: Land transfers can show pricing of homes and land in the area. They can also be an early indication of possible development if, for instance, land with certain zoning designations is sold to a corporation or developer.

Marriage licenses

What it shows: Legal marriages in a given jurisdiction

Where to find it: The clerk of courts

Why you need it: Entering into marriage is a legal contract and, as such, it is open to public scrutiny.

Nursing home inspection reports

What it shows: Rates nursing homes on established criteria to ensure they meet minimum standards

Where to find it: Nursing homes are required to post their latest inspection reports. In addition, the reports are available at some local libraries and from the state Office of Health Care Quality. The state also operates a Web site with a searchable database of inspection reports.

Why you need it: Determining that elderly loved ones will receive quality care is essential for families considering these facilities. The inspection reports ensure people have complete information on all facilities operated in the state.

- By Jim Lee, editor of the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Md., for members of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association

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