Oregon Historical County Records Guide

Gaining Access to the Records

Restricted records:
All county records inventoried in this project are open to the public with a few exceptions. Records with restricted access are:

Birth Records - 100 year restriction, OAR 333-011-0096

Death Records - 50 year restriction, OAR 333-011-0096

Delayed Birth Records - 100 year restriction, OAR 333-011-0096

Insane Commitment Records - 75 year restriction, ORS 192.496

Military Discharge Records - 75 year restriction, 2009 Oregon Legislative Assembly SB 618

Prisoner Registers - 25 year restriction, ORS 192.496(3)

The researcher should check with the reference staff at the State Archives or with the appropriate county official for information about gaining access to these records. Additionally, federal or state law may restrict access to student records.

Public records access law and policy:
Researchers should consult Chapter 192 of the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) for a general understanding of state law related to public records. ORS 192.410-192.505 specifically address public records access and privacy issues. These statutes provide that:

In general, the public has a right to inspect all public records which have not been specifically exempted from disclosure.

The records custodian is required to provide proper and reasonable opportunities for inspection during normal business hours.

The records custodian may adopt reasonable rules to protect the records and prevent interference with regular duties.

If the records custodian denies the right to inspect county records, the public may petition the district attorney to review the decision.

This guide supplies specific citations of ORS or Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) numbers relevant to those records that are legally restricted from public access. It also includes the period of time that particular records are restricted. Individual repositories may adopt different or additional interpretations which upon petition are subject to review by the district attorney.

In addition to county records which remain in the custody of county governments, this guide identifies those held by other institutions such as independent historical societies, libraries, archives, and museums. Each of these repositories has its own set of policies and procedures related to hours of operation, access, and use of records. Researchers are encouraged to make appropriate arrangements in advance of visits to these institutions.

County government record keeping:
The organization and record keeping practices of county governments continue to evolve. Therefore, researchers are cautioned that changes may have occurred in how and where records have been maintained in the period following the completion of the records inventory for this guide. For example:

Records may have been moved. County governments, especially those with large or rapidly growing populations, frequently move records to and between various storage facilities. In some cases, tracing this movement may be difficult.

Records may have been destroyed. In general, this guide includes records that should be kept permanently. However, some records listed in the guide may have been interpreted by county governments as eligible for destruction.

Records may have been merged or redesigned to meet changing needs. In other cases, county governments may have stopped producing particular records when no longer needed for legal, financial, or administrative reasons.

Records may have been lost. Despite efforts to effectively manage records, the scale and complexity of modern record keeping increases the possibility that some will be lost.

Records may be difficult to identify. Some are unlabeled or lack clear identification. In these cases, the guide includes titles [in brackets] based on the function of the records. Identification of some of these records may be difficult.

Related considerations:
The following factors may also result in difficulties or delays in accessing county records:

Many county governments have reduced staffing and/or hours of operation in response to budget cuts.

Records may need to be retrieved from off-site storage locations which are not routinely accessed.

Records may need to be prepared for inspection by obscuring information that is exempt from disclosure or by transferring information from one medium to another.

County records officers:
Researchers seeking county government information but lacking specific knowledge of where or how to begin are encouraged to contact the county's records officer. In most cases this will be the county clerk. The records officer will be able to provide a good overview of the county government organization and record keeping practices as well as direct researchers to other county offices when appropriate. The board of county commissioners office (or the county court office in many eastern Oregon counties) may also provide assistance. A list of the addresses and phone numbers of the county courthouses is available.


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State Archives • 800 Summer St. NE • Salem, OR 97310

Phone: 503-373-0701 • Fax: 503-378-4118 • reference.archives@state.or.us