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Ancestry.com says it owns Pa.'s digital records

Plus, Philadelphia isn't holding tax sales and won't say why.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023
In today's edition: Records battle, Kane's transformation, sheriff's sale, loaded guns, electrified roads, and an empty animal shelter. Welcome to Wednesday. 
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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.

That question has pitted a genealogist against the Pennsylvania agency in charge of a vast array of historical documents and artifacts, as well as Ancestry.com, an online genealogy company used by millions of people to search for family and other records.

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

THE CONTEXT: In 2008, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission contracted with Ancestry to digitize a sweeping list of historical documents and make them available on the company’s website. 

Those digitized records are free to Pennsylvania residents who create a user profile with Ancestry, but not to people outside the state. 

That led a New York City-based professional genealogist to ask the agency for copies of the records. PHMC said no, claiming that granting the request would violate its contract with Ancestry.

Ancestry, for its part, is claiming in court that it owns the digital copies of those records. 

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"During this holiday season, we join our constituents urging the Biden Administration to redouble its efforts to secure Mr. Fogel's release from Russian custody so that Mr. Fogel may return home."

—Members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation in a letter asking U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to push for the release of Butler County native Marc Fogel.

A snap from the Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory, via Cathy Z. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send us photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.'STAR IN THE FOREST': After years of empty storefronts and deteriorating buildings, Kane has been transformed into a destination for tourists and new residents, Spotlight PA's State College bureau reports. Through local and state-level connections, elected officials and community members in Kane have created a place where people want to stay and move to.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.NO SALE: The Philadelphia sheriff’s office hasn't held a tax sale for more than two years and the person in charge of the office won't say why, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. As a result, the city isn't collecting taxes on hundreds of properties and buildings are deteriorating. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
PRIVILEGE REVOKED: Under a proposal from state Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny), people who bring a loaded gun to an airport security checkpoint would have their concealed carry permits revoked, TribLIVE reports. At the Pittsburgh International Airport alone, officials confiscated 43 guns this year.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'SERIOUS SCRUTINY': President Joe Biden said Nippon Steel’s acquisition of U.S. Steel deserves "serious scrutiny in terms of its potential impact on national security and supply chain reliability," Politico reports. Former President Donald Trump, the outlet noted, has remained uncharacteristically quiet on the sale. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.IT'S ELECTRIC: The Pennsylvania Turnpike will install electric vehicle charging pads at its Harrisburg headquarters in 2024, the Pittsburgh Union Progress reports. The agency's long-term goal is to offer electrified stretches of road so EV owners can charge while driving. 
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
'THEY BAR': PA Local profiles Harold's Haunt, a queer, Wiccan-owned watering hole that bills itself as a "they bar," a nod to its inclusive mission.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: For the first time in 47 years, the Adams County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was empty — save for one stray cat — going into the Christmas holiday. 

SPECIAL REQUEST: A Pittsburgh-area CEO used $15 million to build Pennsylvania's largest house instead of paying taxes. Now he's asking to serve house arrest instead of going to prison, albeit at a smaller residence.  

AND SEW ON: Meet the menders at Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia, who repair clothing and outerwear that belongs to unhoused people.

FIRST TIME: Artist Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza is behind Philadelphia's first official kinara, a candelabra used in the celebration of Kwanzaa.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Triplicate

Congrats to our daily winners: Robert B., Don H., Richard A., Kimberly D., Jon W., Stacy S., Susan N.-Z., Stanley J., Elaine C., Dennis M., Jane R., Alan B., Craig E., Tom M., William Z., Marty M., Rick W., David W., Barbara F., Cosette J., and Dan A.
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