Up! Off our duffs!

Do genealogists care about records access?

Okay, I’m (finally) home from my combination NGS and research trip, and it’s time and past time to get something off my chest. I have a question for each and every single genealogist out there who reads this blog or ever comes in contact with it.

Do you care — really care — about records access? About whether or not you’re going to be able to get your hands on that vital (birth, marriage or death) record, or see that document in the closed stacks at the state library or archives, or get that SS-5 application form without the parents’ names redacted, or even get that SS-5 application form at all?

I’d be willing to bet most of my 17-cents life savings that you answered “yes” to that question. And, if you did, let me ask one more:

What, exactly, are you doing about it?

I came pretty much face to face with that question at the National Genealogical Society 2012 Conference in Cincinnati. One of the sessions was a meeting of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC). That’s a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. It was scheduled at a bit of an odd hour — 3 p.m., when most afternoon sessions started at 2:30 or 4 p.m.

And because of the odd hour and a conflict in my schedule, I got there late. The room at that point had a few scattered attendees — perhaps as many as 20 or 25 total (though I suspect it was fewer than that). The meeting seemed to be winding down, several of us had a chance to make a few comments, then everything wrapped up and I left, discouraged with the poor attendance.

At the time, I made excuses in my own head. I’d been late, maybe it had been better attended earlier. Maybe people didn’t realize the meeting was open to the public, maybe they didn’t want to come in late, maybe maybe maybe.

It wasn’t until much later, when I read a blog post by Barbara Mathews, CG, attending on behalf of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, that I really understood just how poorly that session was attended. She titled her post How to Get Discouraged: Only Four States Represented at the RPAC Session at NGS, and she wrote:

You would think that (the) active threat to open access would have generated lots of interest and that the room would have been packed. If that is your assumption, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Of the fifty states, only twenty-six have appointed liaisons to RPAC. Of those twenty-six liaisons, three were in the audience and one was remotely logged-in using webinar technology. Four out of twenty-six means that 15% of the liaisons attended in one way or another. Four out of fifty means that only 8% of the states supported the effort. Arizona’s Linda McCleary was logged-in. Nora Galvin attended from Connecticut but is not yet an official liaison. And, while I was delighted to visit and exchange business cards with Alvie Davidson, CG, from Florida and Billie Fogarty from Oklahoma, this is hardly a large enough team to win an access fight.

As the kids would say — O M G. The single biggest, the single most important issue for all genealogists everywhere — and we can’t even field a full working team? And of the team we can field, we can’t even put half of them into one room at one time? Hell’s bells, we couldn’t even put a quarter of them in one room at one time!

Something is very wrong here. And I suspect, as Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us.

It’s really easy to sit back and say, “it’s someone else’s job.” When there’s something out there with a big fancy name like the Records Preservation and Access Committee, well, it’s their job, right?

Wrong. It’s our job. Yours, mine, ours.

First of all, RPAC can’t help at all with issues it doesn’t know about. That’s why having liaisons in every state is so important. Take a look at the list at the RPAC website here. Is your state covered? If not, what are you waiting for? You’ve got what it takes, right? An interest in keeping records access open? Check. Ability to read the newspapers and stay current on legislation in your state? Check. Willingness to work with the genealogical societies in your state and get help from RPAC when you need it? Check. C’mon, folks. You can do this. Contact your state genealogical society and volunteer. At least contact your state genealogical society and — as a group — get somebody to volunteer.

Second, when it comes to the proposals in Congress to shut off access to the Social Security Death Index, each and every one of us ought to be on the front lines. Face it. Nobody from RPAC is going to get the ear of my Congressman here in the 7th District of New Jersey better than I can. And nobody from RPAC can get the ear of your Congressman in your district in your state better than you can. Why? Because nobody from RPAC can look that member of Congress in the eye the way we can and say, simply and flatly, “Look, pal, I’m a genealogist and I vote. In your district.” We can all pick up the phone. We can all write letters. We can all let our own representatives know — we’re genealogists and we vote.

The same thing is true when the issues involve access to state or local records. The people who won the fight to open key vital records in Pennsylvania last year were Pennsylvanians – people who could sit across from their local assemblyman or senator and say, “Charlie, I grew up with you in Pittsburgh (or Philadelphia or Harrisburg or Carlisle). I need you to listen to me on this.” And the people who won the fight to open equally key records in Virginia this year were Virginians. Sure, RPAC can and does help, but these access battles aren’t won by generals or tacticians back at headquarters. What’s needed are boots on the ground, bodies in the trenches. Your boots and mine. Our bodies standing together.

Not sure what to say? RPAC has all kinds of materials to help guide you. Start by reading “Access to Public Records: One Person Can Make a Difference” by David Rencher. Want specific help with the SSDI issue? Read the “SSDI Call to Action Kit” (but skip the part about the petition, which has expired). Want to stay informed on access issues? Add the RPAC blog to your lists of things to read (the link to the RSS feed is in the lower left menu). And get to know your state RPAC liaison… you can offer to help with an alert system for your fellow genealogists when an issue comes up in your state.

What else can you do? Scan your local newspapers. Is somebody on your town council talking about cutting your library’s hours or doing away with the genealogy librarian? Alert your genealogy society and speak out! Is somebody in your state talking about axing the budget for your state archives or closing off access to vital records? Alert your genealogy society (and RPAC!) and speak out! Make sure you know who your representatives are — federal, state and local — and make sure they know who you are. Make sure they know — we’re genealogists and we vote.

We can’t afford to sit back and wait for somebody else to fight these battles for us. The dangers of political apathy for the entire genealogical community are very very real. Look what just happened up in Canada: the entire Canadian Council of Archives was shut down and Library and Archives Canada is losing 20% of its budget. Think that can’t happen here? You know how many days a week the Georgia Archives are open to the public now? Two. Friday and Saturday. Because it’s easy to cut the budget for an archives. The Kentucky Department of Library and Archives where I researched last week has lost 30% of its budget and 45 staff positions since 2008. The reading room at the National Archives branch in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, closed last fall. It’s not just that it might happen here; it is happening here, every day.

We can’t let this continue. As a community, and as individual genealogists, we can’t afford to sit back and do nothing. We — you and me — all of us — need to get up, up off our duffs and into this fight.

So… what, exactly, are you going to do about records access?

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45 Responses to Up! Off our duffs!

  1. Thank you, Judy. As an Archivist, in the last year I’ve lost two clients and have been unable to locate more. It’s an issue of economics: history is the first budget item to go. In Canada, the worst isn’t that the Archives there are being shuttered, but that material is being destroyed. That’s right, records that genealogists would need such as passenger lists and ship records are now being purged because of the cost of storage. Our human cultural heritage is being thrown away.

    I had a local Library Board member say to me, “How many blacksmith’s ledgers (mid 19th century) do we really need to keep? I mean, if I wanna see one of those, I’ll go to the Smithsonian.” This is a college educated, elected official who believes that an Archives doesn’t belong in a Library and that the constituents don’t WANT an Archives, even though the constituency hasn’t been asked that question. That’s only ONE official in a small taxing body. I can’t stress enough how important it is for Family Historians, Genealogists, Professional Genealogists…whatever you deem yourselves…to get out and talk about how much you care about preserving history with your representatives from the local to national level.

    Our national legislators decided that the questions that go along with the Census are an invasion of our privacy. Do you feel that way? If not, it’s too late. But it is NOT too late to make a statement about the SSDI, or NARA, or a wide variety of other issues. We just have to voice our opinions. It’s the right that many of our ancestors fought for and I honor them by voicing mine.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m 100% in agreement except for one thing. You say it’s too late on the census issue (I’ll write about this more in days to come, but for those who haven’t followed along, the House voted to end one part of the census that collects information beyond mere population statistics) — and it’s NOT too late. First off, the vote was ONLY in the House, not the Senate (yet). So we can all ask our Senators to stand firm. Second, it would still have to be signed by the President even if it passes the Senate, and we can all contact the White House and ask for a veto. For this, at least, it’s not too late.

      But actual records destruction… oh. my. lord. That’s appalling, and when that happens the clock can NEVER be turned back.

  2. Tessa Keough says:

    Like so many things in life, we bemoan the loss after the fact. This is true even when we have been warned. Anyone who does genealogy knows that the first step in the research process is to talk to family members – but how many research in the privacy of their homes on the internet and don’t ask the parents, grandparents, and/or extended family and then someone dies and it is too late. (“Oh, I should have contacted them; I should have taken the time.”)
    Now as to this very important issue, you write a brilliant wake-up call – very necessary and very appreciated – we all needed that kick in the arse – THANKS. But as a young entrepreneur (he is working on a new search engine) recently told me, people only do something if it 1) is easy, painless and spelled out for them and (2) benefits them in some well-defined way.
    So, as much as I appreciated and needed the call to arms, what are the next steps? Is there a map that shows what States have coordinators and what States need them? What is involved in coordinating the effort? Who do we contact? What do we say? Is there printed (or online) information to forward to interested persons and parties? How do we know who has been contacted (legislators and those who are making the decision) and who needs to be contacted? Where and how do we provide this information at genealogy conferences, seminars and courses? How do we make sure every speaker at a genealogy function mentions this issue with the appropriate links (similar to what was done with the 1940 Census release)? How do we coordinate as among State reps?
    This is a big important job – where are the genealogy leaders and how do we encourage new leaders (I find this a continuing problem in genealogy – there needs to be a “bringing up newbies” program for leadership)?
    We are need to be told (and/or help figure out) where the battle is, what the battle plan is, what plan B and C are, how to be organized to fight it, where the reinforcements are, who the generals are, and what the foot soldiers do. This is no different than an election campaign or battle campaign. We need to keep in mind that many people don’t know how to deal with their local, state and/or federal government – where do we go from here and how do we accomplish this mission?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You spell out some of the key problems only too well… and though I am an outsider in some respects (I’m not an RPAC member and my state is ably represented by a liaison) I will make darned sure these questions are sent on to the RPAC people who ought to be answering them. At the same time, there are answers on the RPAC site. There isn’t a map, but there is a list (link in the blog). There is info online to help (links as well). BUT… records access is a hydra-headed monster. Every time we win one battle, another one pops up. And that’s not something that’s likely to change in our lifetimes.

    • Anita says:

      Tessa is absolutely right. In my state, we are asked periodically to call a legislator with virtually no information about what to say, how to address objections, where we can get more information, how we can look up the status of the issue, the bill number, how to find out who our legislators are or how to contact them. The We the People petition expired long ago, but the SSDI Call to Action Kit still asks us to sign it. It makes me wonder whether any of the other information is current. People are busy and, like it or not, need to be spoon fed so they can act quickly.

      The SSDI Call to Action Kit has more than 10 links to follow, including two to videos that firewalls don’t want to let us access. One of the videos is longer than an hour; I won’t watch the other one because I don’t want to install the software it requires. Several of the links are no longer valid. The letter and its instructions are good, although the writer apparently doesn’t know right from left, literally. The letter should be on the same page as the call to action. The FAQs are woefully outdated. Most people don’t want to click through that many times in order to help with an issue, even if they are motivated to help. Most people will give up. As presented, the process is way too time-consuming to expect people to act.

      Tessa is right. She is just more tactful than I have time to be.

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        I agree that RPAC can do better… but so can we all as individuals. Just as these days we have to be our own best advocates for our medical care, we’re also going to have to be our own best advocates for records access.

  3. I get your point, and yes, folks should get involved, but this is a HUGE issue and not simply some attack on genealogy.

    State budgets are a mess. Many States are running massive deficits and yet do not raise taxes to pay for needed services. There simply is not enough money to fund all that was done when the economy was booming.

    It doesn’t help that there are multiple RPACs too. Is this really a Political Action Committee? If so, no wonder folks are staying away …. many find these organizations repugnant.

    Good luck …. as for the SSDI issue, since my 92 year old mother was scammed by the use of this when my dad died, I will sit that fight out.

    Best of luck with your efforts.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not a PAC in the sense you mean. It’s the Records Preservation and Access Committee, not the Records Political Action Committee.

  4. I read the same blog by Barbara Mathews, and it was scary. I’m trying to get into the DAR here in Fairfield, CT, and I bet that’s an organization that could have an impact. My sense on Twitter is that a lot of us are trying to get into the DAR since the genealogy shows on Friday night and Sunday night, WDYTYA and FYR. I also agree with Scott that it is a political issue, and what I see on the national scene is state legislatures–frankly, especially those run by Republicans–slashing away at state budgets. Recently, with all the cries for “cut government spending” and “small government,” Democrats are more likely to fund libraries and the arts. It wasn’t always this way. Republicans used to be the ones conserving traditions and histories. Anyway, making noise as a member of the DAR is one good place to start! Thank you, Judy, for this post!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Scary is a very good word, Mariann. And without concerted effort, it’s likely to get a whole lot scarier before it gets better.

    • Gail says:

      DAR is not interested in this issue. I’ve not found them interested in much of anything other than food. In NY, I can show you 2 cemeteries, one with 1,000 documented Revolutionary War veteran graves, and they have done nothing.

      I’ve suggested that they start transcribing grantee/grantor indexes in each county… nothing. Read there FB page… historical preservation is no longer an issue.

      Myself and other friends have tried to post about it, and were banned from the official page.

  5. Thank you for bringing this to our attention again. I was one of the ones that saw that session at NGS and thought, “Well, I’m not part of that group, so I shouldn’t go to the meeting, but I wonder what they will talk about.” Oh well. I am with Tessa – I would love to have a better understanding of what I can/should do that would actually be helpful. But I will look more at the sources you referred to for more about that.

    My question is (and perhaps this too would be answered on those sites and I will look later this evening, but for now I will ask here), are we working as an independent group or are we working with other groups. For instance, I know there are loads of historical organizations, social scientist, and so forth that must also want to fight against this kind of awful doings. Are the genealogists working with them to combine strengths to make real waves, or are we throwing our individual pebbles in? Whoever the generals are in this fight, are they uniting with ally forces to make some major pushes back? It seems like we would get so much further if we were working with other like-minded folks trying to accomplish the same kinds of things.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I wish I could tell you we have a coherent, cohesive, unified front with other social history groups. The fact is, I just don’t know that we do.

  6. Nancy FInnegan says:

    The government needs to make available and preserve SSDI records. Easy.
    All other records can and sometimes SHOULD be preserved by private organizations. I belong to a specialized genealogy group. When a member learned that some local records were going to be destroyed, that member arranged for procurement and preservation of the records. Our genealogical group sorted, cataloged and indexed those records. The index was put on a website and the records were digitized. The original records were donated to a local college who willingly took them for preservation. Ancestry and other pay to view sites would also take these records–perhaps for the wrong reason, but preserve them none the less.

    To make this a ‘nasty republican’ issue is out of line. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to foot the bill for something that we in the genealogical community can do, organizations can do or the private sector can do. I would trust any of them far more–to do it right and cost effectively. For some of us, genealogy is a hobby. For others it is a livelihood. No one should be subsidizing either.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I can’t agree that records preservation should be privatized. If there’s absolutely no alternative and government is being so foolish as to discard records, then sure. Otherwise keeping public records public for the benefit of the public is exactly what I expect — and pay taxes for — government to do.

      • Karen says:

        I agree with Judy. Private organizations are run by private individuals whose motives and agendas are, by definition, private and often unknown. Private organizations are more narrowly defined than governments, which generally have a mission statement (or preamble to the Constitution) which includes a duty to provide for the common good or general welfare, i.e., everyone.

      • Barbara McCown says:

        I agree, Judy. “making” them public is hardly a new issue. It is the way it has always been. And the way it always should be. If “hobbies” spring off of it, so what? These records still need to be kept. It is hardly a R vs. D deal. Lets not try to make it one.

        These records are a part of history. Like it our not, they are part of our government history. Government Licenses obtained from government embloyees working in government buildings, ………. UNLESS it was a GOVERNMENT HOLIDAY! So, now you are wondering if they should be kept up by………. government monies?

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Keeping public records open and accessible is sure something I’d rather have my share of government money spent for!

  7. Skip Murray says:

    Thank-you for your continued efforts to keep this issue alive, to remind people that if they want something, they need to work for it.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Let’s hope folks join in the fight!

      • Skip Murray says:

        I hope they do. I love what you wrote and I’m making sure lots of people get the link to this. The squeaky wheel gets the oil as the old saying goes, and the 2 of us can not squeak enough. We need EVERYONE to join in and write, write, write!

        • Skip Murray says:

          I admin Occupy Genealogy with Thomas MacEntee and I’ve been on facebook the last 2 days posting on various Genealogy facebook pages. I’ve already had 2 private messages from people who said they weren’t aware that there was a SSDI issue. I hope others join in and help spread the word that action needs to be taken!

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Please urge everybody to get themselves educated (the RPAC site has lots of good info) and to get their genealogical societies involved!

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Thanks for joining in this fight, Skip!

          • Skip Murray says:

            Do you have something that tells you how many hits a blog post gets? I’m hoping this one is encouraging everyone off their duffs is setting a record for you. Lot’s of busy little beavers out here, sharing the link! If it sets a record, let me know, please.

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            I do have stats, and this is now the fifth most read blog post I’ve written — and closing in on the number four position. Thanks for getting the word out.

  8. With the express intent of records research access, preservation & research ability & availability, Volunteerism should be fostered led BY THE GENEALOGY COMMUNITY (Read: you & me!) at all archives, institutions, libraries & records repositories. This will also increase the otherwise positive & non-denominational nature of ancestry, genealogy & family history research. At my Mesa, Arizona Family History Center, I train the staff & patrons on the use of the near-miracle ScanPro2000. I also volunteer some time for initial consultations for patrons. Pro bono, i.e. for the greater good, I crack cases on FamilySearch’s Germany/Prussia Genealogy Research (Facebook page) I see all of you trying to do something to serve. Thank you. May we continue & take just one step further…

  9. Mike St. Clair says:

    Bravo, Judy, and those few who seem to be actively working on this issue. I do know that many more than it might appear are putting their two cents worth in, in many different venues. But in this day of tight budgets and identity theft, it’s looking like a losing fight unless many more become involved. I’d like to see RPAC find ways to reach many more people and involve many more by stirring the pot with every society and organization.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’d like to see more folks get involved too, Mike. Any ideas?

      (And how if at all are you related to the Virginia St. Clairs of Bedford and Botetourt County, asks this sister-in-law of a Botetourt County St. Clair…)

      • Mike St. Clair says:

        The ancestor of these Virginia St. Clairs is Alexander, my sixth great grandfather, who emigrated from Scotland to Prince William County in the late 1600s. We are still looking for that elusive next generation. My line is through his son Wayman, and descendents that moved on to Kentucky, then Indiana, and finally Missouri. I like every one of them I’ve ever met or become acquainted with!

        On your question about creating more involvement, I’d look at groups who have significant, involved membership, like APG and USGenWeb, and push them hard (let’s change that to educate and motivate them well). One way would be for the RPAC to organize some informing and motivating webinars to let folks know what they think we should be doing. The APG has some regular webinars for members. Maybe offer to produce a couple of those a year. As a former employee of the House of Representatives, I’ve learned that the easily replicated mass email campaigns aren’t usually too effective. But I’ve noticed that teleconferenced constituent meetings are becoming a common way for representatives and senators to communicate with those they represent. Knowing what to bring up and say at an event like that could help make genealogists who care about this issue effective at raising the awareness of this, not only with their representatives but with the others listening, who are generally the most active of our citizenry.

        Mike St. Clair

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Good suggestions, Mike — and RPAC is certainly pushing at the national conferences. It will have two sessions at FGS in Birmingham, for example. I know there will be more of this and more educational efforts.

          As for the Virginia line, yep, thought your email address looked familiar — you’re a 37-for-37 match with my brother-in-law.

          • Mike St. Clair says:

            Now I’m dying to know which of my cousins is your brother-in-law!

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Another Mike — shown in the results as Warren Michael. He descends from Robert Mitchell St. Clair m. Elizabeth Kelley — and is actually a double St. Clair. Robert’s son Rufus married his cousin Susan, daughter of Henry Terry St. Clair and Susan Smelser.

  10. Gail says:

    There are 2 issues here, preservation and access. Access is becoming an issue. Clerks who try to, illegally, charge for photos taken with your own camera (I’ve been told in NY and NY that I’d have to pay fees). I’ve also been told I couldn’t use non-flash photography to copy the documents.

    People don’t know the access laws of where they research, and they aren’t willing to follow through with challenges, which hurts everyone. And, those of us who do challenge are viewed negatively by the rest of the genealogy community, for reasons I do not understand.

    Failure to hold officials accountable hurts us all.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      While I agree with the need to address these issues, I would note that it’s still easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar. Being firm with folks who wrongly deny access can be done in the nicest way possible.

  11. Alex Bannerman says:

    Unfortunately, because of the identity theft epidemic, among other things, many political bodies are tightening their belts regarding records access and availability. I’ve had my identity stolen 3 times now, and I’m really weary of putting much out there about me; and yet, it’s extremely easy for people to find out things about a person if they’re creative. As a professional genealogist, I regularly urge family historians and genealogists to publish their findings (using SOUND resources, of course). As most of us know, there is a plethora of good genealogical publications, and while they may be considered secondary sources, they are, nevertheless, among our most valuable tools. Do something? Sure. But remember that there is more than one reason for curtailing availability of certain records, and that curtailment ultimately may do you a favor. Frustrating? Absolutely; especially if you’re trying to discover your heritage. But while grousing about one avenue of obstruction, don’t forget to use your imagination to find other roads to discovery. They’re out there. As I tell the students in my genealogy classes, it’s as simple as, “What if…?”

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Absolutely positively this is an issue that has pluses and minuses, Alex. From a genealogical standpoint, I ask only that we don’t through the baby out with the bathwater. There’s a big difference between a solid, demonstrable reason for curtailing access to certain information and the usual governmental “it’s just easier to lock this info up” response to access issues.

  12. Barbara Benson says:

    Very distressing – less access to & destruction of historical records! I am just now beginning to research my genealogy (ideally 6-8 families in all) to create several books (late Dad’s only request). I have sufficient funds from his estate to do a very good job but am now allerted to these impending issues and consequently I am having a panic attack. I SHOULD LIKELY HURRY. Luckily my Great Aunt Henrietta (working contemporaniously with Fred Benson genealogist) involved herself in researching my dad’s Benson male line back to USA , Plymouth Co, Mass. 1638 (ship Confidence) and England, Oxfordshire. I was looking forward to researching some of the women. Good luck to me!

    I have no idea what organizations and support that can be rallied to get the needed funds and political will to protect records, store records, and catalogue records for up-loading to the cloud, etc… No doubt the current recession will cause significant austerity and in the blink of time ignorance can do a lot of damage.

    Seems to me that the time is ripe to present and unified preservation effort and co-ordinated fundraising drive between public and private sectors to get this job done in the USA. In Canada, I have not seen these sorts of problems but I could be corrected as again, I have just started looking into my genealogy.

    Computers are of course the answer. Anyone expecting to keep much of the original paperwork is to my mind a bit of a hoarder. Esential documents by category – types, dates, individuals need to be identified – and that paper kept in total – this culling requires expert assisting. The rest can be archived digitally and catalogued appropriately.. I would not have any problem with that.

  13. I work in my own little corner of the world to make as much as possible online. This means that it is digitized, backed up and shared in the hopes it will always be around. I currently have a petition on signon.org hoping to be allowed to place online our Archive of Civil and probate files. We did have some of them online until the Florida Supreme Court made an order that only “Official” Official records could be placed online by a Florida County clerk’s Office. Not the SSDI, but local records that are now in dark boxes hoping for the light of the Web… http://signon.org/sign/allow-ancient-court-records.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=6339931

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Jim, let’s hear more about this issue. Can we get a copy of that Florida Supreme Court order?

    • Jim, I can’t say for certain without seeing the order, but I suspect that the problem is that custody can’t be assured if someone outside the official channels amasses copies or images of the documents and puts them online. This is an authority issue and a legal issue.

      Having been working on my family history since the late 1990s, I am a genealogist first and a baby archivist second. So I certainly admire the impulse and, at times, have relied on the hard work of many other genealogists. We are a community in the truest sense of the word. Never in any other endeavor have I encountered so many people who are willing to help each other without remuneration. This spirit is at the heart of many of my archival arguments, which is that the best survival tactic archivists can employ is to continue to engage the genealogical community not only in volunteer efforts (because there’s never enough staff and money to preserve and provide access) but also in grassroots political advocacy. There are a lot of genealogists and it’s one of the fastest growing activities in the US. So I applaud you, Judy, because you are correct. Genealogists are a powerful group and there are more genealogists than there are archivists. Not only that, but genealogists have the passion to work on behalf of these institutions and are willing and able to commit the time to do so.

      Archivists, at their core, do the job because they want to provide access to the information. Access is one of the criteria archivists use to consider whether a series is worth spending the money to preserve. In fact, most archives won’t accept a donation if the donor puts undue restrictions on the use of the materials, because in the end, archives’ sole purpose is use. So archivists and other professionals are on your side and go to work every day wanting to provide genealogists with everything they desire (prevented only by legal and regulatory restrictions). Together, archivists and genealogists ought to be an unstoppable team in the face of funding managers and legislators who don’t understand what either group actually does. We do vote – consistently. Like any other constituency in the US, we can make support of public history and records access a condition of public employment.

      Ultimately, work with archives and other institutions to provide access. Archivists are glad to have the help, and when the information does see the light of day, it won’t be struck down by a judge. Information is useless if no one can access it.

  14. I was stunned to read this! I do not belong to any Genealogical Society, as there are none in the middle of Wyoming. But I am very concerned about what is happening and have written all my congress persons to tell them of my concern. I have been working on my own research for over 30 years now and have just become aware of the danger we are in of losing access to millions of records. If you do nothing else, write, call, email your people in Congress to stop what seems to be happening to ALL of us in the Genealogical Community!

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