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Records Access Hot Topic at NGS 2013

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During the first day of the National Genealogy Society's 2013 conference, three events focused on records access.

Harold Henderson, CG, the luncheon speaker for the Association of Professional Genealogists discussed "It's Not Just the SSDI: How We Can Advocate for Genealogy While Still Practicing It." He painted a bleak picture, noting that we often are on the defensive in protecting records access. We need to "keep the toothpaste in the tube" by showing an interest broader than our personal families. Just as it's too hard to put toothpaste back in a tube, it is also too hard to get access to records that have already been closed to the public. Harold advised us to be involved in all levels of government action, from legislating bills to developing regulations.

Melinde Lutz Sanborn, CG, FASG, past vice president of MGC and current president of the American Society of Genealogists, titled her speech "Advocacy for Records Access." Melinde opened by discussing how the information on vital records is publicly known. We have some ways to go around records closure. As genealogists, Melinde reminded us that we have those newspapers, cemeteries, school records, high school yearbooks, and Facebook statuses to give us much of this information. From birthday parties to wedding notices to funeral notices, families make this information public.

She warned about "The Rule of 1" which means that the concerns or interests of one person lead to laws for us all. Records can be closed through law, regulations, or administrative restrictions. Her summary was to remind us that the greatest threat to records access is ignorance.

The Records Access and Preservation Committee took the afternoon's last lecture slot. The three voting members (Jan Miesels Allen, Jan Alpert, and Frederick E. Moss) presented "RPAC Strategies in a Changing Environment: Fraud Protection v. Access." They provided an overview of RPAC's function in the genealogical community as well as a slide show that teaches genealogists in individual states how to monitor their legislature. RPAC has been active in advocating for access in Oregon, Texas, and Connecticut this spring. In addition, current federal legislation involving the SSDI is undergoing hearings in Senate and House committees.

  • To download the slideshows and other RPAC documents, see the page on RPAC Publications here. There are two files that are PowerPoint presentations. Click on the links for the two following file names:
    • Open Access to Records: A Genealogical Perspective
    • Toolkit for State Liaisons–Jan Meisels Allen
  • To read a review the U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing that touched on the SSDI, read the RPAC blog posting here.

RPAC activities for April and May are also discussed in a blog by this contributor for the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Please see the BCG SpringBoard posting here for details beyond the NGS presentation.

Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau.

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Barbara serves as the Federal Records Director. She is a Board-certified genealogist who works for the Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America as a Verifying Genealogist and for the Welles Family Association as a Genealogist. Her volunteer service includes a stint as President of MGC. She holds a master’s degree in the management of non-profits from the Florence Heller School at Brandeis University. You can read her own blog, The Demanding Genealogist, at blog.demandinggenealogist.com.

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