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Access issues at FGS

Records access is getting high priority attention at the 2012 Conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, which got underway officially this morning in Birmingham, Alabama.

Even before the official start of the conference, there was an important APG Roundtable session last night on “Records Access: the Art of Advocacy.” Attendees at the Roundtable, moderated by Thomas MacEntee, heard from a panel of four top-flight genealogists — Alvie Davidson, CGSM, of Florida, a member of APG’s Advocacy Committee; Teri Flack, chair of the Texas State Genealogical Society’s Records Preservation and Access Committee and Texas state liaison to the national RPAC; Polly Kimmitt, CGSM, president of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, the records access watchdog for Massachusetts genealogists; and Kelvin Meyers of Texas, a founding member of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.

Attendees report that APG’s tone is one of commitment: to action, to getting things going to fight for records access. Though it was a dead serious subject, one method chosen to get the point across was humor — the skits got rave reviews. And they prompted a free flow of really solid ideas from all.

One proposal was coordinating efforts by genealogists with those of other industries who stand to be hurt by records loss, including the media. Another was ensuring a good solid legislative approach by talking to legislators at the start of the process, keeping tabs on the timing of legislation to be able to speak out when it will do the most good, and choosing the right person tactically to carry the message. Yet another was avoiding form letters to legislators (one panelist quoted a Senator as saying he mostly heard from “slactivists” — people who copy and send a form letter instead of taking the time to write their own). And perhaps the best was putting together a set of positive presentations showing the good that comes from records access to counter all the overblown reports of identity theft.

If you’re lucky enough to be there at FGS, and you’re still looking at the schedule, here are the three remaining “must attend” sessions on records access issues:

Session W-110, the “RPAC Update Session,” from 11 a.m. to noon today, Wednesday, 29 August, should be right up at the top of your list. This is 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 (the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), ProQuest and also serve as non-voting members). Though the syllabus makes it sound like only state representatives should attend, the meeting is open to everybody at the conference, and there’s much everyone concerned with keeping records open can learn. You’ll hear from a panel of RPAC members about what’s going on in records access today.

Session W-113, the main luncheon for FGS today, Wednesday the 29th, at 12:15 p.m., will feature David E. Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer for FamilySearch, speaking on “Record Access in a Post-9/11 World.” The movement to close records has been steadily increasing on all fronts, local, state and federal since 9/11. Records used by genealogists are at risk of being closed or having valuable data elements removed from public view. Hear what you and your genealogical society can do to combat this threat. (Note: there’s a charge for the lunch and advance registration was required, but sometimes there are tickets being sold at the last minute. Always look for a bulletin board near the registration desks for information.)

Session F-323, on Friday, 31 August at 11 a.m., will feature RPAC attorney and blogger Frederick E. Moss speaking on “Genealogists: Why Do Officials Hate/Ignore Us?” The syllabus describes this session this way: “It is clear that governors and legislators do not understand why we do what we do. Genealogists need to be able to articulate our reasons for wanting to know more about those who have gone before us. We need to educate decision makers that restricting access to vital records does not protect citizens from identity theft and may, indeed, have the opposite effect. Options available to the Records Preservation and Access Committee and other community responses. Tourism potential of archives and collections. How we can work better with decision makers.” In other words, if you want to be better able to fight for open records in your local area, this is a session for you.

And for those of us who couldn’t make the FGS conference this year, here’s hoping that at least some of these sessions will be recorded…

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