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Staying on top of records access issues

The Legal Genealogist has said it before and will say it again and again:

As genealogists, we need to be in the forefront of records access issues. If we can’t see the documents that give us the evidence we need, of relationships and more, then our research results will suffer.1

It really is up to us, as individuals and as a community to stay on top of records access issues, to understand them, and to speak out whenever the need arises.

Alert IconIssues like the loss of access to the last three years of the Social Security Death Index.2

Issues like the Kansas Supreme Court rule on marriage records that went into effect in October of last year, that means that marriage information that had been publicly available for decades is no longer accessible.3

Issues like the new European Union rules on privacy that may threaten even Holocaust research.4

These and so many other issues come up, all the time, and threaten our ability to access the information we want and need.

Now I know it’s easy to say that we need to stay on top of these issues.

But today, thanks to the work of others, it’s also a whole lot easier than it used to be to do.

Thanks, in particular, to the work of others that we can take advantage of — delivered right to our email in-boxes.

First, head on over to the website of the Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC), at http://www.recordsadvocate.org/. Use the Subscribe to Blog via Email link in the upper right hand corner to have new posts from RPAC delivered right into your email from this joint genealogical committee focusing on nothing but records access issues.

RPAC’s sponsoring members are the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), and participating members are the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), ProQuest and Ancestry.com.

Second, head on over to the FGS website itself, and to the additional blog RPAC has available there at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/. There you can read through older posts that will explain a lot of the background of some ongoing issues. I don’t think you need to subscribe to posts at this older site, but you can if you want to be sure not to miss something that accidentally gets posted only at this older blog rather than the new one. Use the icon on the right hand side of the black navigation bar at the top.

More importantly, however, this site is a resource for explanations and materials before the launch of the http://www.recordsadvocate.org/ site.

Finally — and boy is this ever a “last but not least” part of staying on top of records access issues — the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has an announcement list, the IAJGS Records Access Alert. When it was started up some time ago, it was only open to select groups. But at the IAJGS 2015 October Board meeting, IAJGS made the wonderful decision to open the Alert list to anyone who is interested in records access.

Subscribing to this list is a little more complicated, so let me run through the steps:

1. Head over to this link to sign up.

2. Enter your email address in the first box for the sign-up.

3. Enter a first name, a last name and an organization in the second box. You can use your local society as your organization — and you can use Legal Genealogist if you don’t belong to a local society.5 (John Doe Legal Genealogist will work, but only if your name is John Doe…)

4. Optionally, you can choose a password so nobody else can change your subscription — but be aware this isn’t much of a security check, and the password may be emailed to you occasionally, so don’t use the one you use for, say, your banking.

5. Check the radio button if you want to get one daily digest (on those days when there may be more than one announcement).

6. Wait until you get a confirming email from the list, and then click on the link in the email to validate your subscription.

That’s it: you’ll then be subscribed, and get the announcements from the list. It’s only for announcements, not discussion. This isn’t a chat list so the only email you’ll get will be the announcements and alerts. That means, of course, that you’re only going to get an email when there’s something important to be aware of, and not just on a routine daily or weekly basis.

Be aware, of course, that the best source of information about threats to records access is the community itself. It really is a “see-something-say-something” situation. If you become aware of an issue with records access in your areas, you can let RPAC know at access@fgs.org, and you can alert IAJGS at RecordsAccess@iajgs.org.

Records access isn’t something we can take for granted — and it’s not a responsibility we can leave to someone else. We all need to stay informed and to speak out when necessary.

Join in by staying aware… and staying alert.


SOURCES

  1. See, e.g., Judy G. Russell, “Staying alert,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Nov 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 19 May 2016).
  2. See ibid., “SSDI access now limited,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Dec 2013. And see 42 U.S.C. §1306c.
  3. See “Kansas Supreme Court Rule would redact Marriage Certificates,” RPAC blog, posted 1 April 2015 (http://www.fgs.org/rpac/ : accessed 19 May 2016).
  4. See Sam Sokol, “Could new European digital privacy laws hurt Holocaust research?,” Jerusalem Post, posted 27 Oct 2015 (http://www.jpost.com/ : accessed 19 May 2016).
  5. Yes, I do have permission from IAJGS for you to do that!
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