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SSDI and so much more

We’re closing in fast on summer around these parts. Kids are getting out of school, families are planning vacations, grandparents are looking forward to visits from the grandkids, and genealogists should be thinking about records access.

Yup. You read that right: records access. Not just access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI to us but “Death Master File” or DMF in government-speak), though that must remain a high priority for us all, but access to all kinds of government records at all levels. Now is not the time to let down our guard, and there are at least three ways to learn more this summer.

Records Access at MGC, 21 July

If you’re headed to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, in July for the 2012 Annual Meeting & Seminar of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, there’s a must-attend session for you.

     • In Track 1, 9:30 a.m., 21 July, the Massachusetts Genealogical Council presents “Safeguarding Researchers’ Access to Public Records in Massachusetts.” Leaders in the field of Genealogy in both Massachusetts and nationally, Melinde Lutz Byrne, Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt, Barbara Matthews, Mary Ellen Grogan, and Sharon Sergeant will lead an in-depth examination at how SSDI legislation at the federal level and bills presently in front of the Massachusetts Legislature restrict access to public records and directly impact YOU. MGC worked on your behalf in 2011 to thwart restrictions. That work continues this year as U.S. House Bill 3475 seeks to close all genealogical access to the SSDI. On Beacon Hill, house bills H603 and H609 also bear close scrutiny. Contribute to the conversation about the legislative process and how you can make your point of view heard.

Learn more about the MGC Seminar and about this panel discussion at the MGC website.

Records Access at FGS, 29 August-1 September

And if you’re Birmingham, Alabama-bound for the 2012 Conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), there are three sessions (including the main FTGS luncheon) that you need to put on your must-attend list. Only one — the luncheon — requires advance registration.

     • Session W-110, the “RPAC Update Session,” from 11 a.m. to noon on 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 on 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 you need to register in advance!)

     • 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 described 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.

You can get more information about the FGS conference at

Listen to FGS Radio this Saturday

Teri Flack, the chair of the Texas State Genealogical Society’s Records Preservation and Access Committee and the state liaison to the national Records Preservation and Access Committee, will be featured on FGS Radio this Saturday, June 9, at 2 p.m. EDT, 1 p.m. CDT, noon MDT and 11 a.m. PDT. Her topic will be the work that RPAC does as well as how local societies can get involved. Tune in at

Learn more online, any time

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If you’re staying home this summer, take the time to learn more about records access issues nationally and in your state.

Start by reading “Access to Public Records: One Person Can Make a Difference” by David Rencher. Add the RPAC blog to your regular online reading list. Make it a habit to get the latest Alerts Page from IAJGS. Watch the webinar with Jan Meisels Allen on the SSDI issue.

Remember that the fact that Congress is likely to adjourn for the summer in this election year doesn’t mean the threat to the SSDI is over for this year. There can still be action behind the scenes on the bills limiting or removing access to the SSDI. So keep an eye on activity on either of the key bills — S. 1534 (which would delay access to the SSDI for up to two years) and H.R. 3475 (which would remove access to the SSDI forever). The website THOMAS at the Library of Congress lets you enter the bill number and check the status easily.

Find out about access issues in your state. Join your state genealogical society and help monitor those issues close to your own home.

And above all else, remember: it’s an election year. Politicians are going to be perfectly willing to abandon good sense and reason in return for votes. And they’re also going to be perfectly willing to exercise good sense and reason if the votes are there. So make sure your politicians — your Congressional representative and your Senators — know that you’re a genealogist — and you vote.

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