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Cautiously good news from FGS

The news has finally turned good, at least cautiously so, for the Preserve the Pensions project.

And, along with The Legal Genealogist, the entire genealogical community — all of us — we all need to keep our fingers, toes and everything else crossed that the news continues to be good.

Here’s the story.

So many of us contributed our funds and our time towards raising the money needed to ensure that all of the millions of pages of records of War of 1812 pension records held by the National Archives could be protected and preserved — and made available — for the future.

Through the Preserve the Pensions project, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) spearheaded this drive to digitize these oh-so-fragile documents that are in grave danger of deterioration.

The records documenting more than 180,000 pension records for War of 1812 soldiers and their families are among the most heavily requested documents at the National Archives and, because of their use, their age and their fragile nature, they really need to be digitized to protect them forever. FGS began the project, with matching funds support from Ancestry, and the way it works is that every image digitized becomes available, free, to the public, forever.

To fund the campaign, the Preserve the Pensions project needed to raise millions of dollars. And, in September 2016, what had seemed like it might be unimaginable happened: the fundraising went over the top. An anonymous contribution of $500,000, matched by Ancestry and added to the pot, put the project into the black.1

The pensions for surnames from A to M went online steadily.

And we all thought we were heading home.

Onward to Z!

Until …

There’s always the “until…,” isn’t there?

All of a sudden, we were stuck in the Ms. And stuck in the Ms. And stuck in the Ms.

Rorey Cathcart, FGS President, explains in a recent blog post what went wrong:

A security incident at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in St. Louis led to a work stoppage of digitization projects for security review. This incident was unrelated to the Preserve the Pensions project in Washington D.C., however, our project was impacted. The Federal bureaucracy is a slow-moving beast, as many of us have experienced outside of genealogy. The completed review led to new security and project protocols. These protocols imposed new cost, space, and completion date constraints on the project. Neither conservation nor digitization could resume without a renegotiated project plan. These negotiations were difficult and time-consuming as each partner fought for their organization’s priorities. Ultimately, each partner compromised where they could to bring this important preservation project back online. The negotiations, however, are not over. The project plan above is a test of both the new project protocols and the compromises each of us made. It is a proof of concept. As this new project plan is put into practice, NARA,, and FGS will continue to work together to evaluate the process with an eye towards negotiating the project plan for the final phase of conservation and digitization of surnames R-Z.2

So things are now cautiously and carefully moving forward: “National Archives staff have recently resumed document conservation of the War of 1812 Pension files covering surnames M(Moore)-Q. Document conservation is the essential first step in digitizing these files. Our digitization partner,, has scheduled image capture of these newly conserved documents to begin the second week of September 2017. As capture resumes, new images will be added to on a rolling basis.”3

Right now, it doesn’t look like any more funding will be needed — Cathcart explained that it turns out that while the per-page cost is higher under the new protocol, the actual number of pages is turning out to be less than anticipated.4

And then came the promise. It’s in bold. It’s clear as a bell. And it’s something I for one am so grateful to FGS for: “The Preserve the Pensions team is dedicated to seeing this project through until the very last page of the very last pension is online.”5

This isn’t the “everything’s fine, and there won’t/can’t be any more glitches” news we might have hoped for, but it’s the first cautious good news we’ve had in a while on the Preserve the Pensions project.

Fingers, toes, even eyes crossed that the news continues to be good…


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Over the top!!!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 1 Sep 2016 ( : accessed 2 Aug 2017).
  2. Rorey Cathcart, “Message from the President: Document Conservation Resumes for War of 1812 Pension Files,” FGS Voice, posted 1 Aug 2017 ( : accessed 2 Aug 2017).
  4. Cathcart, “Message from the President: Document Conservation Resumes for War of 1812 Pension Files,” FGS Voice, posted 1 Aug 2017
  5. Ibid.
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