One of the major problems facing us as genealogists is access to records. Without proper preservation, records will not be available to us in the future. On top of that, we have to fight with legislators on every level who are trying to close access to materials for drummed-up political reasons that have nothing to do with reality. Witness Congress’ action this year in closing the SSDI, purportedly to protect consumers from fraud. The legislation will have a minimal effect on fraud. It was designed to provide political cover for legislators, and succeeded only in limiting access to records needed for genealogical research.
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) is a project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. As the name suggests, RPAC works to ensure that genealogists will have access to necessary records both today and in the future.
Last week at the NGS conference in Richmond, RPAC announced an important new initiative. Working with the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for Certification of Genealogists, RPAC has created a “Declaration of the Rights of Genealogists.” It reads as follows:
WHEREAS, Americans have pursued the research of their family heritage since the beginning of our country; and
WHEREAS, millions of Americans derive enjoyment from genealogical exploration, consistent with the pursuit of happiness recognized by the founders of our country in our Declaration of Independence; and
WHEREAS, Americans derive substantial emotional benefit from genealogical exploration into their heritage; and
WHEREAS, many Americans derive financial benefit from the practice of professional genealogy and have performed such throughout this nation’s history; and
WHEREAS, genealogists make meaningful contributions to the fields of forensic genealogy, identification of kinships, determining the facts in legal cases such as probate court, cases involving tribal and other relationships; and
WHEREAS, thousands of historical and genealogical societies, libraries, museums, and other institutions and associations have been established throughout our land to assist all Americans in the pursuit of their family heritage; and
WHEREAS, genealogy adds substantially to the ethnic, cultural, and racial richness of which our country is composed; and
WHEREAS, the American people have recognized that the right to open government and unfettered access to the records of our government are rights which find expression in the constitutions and legislation of our federal and state governments and which enrich the lives of all Americans; and
WHEREAS, genealogists have been at the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve the precious records and documents of our genealogical and historical heritage; and
WHEREAS, genealogists, no less than other Americans, are vitally concerned for personal privacy and safety from untoward acts that diminish our freedom; and
WHEREAS, most records, including vital records, have, for all of our nation’s history, been substantially open to access,
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT KNOWN
That we, the undersigned genealogists, in pursuance of our individual and collective rights as Americans, do hereby
That genealogists possess the right to the pursuit of genealogical exploration through unfettered access to the records of our government; and
WE CALL upon our governmental representatives to recognize our rights by;
PRESERVING the freedom of the American people to access the public records of our government in a timely and orderly manner through appropriate legislation; and
REFRAINING from legislation which would prevent or render extraordinarily difficult access to the public records, principally birth, marriage, and death records collected by our state and federal governmental agencies; and
PROMOTING those principles that enhance, not diminish, our freedom of access to records; and
CELEBRATING with genealogists the valuable benefits of exploring, researching, and compiling the histories of our families, and as a result, the history of our exceptional nation.
Hundreds of genealogists signed the declaration at last week’s conference. It will also be available for additional signers at the IAJGS conference in July, and the FGS conference in August. If you will not be attending either of these conferences, you can sign the document online.
There is no greater initiative to protect us at the moment. Take a moment to read and sign it today!