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FGS 2010: Knoxville — David S. Ferriero

Today was the begin­ning of the 2010 Federation of Genealogical Societies con­fer­ence in Knoxville, Tennessee.

There have been quite a few good lec­tures, and it has got­ten off to a promis­ing start.

What was most pow­er­ful for me was attend­ing the FGS lun­cheon and hear­ing David S. Ferriero, the 10th Archivist of the United States describe the future of the National Archives. There were minor items, such as the fact that the National Archives in Washington, DC and College Park, Maryland, will have open wi-fi net­works, allow­ing researchers to access the Internet. (This will be espe­cially impor­tant for researchers who want to access cloud-computing appli­ca­tions such as Dropbox and Evernote.)

More impor­tantly, he described the release of the 1940 US Census. It will be released on 2 April 2012, per the cen­sus statute that requires 72 years to pass before the indi­vid­ual cen­sus records can be released to the pub­lic (92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95–416; October 5, 1978). Because of this stip­u­la­tion, the National Archives (NARA) is dig­i­tiz­ing the 1940 cen­sus in-house, with­out the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a tech­nol­ogy part­ner (such as,, or FamilySearch, all three of which have a strong work­ing rela­tion­ships with NARA). The 1940 cen­sus is not being micro­filmed; it will only be avail­able dig­i­tally, both on com­put­ers within the NARA facil­i­ties in DC and the states, as well as over the Internet.

One of the key rea­sons that Ferriero (pro­nounced like “stereo”, if the first let­ter were an “f”) came to the FGS Conference, is that NARA is part­ner­ing with the FGS to dig­i­tize the War of 1812 pen­sion papers, which con­sist of 180,000 files and will include 7.2 mil­lion images when it is com­pleted. The FGS is rais­ing the money from dona­tions. To make a dona­tion, or to learn more, see It will take approx­i­mately fifty cents per image, or $3.7 mil­lion to dig­i­tize the entire col­lec­tion. Ferriero pointed out that these pen­sions are among the most accessed items at NARA. Digitizing them will help pre­serve the doc­u­ments, as they will not be han­dled as much.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion with FGS and with geneal­o­gists in gen­eral fits well into Ferriero’s vision of cit­i­zen archivists, as well as into President Obama’s Open Government ini­tia­tive. He knows quite well, he said, from his expe­ri­ence lead­ing the New York Public Library, that the users of the col­lec­tions often know more about them that the librar­i­ans and archivists, because the users are delv­ing deeper into par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ments and record groups, while the archivists need to be more wide-ranging in their attentions.

The talk was pep­pered with humor, such as the fact that when he met with the admin­is­tra­tors of the regional facil­i­ties, the admin­is­tra­tor of the JFK Library pulled out of a brief­case a copy of a let­ter the young David Ferriero wrote to President Kennedy, ask­ing for more infor­ma­tion on the Peace Corps. (Ferriero remem­bered being inter­ested in the Peace Corps, but not hav­ing writ­ten the let­ter.) Ferriero said he could see the other admin­is­tra­tors think­ing, “How am I going to I top that?” Of course, other let­ters to pres­i­dents from the pre­co­cious boy that David Ferriero must have been, have also turned up.

For more about David S. Ferriero, you might visit his blog:

I would not be sur­prised if his remarks at the FGS Conference end up on “Speeches and Writings of David S. Ferriero.”

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