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 Footnote.com, Ancestry.com, 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 www.fgs.org/1812.) 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: blogs.archives.gov/aotus/

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