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.”