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Georgia Archives to Be Closed to the Public

Update: It seems that the Governor of Georgia has found a way to return fund­ing to the Georgia Archives.

Georgia Archives PetitionIn a move intended to save money, the Georgia Archives will be closed to the pub­lic, start­ing 1 November 2012. You can read a copy of the Georgia Secretary of State’s let­ter about the clos­ing at the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) web­site. (RPAC is a joint com­mit­tee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society [of which I am the President-Elect], and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS)).

The archives has be on restricted hours as it is, being open only 17 hours per week (Friday and Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.), but clos­ing down com­pletely, is a blow that will be hard to recover from for fam­ily his­tory researchers and other his­to­ri­ans. Under this sce­nario, there would be a lim­ited avail­abil­ity for the pub­lic to sched­ule access to the archives, but, since these archives are Georgia state pub­lic prop­erty, many Georgians are mak­ing their opin­ions known in a Facebook group (Georgians Against Closing the State Archives) and via a peti­tion: “The Governor of GA: Leave our state archives open to the pub­lic.”

Read more about this in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Supporters Rally Against Georgia Archives Closure.”

Access to records of his­tor­i­cal and genealog­i­cal impor­tance is cur­rently under siege in many states and fed­er­ally. There have been sev­eral attempts to limit access to what have been and should remain pub­lic records. Many of these attempts are well-intentioned, but misinformed.

As an exam­ple, pub­lic access to SSDI (the Social Security Death Index) is under threat because it was used to by crim­i­nals to claim as depen­dents recently deceased chil­dren. This was a rep­re­hen­si­ble act that caused the fam­i­lies of those chil­dren to go through IRS scrutiny, as well as hav­ing endured the loss of a child. However, the point of these records being pub­lic is to avert fraud. Had the IRS been val­i­dat­ing against these records, they would have dis­cov­ered the fraud imme­di­ately, and with­out con­tact­ing families.

It may seem easy to mis­con­strue geneal­ogy as a sim­ple hobby with no real neces­sity, but clos­ing records not only affects hob­by­ists, but also pro­fes­sion­als, many of whom are act­ing on behalf of courts as foren­sic geneal­o­gists, or attempt­ing to find next of kin of fallen sol­diers. Professional qual­ity research can also be valu­able to under­stand a family’s med­ical his­tory, which can improve the value of health care and reduce its cost.

Genealogists are just as con­cerned about iden­tity theft as any­one, and have strict stan­dards designed to pro­mote pro­fes­sional con­duct even of ama­teur researchers, and these include stan­dards for main­tain­ing the pri­vacy for liv­ing persons.

For exam­ple, NGS has NGS Standards for Sharing Information with Others, which state, in part: “respon­si­ble fam­ily his­to­ri­ans con­sis­tently … con­vey per­sonal iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion about liv­ing peo­ple — like age, home address, occu­pa­tion or activ­i­ties — only in ways that those con­cerned have expressly agreed to.” Additionally, the Board for Certification of Genealogists has a Code of Ethics, to which all Certified Genealogists must adhere. It states: “I will keep con­fi­den­tial any per­sonal or genealog­i­cal infor­ma­tion given to me, unless I receive writ­ten con­sent to the contrary.”

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), a joint com­mit­tee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) advo­cates for pri­vacy and access issues on behalf of the genealog­i­cal com­mu­nity. To keep up to date on records access issues, fol­low the RPAC RSS feed, or visit the RPAC web­site.

OPENGEN - Genealogy Standards Alliance OPENGEN.ORG - Genealogy Standards Alliance