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.