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.