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Recent blog posts
We Need Your Support Now More Than Ever! In these days of tight budgets, more and more institutions are choosing or being forced to reduce hours of operation, close outright, and even dispose of records to free up valuable storage space. The result is that the public has ever more restricted access to records. Massachusetts, thanks in large part to the efforts of MGC over the past thirty years, has notclosed records, and the law that was first enacted in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641 to keep our records open and accessible to all citizens remains in effect.  Imagine a World With Closed Records Many states in the nation have chosen to close access to civil records such as birth, marriage and death records to all but proven family members. But how do you prove you are related without providing these same certificates? We need vital records to make any progress whatsoever in...
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Thanks to Judy Russell and the Legal Genealogist blog we are aware of yet another threat to public records, this time in Washington State. It seems that the Washington State Department of Health has sent a request to the 4-member State Records Committee to close access to births more recent than 125 years, and marriages and deaths more recent than 50 years. Obviously another knee-jerk, uninformed reaction to credit fraud, but we need to do what we can to lend our support. Note that this is not going to the Washington State Legislature or any court, just to this small committee of appointed, not elected, members, as Judy points out. You can ready Judy's blog post here: http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2012/11/08/washington-public-records-threatened/. ...
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In a happy turn of events, Georgia's Governor Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced yesterday that the Georgia State Archives will remain open at least through June 20, 2013. It is slated to be transferred to the University System of Georgia after that, so this opens up more questions. This new budgetary commitment allows the archives to remain open under current hours. http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2012-10-18/deal-kemp-keep-georgia’s-archives-open...
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Fiona Gartland of the Irish Times (www.IrishTimes.com), writes: "Genealogists have raised concerns about moves to resurrect the Privacy Bill 2006, which they say could restrict access to records for genealogical or biographical research." If this bill is reintroduced and passed, will it have serious consequences on all of those seeking to trace their roots in Ireland? Click here to read Fiona's article, "Concerns bill could restrict research into roots."  Entitled an "Act to provide for a Tort of Violation of Privacy; and to provide for matters connected therewith," Privacy Bill 2006 was restored to the Order Paper of Seanad Éireann on September 25th 2012, at number nine. Based on the premise that everyone has a right to privacy, the bill seeks to guarantee a right to privacy, and in the process may restrict access to certain records.  It says, in part: Tort of violation of privacy3. Section 2 provides that it is a tort...
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Jan Meisels Allen, IAJGS Vice President and Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee keeps MGC up-to-date on legislative developments. Here is a summary of her latest announcement. State vital records laws that redact or restrict information can stymie genealogists.  A recent example is Virginia's law allowing only Virginia residents the right to access public records. According to the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) there are eight states that have or have had similar provisions: Arkansas, Georgia, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania,  Tennessee,  and Virginia.  See: http://tinyurl.com/99emf8o. Several groups and individuals are taking this provision to the U.S. Supreme Court. One person from Rhode Island and another from California are challenging the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provision on access for only Virginia citizens. Two Federal appellate courts have each ruled differently, which is why it is being appealed to the Supreme Court. A decision by the Supreme Court whether it will...
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The US Congress ( House of Representatives and Senate) has adjourned for elections and won't return until November 13 for the "lame duck" session which will last up until the new Congress is seated in January. No action on the six bills before either the House or Senate regarding the Social Security Death Index (the commercial name of the Death Master File) will occur before the lame duck session -- if then. They had been waiting for the Obama Administration bill, but with Congress out until November 13 nothing has been forthcoming from the Administration at this time. Jan Meisels AllenIAJGS Vice PresidentChairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee...
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Now here is a step that will make a tremendous difference in helping to stem to tide of identity fraud. "IRS Takes New Steps to Prevent Fraud" was written by Sam Imandoust, Esq, a legal analyst for the Identity Theft Resource Center. He grants permission to post/reprint this article with attribution. You can find the original at www.idtheftcenter.blogspot.com. IRS Takes New Steps to Prevent Fraud The IRS has been dealing with an epidemic of tax fraud and identity theft.  An audit report prepared by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) estimated that 940,000 tax returns involved identity theft in 2011. The same audit report estimates that in addition to those, another 1.5 million fraudulent tax returns may have been submitted but not detected by the IRS. Fortunately, in 2012 the IRS has been taking additional steps to help stem the flow of these fraudulent returns.  In the TIGTA audit, several recommendations were made to...
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ATLANTA, GA -- Official statement from the state: "The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626). As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia. As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions. We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety. To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public. The decision to reduce...
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I'm a little excited today because in doing some genealogical research I came across a site that provides a portion of the Social Security number (SSN) of individuals. I am glad that not all websites have had a knee jerk reaction and simply redacted these numbers because it is essential that we have access to them in order to PREVENT identity fraud. The owners of the site, called Sysoon, took the time to put a link underneath the SSN which says, "Why we show it," and here is what they say: Identity Theft of the Deceased Identity theft is the fastest growing crime worldwide! How to Prevent Identity Theft of the Deceased? Identity theft: It can happen to anyone, living or dead. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime worldwide. Your identity does not automatically die with you. Identity thieves used the name and Social Security number of someone who is...
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I've been home from the FGS 2012 Conference in Birmingham, Alabama for a week now and am still catching up on spreading the news of all the great happenings there. Perhaps my favorite surprise was the success of the APG Roundtable, "Records Access: The Art of Advocacy," held on Tuesday, August 28th. Sponsored by the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG) and organized by Diane Gravel, it was in the form of a panel moderated by Thomas MacEntee. The panel, consisting of Kelvin Meyers, Terri Flack, Alvie Davidson and Polly Kimmitt, were asked a series of questions about the current state of records access legislation. (The link at the end of this article gives more details on the panelists and questions asked). Though RPAC has traditionally been the group in which we place our confidence, the community is seeking more in terms of instruction, advice, outreach and coordination...
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Jan Meisels Allen, Vice President of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and chairperson of IAJGS's Public Records Access Monitoring Committee keeps us informed of developments at the Federal level regarding records access. Here is her latest alert. Here is a link to an advance copy of IRS [Internal Revenue Service] Revenue Procedure 2012-35 effective August 31, 2012 : http://benefitslink.com/src/irs/revproc2012-35.pdf   Evidently, the IRS for "humane" reasons will forward a letter for those who are attempting to locate missing persons.  This "service" is available to private individuals and state and federal agencies.  What they have done is define this service for humane reasons.  What the IRS has determined (see Section 4.02) are examples not considered as humane including: "tracing a family tree or attempting to locate individuals for reunion purposes " .   What is also ironic is that the requestor must provide the missing person's Social Security Number along with the letter to be forwarded.  The IRS...
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MGC The issue of records access will be front and center at the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) 2012 Conference in Birmingham, Alabama next week. For the first time, MGC will have a table at a national conference, and we hope to spread the word about our activities as watchdogs over public records. Our display will be in the Society Showcase section of the exhibit hall and attendees will find answers to many questions plus information on how to get more involved. It can be confusing to those not accustomed to the legislative process, but we aim to demystify! If you are in Birmingham, please stop by our table, pick up our newsletter and think about joining our society! APG On the Tuesday night before every FGS conference, the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) traditionally holds their APG Roundtable. This year it is Records Access: The Art of Advocacy. MGC is thrilled to welcome APG to the...
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As we've seen, everal pieces of legislation propose to restrict or deny access to the public (including genealogists) to the Death Master File (DMF), also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) Public Records Access Monitoring Committee, is a fountain of knowledge about how Congress is reacting to identity theft and accusations that  the DMF/SSDI is being used as a vehicle for identity theft. Recently, Congress has also taken steps regarding identity theft and addressing the IRS due to fraudulent tax filings without directly mentioning the DMF/SSDI.  There are several steps they have taken that you might find of interest: 1.  The House has passed HR 4362, which may be cited as the "Stopping Tax Offenders and Prosecuting Identity Theft Act of 2012" or the "STOP Identity Theft Act of 2012". Visit http://tinyurl.com/8ou2nxq. The bill addresses tax-return identity theft and the author is Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman...
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Jan Meisels Allen of the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies, and member of the Records Preservation Access Committee (RPAC) keeps abreast of developments that interest anyone concerned with access to public records. She sent out this update and we thought we should republish, with Jan's permission, of course. The US Congress is starting on their "summer vacation" and your elected US Senator and Congressperson will be home.  Getting to know your elected representative is very important--and if you are concerned about continued records access including the Social Security Death Index and that genealogists are NOT the cause of identity theft, there is no better time to make an appointment to meet with your representative and their staff.  2012 is an election year--the entire House of Representatives and 1/3 of the US Senate -- your society is made up of their constituents -- use this time wisely to get to know your elected officials...
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By now most people who attended the MGC Annual Meeting and Seminar on July 21st have filled out the evaulation survey we sent around. One of the most requested items was an update to the MGC newsletter. Despite all of the conveniences (bells and whistles?) of modern technology, with blogs, email, Twitter, Facebook, LInkedIn, etc., it appears that most of us just like to have a printed copy we can pick up when we feel like it, without having to turn on the computer. We've had a pause in production for quite a while, but I'm happy to say that at the seminar we announced the Summer 2012 issue of the MGC Newsletter. In case you missed the seminar, you can find the newsletter on our website at www.massgencouncil.org under the Newsletters tab by selecting the Current Newsletter button. Give it some time to load, then save it to your computer and...
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The United States Treasury Department's Acting Deputy Inspector General for Audit just released a lengthy report about the extent of income tax fraud in the U.S. The audit was conducted as a direct result of the Senate and House hearings we have been watching over this past year. Their findings are stunning. You can read the report here. Surely the subcommittee chairs will move their legislation (H.R. 6205 and S. 3432) out of committee with a favorable report with the support of the audit results. Between 2010 and 2012, the fraud more than doubled from 440,581 instances to 1,125,634 instances "meeting the characteristics of confirmed identity theft cases." In 2011, these returns amount to $5,221,018,184 in potentially fraudulant payments. Much of this fraud is apparently generated by criminal groups. It is significantly limited geographically. The report provides the following table. The addresses in the table are unique residential addresses. Five homes...
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Blog Posting from Sharon Sergeant, member of the Civil Records Committee: It might be the dog days of summer, and the last few months of the current two-year Congressional session, but we are still seeing new legislation being introduced. The latest, sponsored by Rep. Richard Nugent of Florida, condenses previous bills that included closure of the Social Security Death Index (Death Master File or DMF) into a new bill, H.R. 6205. It was introduced on July 26th and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The full text of the new bill can be found at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr6205ih/pdf/BILLS-112hr6205ih.pdf or http://tinyurl.com/8uq9kos  The head of the Senate committee dealing with this issue also filed a new bill, S. 3432, which you can read at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2012reports/201242080fr.html These bills have the least restrictive wording on closure of the Death Master File. The DMF (which genealogists know as the SSDI) would be closed for two...
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We are soliciting your input. Have you ever been denied records by any state simply because you are not a resident of that state? It recently came to our attention here at the Massachusetts Genealogical Council that some states have their own Freedom of Information Acts, but that these are designed to restrict records access. With this restriction in place, a hypothetical situation would be that a reporter for the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune or the Boston Globe would be unable to access the records. What is true for reporters is true also for genealogists and historians. Delaware law Chapter 100, Section 10003 (a), restricts access to any citizen of the State: All public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the State during regular business hours by the custodian of the records for the appropriate public body. Virginia also restricts records access...
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Well, the Massachusetts Genealogical Council's 2012 Annual Meeting and Seminar is over and we are very, very happy with the day! Over two hundred enthusiastic genealogists turned out on a gorgeous summer day to attend this event, held July 21st at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Our Program Co-Directors, Mary Tedesco and Phil Hermann did an absolutely fantastic job of selecting talented speakers who brought us a wide variety of presentations and discussions. We covered a broad swath of ethnicities––everything from Armenian to Chinese to Irish. Methodology lectures provided a challenge to all researchers, from beginner to advanced. Ancestry.com Vice President of Community Relations (and dear lady) Lou Szucs wowed us with her knowledge and touching personal stories. And clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Hanson Richardson gave us some insight into how our own minds can both create AND  break down those pesky brick walls we encounter in our research. MGC presented a panel on the latest...
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The Massachusetts Genealogical Council is happy to announce that we will continue accepting registrations for our 2012 Annual Meeting and Seminar until midnight on July 10th.  Please note that the Early Bird deadline has passed, so all fees will be at the full rate.  Can't wait to see you there!...
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Did you know that this month marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812? If you are like most Americans you have very little knowledge of the circumstances of that war, but as genealogists it behooves us to learn more! We can be especially appreciative of the efforts of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) to digitize and provide free access to the 1812 pension files. In conjunction with the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), fold3, and Ancestry.com, FGS is helping to digitize 180,000 pension applications representing an estimated 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files. The collection will be available for free on fold3's website, here.  FGS has targeted the War of 1812 Pension Applications as a high priority project based on the value of the content for genealogists as well as the importance of preserving the fragile records. FGS is...
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MGC supports legislation designed to expand the resources and accessibility of materials used in historical research, but it is much more frequent to encounter legislation that blocks public access, hence we often find ourselves in battle mode. It is always a pleasure to be able to support rather than oppose a bill, for so many reasons. First, it is just a more positive activity. Much more importantly, we become allies in the legislative process, rather than foes. And isn't it preferable to work with legislators than against them? If we are supporters then our influence seems much more natural, we come across as the experts we are, and we gather respect rather than disdain. So it is with great delight that MGC announces support of Massachusetts House Bill 3043 - An Act Relative to Records Open to Public Inspection. Our Massachusetts Civil Records Director, Mary Ellen Grogan, constantly monitors bills proposed at the...
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REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!! ~ ETHNICITY AND GENEALOGY ~ Massachusetts has been a landing point for immigrants since 1620, and though the predominant nationalities of immigrants have varied in different eras, the challenge of locating those newly arrived, impoverished and disenfranchised ancestors has remained equally challenging through the centuries. See the blue menu on the top right of the MGC homepage at www.massgencouncil.org for more details on how to register. Save money by becoming a member of MGC first! Members pay $60 before July 1st, non-members pay $75. Everyone, regardless of membership status, pays $85 after midnight on July 1st. July 1st is also the day that online registration closes. ~ Massachusetts Genealogical Council ~Safeguarding researchers' access to Public Records in Massachusetts andproviding educational programs for the genealogical community. Register Now! Schedule Speakers Programs Vendors Sponsors ...
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At 3:00 pm Thursday afternoon, 10 May 2012, in Cincinnati, Ohio, RPAC met at the National Genealogical Society’s annual convention. On behalf of MGC, I attended as a Massachusetts liaison. What is RPAC? The Records Preservation and Access Committee is a three-person panel with an advisory board. The three panelists are delegates from the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. About a dozen people sit as advisors, but the bulk of the work and the bulk of the strategy comes from the three panelists: David Rencher, AG, CG, the Genealogist at FamilySearch in Utah; Fred Moss from Texas; and Jan Meisels Allen from California. Together for many years they have provided advice to state genealogical societies whenever access or preservation issues arise. Last year they supported our efforts to stop a bill that would have closed records back to 1840. This...
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Today Dick Roberts, president of NERGC, announced a call for nominations for the Donna Holt Siemiatkoski Award. The Donna Holt Siemiatkoski Genealogy Volunteer of the Year Award is presented at each NERGC conference to an individual who has provided outstanding volunteer service to the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium, Inc. or its member societies, and as such to the field of genealogy, over and above the job to which they were elected or appointed to do. This could include leadership, special projects, sharing expertise, raising standards, and so many other ways of improving our field. The 2013 award consists of a free registration for the 2013 NERGC conference, one night in a conference hotel, one banquet, and a recognition certificate read at the banquet. Everyone, please take a few moments to think about those in our community who dedicate themselves to volunteering their time to the field of genealogy and submit your...
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Jan Miesels Allen of RPAC shared the following in a Forensic Genealogy discussion on LinkedInyesterday. House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany, Jr., MD (R-LA) and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) announced that the Subcommittees on Oversight and Social Security will hold a hearing on tax fraud involving identity theft. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 A.M EDT. Oral testimony at this hearing will be from invited witnesses only. However, any individual or organization not scheduled for an oral appearance may submit a written statement for consideration by the Committee and for inclusion in the printed record of the hearing. We have been advised that the only invited presenters will be from government agencies. See: http://tinyurl.com/7qnot8h. The use of the Death Master File (DMF) also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has been purchased by other government agencies, financial institutions, life insurance companies, credit reporting organizations,...
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The Massachusetts Genealogical Council Annual Meeting and Seminar will take place on July 21, 2012, at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. The MGC Program Co-Directors are finalizing arrangements with speakers for six jam-packed tracks on ethnic-specific topics, including two advanced level workshops. We have a really exciting line-up of presenters, many of them nationally known experts in the field. Our featured speaker will be Loretto "Lou" Szucs, FUGA, Vice President of Community Relations at Ancestry.com. Lou is a highly respected and much loved author, editor and genealogist and we are thrilled that she will be our luncheon speaker and present two lectures. More details at a later date! This year we have lowered the price of registration! Members receive a significant discount by registering before July 1st.  Registration Before July 1stMembers: $60Non-Members: $75 Late Registration and Walk-InsMembers and Non-Members: $85  Visit the MGC website at www.massgencouncil.org  often for information and updates....
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2 April 2012

Senate Committee on Finance
Attn. Editorial and Document Section
Rm. SD-219
Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510-6200

To: US Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Chair: US Senate Finance Committee, Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility & Economic Growth

From: Massachusetts Genealogical Council, Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt, CGSM, President

Re: Testimony for hearing on "Tax Fraud by Identity Theft, Part 2: Status, Progress, and Potential Solutions," regarding the Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act (S.1534), held Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 10:00 AM, 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
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The Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) is an umbrella organization representing more than 36,000 members of genealogical and historical societies who utilize current and historical records to determine kinship. Whether residents of the Commonwealth or descendants of early Massachusetts settlers now living in all fifty states, we wish the Social Security Death Master File (DMF) to remain un-redacted and accessible to the public.

Senate Bill 1534 goes a long way in curbing tax fraud by correcting some of the more egregious problems within the IRS and in law enforcement practices, particularly in Florida, where the bulk of the abuse takes place. The one measure that will hinder rather than help this effort is removal of access to the Death Master File. 

While we are in agreement that there are significant problems within the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and local law enforcement, we need to ensure that legislation proposed to rectify this problem will not have dangerous, if unintended, consequences.

As a tool for research in the genealogical field, the Death Master File is used to determine kinship in myriad ways, just a few of which follow.

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Remember when we all heard about a subcommittee hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives about closing the SSDI? There were four bills regarding this, three in the House and one in the U.S. Senate. That Senate bill (S.1534) comes up for a hearing this week. At 10:00 AM Eastern time, on Tuesday, March 20th, the Senate’s subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth has a hearing titled, “Tax Fraud by Identity Theft, Part 2: Status, Progress, and Potential Solutions.” THE HEARING The website for this subcommittee is multipurpose. Before the hearing you can use it to learn who will be testifying and how to submit your own written testimony. During the hearing (10:00 AM Eastern time), you can go to this page to access a streaming video of the hearing itself. The page is: http://finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=8c908260-5056-a032-525c-4f663b8d35f8 THE BILL Senate bill S.1534 is sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who...
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Threats to public access are cropping up all over the country. The Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York, Inc. has published the following letter, which is of utmost  importance for anyone who wants to access the archives in New York City.  Please read this and then visit http://www.nycarchivists.org/doris_petition  to see the petition. At the behest of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the New York City Council has proposed legislation that would eliminate the autonomy of New York City's Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), the agency that is responsible for the records and archival documents produced by past and present City governments. The proposed legislation (Int. 486-2011) would place the currently independent agency within the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). If passed, this legislation would significantly downgrade the authority of DORIS within City government and potentially put at risk its ability to preserve, protect and make accessible the intellectual legacy of one of the world's greatest cities. A full position...
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