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Advocating for Records Access at the National Level
Our commitment is to advocate for your right to access the records of your family history. When archives restrict their hours or increase their access fees, we let government agencies and representatives know what this means to us. When records that were historically open are closed, we relentlessly advocate for access. When the complexity of these issues overwhelms government staffers, we write white papers and timelines to put events into perspective.
We provide resources to help us all to discuss and understand issues that impact records preservation and access. These are some of the things we have put together for you to read or use.
- Barbara Mathews, Sharon Sergeant, and Melinde Lutz Byrne wrote the White Paper “Framing a Discussion on Vital Records Access”. This paper made a big impact when it was written in 2009 and still has valid points today.
- Polly Kimmitt’s Model Letter: Take this letter as an example, then personalize it by adding your own statements about an issue or bill.
- Barbara Mathews' explanation of the 2011 Model Act, which, though not actually a law, is being used as a starting point for many states to re-draft and restrict their access policies.
- Barbara’s Identity Theft, Tax Fraud and the Death Master File Timeline — which shows the major events leading up to the restriction of deaths from the Social Security Death Index used by genealogists — has been posted online by the Records Preservation and Access Committee.
- The US Surgeon General recommends that we all compile a family health history to help our doctors diagnose and treat us. Fill out Polly’s family health pedigree online, then download it to your computer or print it out. Bring it with you to your next appointment with your primary care provider.
We do not work alone in this endeavor. We coordinate with the national Records Preservation and Access Committee and with other genealogists.
- Records Access and Preservation Committee: Learn how RPAC is coordinating the national effort to keep records open and accessible for genealogists.
If you are not from Massachusetts, is your state participating in RPAC? Check out RPAC State Liaisons. If not, you can work with RPAC to find the right person to serve as a communicator between your state’s genealogy societies and RPAC.
- Tool Kit for State Liaisons: A great slide presentation packed with resources for anyone wishing to advocate for open records.
- Occupy Genealogy: A movement of all genealogists, popular on Facebook, which greatly increased awareness of access issues and helped people understand options.
- The Public Records Access Monitoring Committee of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies serves as strong international advocates for records access. One of their projects shows you how to find the legislative branch of your own state’s government: Government Legislative Websites by IAJGS.
In recent years, we have moved quickly to advocate for genealogists in several interesting situations. Here are some examples.
In 2011 and 2012, several Congressional subcommittees held hearings on I.R.S. tax fraud. Denying access to the Social Security Death Index would do nothing to curb identity fraud. The vast majority of fraud cases are perpetrated by individuals who steal credit card and online password information which then gives them access to Social Security numbers as well. Less than 1.8% of federal income tax fraud involves refunds to the dead as shown by TIGTA, the Tax Inspector General of the Treasury Department. No genealogists were ever called as witnesses in the Congressional hearings.
Fingers were being pointed at the big genealogy websites because the social security numbers of the deceased were listed. The websites responded in November 2011 by eliminating social security numbers for those dead fewer than ten years and by placing the SSDI behind a paywall. This, however, did not stop the finger pointing.
- Washington Post infographic showing how the Social Security Death Master File is flawed: sometimes living people are counted as “dead” and dead people counted as living!
- Testimony for hearing on "Tax Fraud by Identity Theft, regarding the Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Prevention Act (S.1534).
- Judy Russell blogged about Sen. Sam Johnson and his proposed federal bill that threatens access to the Social Security Death Index.
- MGC and its officers and directors did submit testimony about this issue and described it on our blog The Sentinel. Without any direct warning, restriction of the most recent three years of deaths from the SSDI was included in the Ryan-Murray 2013 Budget Compromise Bill, which was signed into law in December 2013.
- Barbara blogged about What is it about genealogists and the SSDI? and What is buried in the budget bill? SSDI closure! We also sent out an email alert to our members, supporters, and friends that we posted at Bipartisan Budget Compromise Impacts Genealogists' Access to the SSDI
We continue to monitor the creations of regulations to implement this law by the National Technical Information Systems group.
We also provide support to fellow genealogists in New England dealing with records access issues.
- The sad tragedy on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, led to a bill introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly to close some death records. Connecticut genealogist Nora Galvin, submitted testimony against closing Connecticut records in response to Newtown tragedy. The state medical examiner also spoke passionately against this bill. The bill did not come to a vote.
- Genealogists in Maine responded to a bill prohibiting access to some vital records. The response and testimony by the Maine Genealogical Society led to alterations in the bill. Now Mainers can get a genealogical research ID card. Regulations are still under development to implement this, although the card has been required for a few years.