Archive for the ‘Records Access’ Category

Help keep the Georgia Archives open

I previously reported on the closure of the Georgia Archives, effective 1 November 2012. Since then quite a bit has happened, including the termination of seven of the ten remaining employees, leaving only three employees to service all of the Archives’ functions.

At noon on October 3, the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives and the Friends of the Georgia Archives & History will be leading a rally at the Georgia Capitol Rotunda. It is very important that this rally has a large turnout, in order to truly influence the decision-makers. If you are anywhere near Atlanta, please try to make it to this rally. See the flyer below for more information.

For those of you who cannot make it to Atlanta on October 3, you can still help by signing the petition to keep the Archives open. At the time of this writing, the petition has just under 16,000 supporters. It has been promoted by archivists, historians, genealogists, and librarians in states around the nation. More help is still needed. The petition has a goal of 20,000 signatures. To be sure that our voices are heard, we should try to surpass that goal.

Governor Deal has vowed to keep the Archives open. That was before 70% of the employees lost their jobs. Ironically, he also declared October as “Archives Month.” Hopefully, we are making the Secretary of State reconsider his decision, but so far nothing has changed. We obviously need to do more.

Visit the Friends of the Georgia Archives & History’s website at http://www.fogah.org/ for more actions you can take to help.

Capitol Rally 10-3-12

Georgia State Archives closed to the public

In a move that will devastate genealogists, the Georgia State Archives is now officially closed to the public. The following statement was released today by the Georgia Secretary of 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 public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation. To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state. The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced. The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed. After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.

Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work. I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government. I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia.

Online State Resources for Genealogy e-book version 2.0 released!

I am pleased to announce that my popular ebook Online State Resources for Genealogy has been updated, and version 2.0 is now available for purchase.

The Online State Resources for Genealogy ebook was originally released in January 2011, containing links to online record indexes and images. Unlike many resource guides the focus of this ebook is on those websites that contain record indexes and images but are not genealogy-based sites. You will not find references to Ancestry.comFamilySearchU. S. GenWeb, or Find-A-Grave.

Instead you will find links to resources found on the websites of state and county archives, county clerks, historical societies and museums, university libraries, public libraries, and others. These sites contain many records that have never been previously digitized or made available online. Many of these have never even been microfilmed.

The first edition contained 201 repositories across the United States, featuring over 2,000 links. Version 2.0 examines 428 repositories, featuring almost 6,000 links! In addition to the new links, all of the previously-listed links have been verified and updated when necessary.

Even more exciting is the introduction of an EPUB edition of the book, for use with your favorite e-reader. This was a frequent suggestion, and I am pleased to be able to offer this new edition.

To purchase the standard (PDF) edition of Online State Resources for Genealogy, version 2.0, click here.

To purchase the e-reader (EPUB) edition of Online State Resources for Genealogy, version 2.0, click here.

If you previously purchased the first edition, please read my post, “Important notice for purchasers of Online State Resources for Genealogy.” If you have already responded as requested in that post, there is no need to do so again.

Citing the 1940 U. S. Census digital images

You might notice that I have been relatively quiet about the 1940 census release. Nearly every aspect of accessing and indexing the 1940 U. S. Census–released yesterday, 2 April 2012–has been covered extensively.

Now that the images are available, no doubt genealogists around the United States (and probably at least a few other countries) are diving in and looking for their families. So what do you cite once you have found them?

Because images are not yet completely available for all states through every host (and the NARA host site is running particularly slow this morning), I will use the example of a family in Delaware, the only state currently (as of the time of this writing) available on both FamilySearch and Ancestry.com. For this example I am using the image on FamilySearch, but I will address citing the same record on other sites.

I am not personally researching this family, for either myself or any of my clients. I picked it at random from a family then living in the town where I now live. I did also pick this particular household because it lands on line 29, so the supplementary questions also apply.

First, here is the full citation (in Reference Note format):

1940 U. S. Census, Kent County, Delaware, population schedule, 6th Representative District, Harrington City, enumeration district (ED) 1-23, page 247 (stamped), sheet 4A, dwelling 88, G. B. Colman household; digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 2 April 2012).

Citing a federal census begins with the most general element and moves toward the most specific. In the above example, we start with the record itself (the 1940 Census). The census is organized by county and state, so this is the next element. Then we have the specific schedule we are using. These elements at the beginning are those used by the National Archives in their organization of the census record, so they are key in identifying the specific record.

At the top of each census page are two fields labeled “Township or other division of county” and “Incorporated place.” These divisions must also be noted within the citation. Then we add the enumeration district (ED) number.

Each “sheet” is identified, with either “A” or “B,” but the “A” pages also contain a stamped page number. Both of these should be included where applicable. On the “B” pages, no stamped page number appears, so none need be included in the citation.

One difference between this 1940 census and previous enumerations back to 1850 is that–rather than including two identifying “dwelling” and “family” numbers–this enumeration only identifies households by a single “household” (or “dwelling”) number. We then identify the head of household (or a specific individual within the household) that we are examining.

Note that we have gone from the most general element to the most specific–from the year down to the specific individual.

Next we must include information on the repository holding the records. We separate this section with a semicolon, to show that it is a separate clause.

We first identify that we are using digital images. The 1940 Census, to my knowledge, is not being microfilmed but is only available via the digital images on various websites.

In this case I used the images on FamilySearch, so my citation reflects this fact. We must include the author of the website, the title of the website, the URL, and the date we accessed the record. The same format would be used whether we used the images on FamilySearchAncestry.comMyHeritageArchives.com, or the National Archives and Records Administration’s official 1940 Census site.

In many of these cases, the title of the website is the same as the name of the corporate entity that publishes the website. In these cases, there is no need to repeat the name. For example, we do not have to cite the Ancestry.com site as

Ancestry.com, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com [...]

but we do have to cite the NARA site as

National Archives and Records Administration, 1940 Census (http://1940census.archives.gov [...]

I hope that everyone is having a great time looking for their family members in 1940!

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Citing the 1940 U. S. Census digital images,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 3 April 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Social Security Death Master File access hearing

This morning (2 February 2012) the U. S. House of Representatives, Ways and Means Subcommittee is holding a hearing concerning the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (commonly called the “Social Security Death Index”). A few cases of identity theft and fraud have caused the U. S. Congress to favor the closing of this valuable resource. Several other blogs have discussed this issue, and I would invite readers to read these other blogs:

I would like to take this time to respond briefly to the issue at large as well as the specific written testimony that has now been posted on the Ways and Means Committee website.

In general, I would like to make a comparison to what the U. S. Congress is attempting to do. Since the mid-19th century, there have been documented cases of identity theft and fraud by those who would go to cemeteries and copy information from headstones. Closing the Death Master File (“SSDI”) is akin to making cemeteries restricted ground, inaccessible to the general public. Except that there are far fewer documented cases of fraud occasioned by the Death Master File than by headstones.

I would like to invite my readers to take the time to read the written testimony submitted by those invited to address the committee:

I will respond to this testimony directly in the coming days, in separate blog posts.

Now available – “Library Edition” of “Online State Resources for Genealogy”

Many public libraries now offer e-books to their patrons. For self-published authors such as myself, this causes a bit of a dilemma. Do we forego the library market altogether, or risk the loss of income from library patrons who copy the book file to their own computers? (This is, of course, a violation of copyright.)

Adobe, who really helped to usher in the e-book revolution with the development of its Portable Document Format (PDF), also offers a solution for Digital Rights Management. These files are read with the free Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) software rather than the standard Adobe Reader. Adobe Digital Editions can be downloaded from http://www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/. According to the Adobe website, Digital Editions “works in conjunction with Adobe Digital Experience Protection Technology (ADEPT), a hosted service that provides publishers with copy protection in both retail and library environments.”

Online State Resources for Genealogy (currently #36 on Lulu.com’s all-time best-selling e-books) has now been converted to a “Library Edition.” This new edition utilizes the Adobe PDF format with Digital Editions in order to provide a version of this e-book that can be safely offered by libraries to their patrons.

For more details, including purchasing information, visit http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/online-state-resources-for-genealogy—library-edition/18777978.

Ancestry Errors Wiki is picking up steam

Just a short note about the progress of the Ancestry Errors Wiki.

Since its creation on 1 August 2011, quite a few errors have have been added to the Wiki. There are now pages available for counties in ten states! While quite a few of the errors concern missing or misplaced locations in census enumerations, there are also entries for place names being misspelled and document pages being out of order, missing, etc.

If you have not already done so, please take a look at the Ancestry Errors Wiki. Explore a few of the pages to see if you have anything to add!

If you are aware of any database errors on any of the online sites–Ancestry.com, Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com), or other noncommercial sites–please feel free to create a page and write it up. Don’t worry if it is not perfectly written–there are editors on hand to help you out.

You can also post questions to me on this blog post, and I will try to help out.

Only with the help of the whole community can we turn this into a resource that will help all of us search more effectively!

The Ancestry Errors Wiki can be found at http://ancestryerrors.wikia.com/wiki/Ancestry_Errors_Wiki

On the transformation from Footnote to Fold3

On 18 August 2011, the popular subscription genealogy database Footnote.com announced two major changes.

For nearly five years, Footnote was the strongest competitor to the market-dominating Ancestry.com. The site made available improved images of several federal census enumerations, as well as improved image viewing and tagging capabilities. Over time, Ancestry and Footnote became complementary competitors, as separate agreements with both the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Family History Library/FamilySearch provided different record groups to the two sites. Throughout this time, I have consistently recommended Footnote to audiences in my lectures on the U. S. Civil War, specifically because of the site’s strength in records of this era.

Almost a year ago, on 23 September 2010, Ancestry.com announced the acquisition of iArchives, the parent company of Footnote. Until the 18 August announcements, there were no noticeable changes to the site.

Two major changes have now occurred, according to the announcement:

  • The site will now focus entirely and exclusively on military records.
  • Footnote has been renamed Fold3.

In my opinion, the first of these two changes is a wise move. Especially now that Footnote is a subsidiary of Ancestry, it simply does not make sense to have two separate teams (e.g. the Ancestry team and Footnote team) both working to increase record holdings without focus. There are already several duplicate databases between the two sites. It would be inappropriate to increase this number. What Fold3 has done is recognized its strengths and chosen a focused path.

As a professional genealogist (or aspiring professional) we must do the same. I wrote before about being “Primary Care Genealogists,” that is, strong in the basic universal research skills that can be applied to any problem in any location. This does not mean that we should not define ourselves more specifically. In fact, most professionals eventually become known for a specialty–geographic, ethnic group, record group, time period, methodological, etc. This specialty can be either a conscious decision or a natural development of personal interests. But once a professional becomes a recognized expert on some subject, the amount of business relating to this content will increase (and consequently the amount of business not relating to this specialty will decrease).

So from this perspective, Footnote did what every professional must eventually do: they have created a focus by which they can become known.

The flip side of this coin is that Footnote.com was already known, and had many loyal subscribers. Yesterday’s announcement has upset quite a few of these subscribers. Just take some time to read the comments left on the Fold3 blog. There were quite a few subscribers, including institutions with small budgets, who were attracted to Footnote due to its lower subscription price, as an alternative to the rather pricey Ancestry subscription. Prior to its acquisition by Ancestry.com, Footnote was marketed as a competitor and an alternative, with the promise to someday rival Ancestry. The more specific–and more limited–focus puts an end to the site’s existence as a cheaper alternative.

The name change has also received mostly negative reviews. The most frequent objection is that no one knows what it means. According to the announcement,

We wanted a name that would show respect for the records we are working on and for the people who have served in the armed forces.  The name Fold3 comes from a traditional flag-folding ceremony in which the third fold is made in honor and remembrance of veterans for their sacrifice in defending their country and promoting peace in the world.

This makes complete sense to me as a man whose brother is currently in Afghanistan after having already served in Iraq in the past three years. As a business owner, I feel that, with the new focus on military records, a new name reflecting this focus also seems warranted.

The down side of changing the name to reflect the new focus is that, where Footnote had become a recognizable brand, Fold3 is not yet recognizable. The name change erases years of marketing by Footnote. This is usually bad, but in creating a new name and a new focus, the company has ultimately created an entirely new entity. For some genealogists, this entity will not have any interest. Other genealogists–as well as new markets possibly uninterested in genealogy, such as military historians and reenactors–will continue to find Fold3 useful.

Changes are difficult to accept. But sometimes they are for the best of everyone involved.

The official announcement appears in the following blog post:

“Footnote is now Fold3 (updated),” Fold3 HQ blog, posted on 18 August 2011 (http://blog.fold3.com/ : accessed 18 Aug 2011).

 

Introducing the “Ancestry Errors Wiki”

Subscription genealogy websites–like Ancestry.com and Fold3.com–provide a great service to genealogists by providing remote access to digitized record images. In most cases, the image databases allow researchers to search or browse for their ancestors.

Unfortunately, occasional errors in imaging, image organization, or database programming on these websites cause inadvertent obstacles to our research. For example, some townships appear in the wrong county in one of the federal census databases. Or pages appear out of order. There are many examples of these kind of errors, but no way to know if your county of research suffers from one of them.

For this reason, I have created the Ancestry Errors Wiki. This wiki will provide a hub for genealogists to notify other genealogists of errors that exist on various subscription genealogy websites. In time, these errors may be corrected, but until then, researchers should be able to search for any known existing errors, and adjust their research accordingly.

The purpose of this site is not to report name-indexing errors. Both Ancestry and Fold3 contain effective internal mechanisms for amending and modifying indexing errors. This site is for the reporting of imaging or programming errors only.

The site uses the wiki platform, so that any user can create and edit content. This will allow the site to include information based on the research experience of the whole online genealogy community.

I would like to invite all genealogists to visit the site and add any errors of which they are aware. Only with all of our help will this site be a successful and useful resource.

Visit the “Ancestry Errors Wiki” at http://ancestryerrors.wikia.com/wiki/Ancestry_Errors_Wiki. For more information, contact Michael Hait, CG, at michael.hait@hotmail.com.

Call to Action: Pennsylvania Historical Record Access

Today, 5 June 2011, Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, a professional genealogist in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania, posted the following message on several forums, including several genealogy mailing lists and social media sites:

I just received the following this morning:

“Vital Records Bill SB-361 is scheduled for an important vote in State Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee on Wednesday June 8th, 2011 at 10am in Room 461 of the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg (I only just found out about it). More can be found on this at the June 1, 2011 entry on our website under The Latest News: http://users.rcn.com/timarg/PaHR-Access.htm.

This bill just makes birth certificates over 100 years old and death certificates over 50 years old open records. It doesn’t force them to be online, but making them open records is required before anything at all can be done. It is basically the same bill that passed this committee unanimously last year in the previous session. However, we cannot assume it will do so again. Your help is needed to make sure it passes again. Please visit, call, or at the very least email any or all of the committee members and ask them to vote in favor of this bill. If your state senator is on the committee so much the better. Be sure to let him or her know you are a constituent.

Please let your membership know about this. Thank you for your help.

Tim Gruber

610-791-9294”

If anyone can lend their support, please feel free to do so. The website Tim mentions is of the organization whose sole purpose is to get the PA Vital records opened up for easier access. It has information on why we need to do this, and who to contact.

Pennsylvania is one of only a few (less than ten) states that have refused to open their vital records to researchers, regardless of the age of the record. The state began their current vital registration program, for births and deaths, in 1906. All of these records, including those for people who died in 1906, are not considered public records by the state. This means that (1) there is no publicly available index to births or deaths within the state, from 1906 to the present; (2) researchers have absolutely no access to search any birth or death records, from 1906 to the present; and (3) researchers must provide detailed information on the deceased, including a specific familial relationship, in order to obtain a death certificate. And of course there are other implications for genealogists, as well.

Compare this policy with some of Pennsylvania’s neighbors. In the state of Maryland, birth certificates become publicly available after 100 years, and death certificates become publicly available after 10 years. Birth indexes are available for viewing on microfilm at the Maryland State Archives even for the period during which the certificate is restricted (for births less than 100 years old). Death indexes are available online from 1875 through 1972 for Baltimore City, and from 1898 through 1968 for the rest of the state. In the District of Columbia, the seat of our federal government, birth certificates are restricted for 100 years, and death certificates are restricted for 50 years.

The open-access advocacy group quoted above only requests open access to death certificates older than 50 years as a start, the same as has been available in the District of Columbia (not to mention most other states) for many years.

For more information please visit the website for the People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (PaHR-Access). This website discusses the issues in great depth, and includes a list of “Ways You Can Help,” sample letters, and other useful information.

If you live or have research interests in Pennsylvania, please get involved. As mentioned, there is a hearing scheduled for this Wednesday, 8 June 2011, in Harrisburg. Please contact the members of the State Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee immediately. We must make our voices heard, so that this bill will pass.

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