Genealogists Initiate a Declaration of Rights
Richmond, VA, 12 May 2014: Jordan Jones, President of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), a sponsoring member of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), announced the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights before a crowd of more than 2,500 genealogists attending the Opening Session of the NGS 2014 Family History Conference in Richmond, Virginia, on 7 May 2014.
The Declaration of Rights is a statement advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. The Declaration affirms America’s long history of open public records, which has been threatened the last few years over concerns about identity theft and privacy. The Records Preservation and Access Committee has worked with state and federal legislators as well as local public officials for more than twenty years in support of legislation and regulations that achieve a balance between access and privacy. The Declaration of Rights has been approved by the board of directors of the three sponsoring organizations: The National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).
During the NGS 2014 Family History Conference this week, genealogists from almost all fifty states have signed the Declaration of Rights. Over the next few months, the Declaration will travel to the 34th IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Salt Lake City, Utah, 27 July–1 August 2014 and the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in San Antonio, Texas, 27–30 August 2014. The Declaration will also be available for signature at http://bit.ly/gen-declaration by genealogists not attending one of the conferences.
Genealogists advocate the right of access to records held by government agencies including but not limited to vital records (births, marriages, deaths, divorces); land conveyances and mortgages; tax assessments; guardianships; probates of estates; criminal proceedings; suits of law and equity; immigration; military service and pensions; and acts of governmental entities. Genealogists further advocate that they need to be allowed access to original records when photocopies, microfilm, digital images, or other formats are insufficient to establish clear text, context, or completeness of the record. The rights of genealogists specified in the Declaration object to numerous barriers created to deny them access to records.
Thousands of professional genealogists do research every day on behalf of clients, government agencies, and attorneys. Of particular note are the many forensic genealogists who assist the Department of Defense in locating heirs for the repatriation of remains from previous wars; assist county coroners in the identification of unclaimed persons; work with attorneys in locating missing and unknown heirs involving estates, trusts, real estate quiet title actions, oil and gas and mineral rights, and other similar legal transactions; trace and track heritable medical conditions where finding distant cousins can facilitate early treatment and possibly prevent a premature death; research stolen art and artifacts for repatriation; and identify American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians to determine eligibility for tribal benefits.
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) is a joint committee of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) as sponsoring members. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), and the American Society of Genealogists (ASG) also serve as participating members. RPAC meets monthly to inform and advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to vital records and on supporting strong records preservation policies and practices at the federal, state, and occasionally the local level.