Thursday, July 29, 2010


There's been a bit of discussion today on my wall on Facebook
fueled by this link to an article in the Mormon Times entitled "The
coming genealogical dark ages" by Michael de Groote, which is
about a speech given by Curt B.Witcher yesterday at Brigham
Young University's Conference on Family History and 
Genealogy. Mr. Witcher was spoke about how many records,
archives and tombstones are in danger of disappearing:   

"Libraries are limiting hours and public access to materials. Courthouses 
are engaging in "radical sampling," where they take a few samples of 
large collections of old records and destroy the rest. "This is going on 
now,"  Witcher said.

Witcher gave several specific examples of the problem. The Ohio State 
Library gave away all its genealogical materials to a local library. The 
Library of Michigan was getting rid of genealogical items that are not
directly related to Michigan. The Boston Public Library is contemplating 
making its vast collections of newspapers inaccessible to the general
public. Seventy-nine percent of reporting U.S. Federal agencies believed
their records were at high or great risk of being lost.

This seemed a bit exaggerated to some, but not to myself and other
Facebook friends from the genealogical community. Besides the
examples given by Mr. Witcher, we only have to look at the recent
headlines about the neglect at the cemetery in Chicago and at
Arlington National Cemetery. And many of us have had instances
in our own research where the loss of the 1890 Federal Census or
World War 2 service records to fire have left holes that cannot be

The point can be made that digitalization of the records will prevent
such loss, but not every vital record is being scanned all over the 
country. In the present political and economic climate getting the
necessary funding to perform such a task is difficult when cities
and towns are already cutting back on their police, fire, and school
departments. Boston, a city once renowned for its library system,
is talking of closing some of the neighborhood branch libraries and
limiting the hours of those that remain open. The newspaper archive
at the Main Branch library may be moved to a less accessible
location to make room for a map collection. And in some places,
old records are stored in older buildings where they are imperiled
by leaky roofs, broken water-mains or electrical fires. I've seen
several news stories this past year of instances where this happened.

Sadly, many cities and towns are more concerned with saving money
than in saving their history.

The question is, what can we do as genealogists and historians to
help preserve the records and historical landmarks that are so
important to us?

To be continued....

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