November 10th, 2011

International Jewish Genealogy Month

International Jewish Genealogy Month began on October 29th, and runs to November 26th this year. It is always celebrated during Cheshvan, the eight month of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year. The promotion of genealogy in general and the awareness of local Jewish genealogical societies is the core purpose of the celebration, as of course is an appreciation of Jewish heritage. While reading about the background of International Jewish Genealogy Month, I came across an organization that I found really interesting, and think you may as well. That organization is the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), and they not only promote and support the study and pursuit Jewish ancestry, but are actively fighting for the rights of genealogists around the world.

How they are doing this is in their monitoring of certain legislation that could inhibit or limit access to particular genealogical resources. I was quite surprised and thrilled to find out how much effort that they are putting in to this, and thought I just had to share it with you. They have established a public records access monitoring committee, designed to distribute information about any new legislation that might pose a threat to family historians gaining access to the records they require to successfully locate their ancestors.

The IAJGS was voted into this position by the Boards of Directors of two respectable and trusted genealogical organizations; the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). The monitoring committee is known as the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), and other members include the FGS, NGS, the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), and the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). The Committee plans to tackle legislation that has been put, or will be put into place to inhibit identity theft. They insist that vital records are not responsible for such crimes, rather the hacking of major databases, credit card theft, computer spyware, in-store record theft and telephone transactions are more likely to be the cause.

The Committee recognizes that certain states are more open to providing access to others, but is recommending the following across-the-board considerations:

  1. That non-certified copies of vital records be made available for genealogical studies.
  2. That birth records in particular have no restricted closure period, but should be available at any time after they have been filed.
  3. The same should apply to marriage and divorce records except in cases where the Social Security numbers of concerned individuals need to be censored.
  4. That death records have a restricted access period of no more than fifty years, if at all, otherwise they should be available at any time after being filed.
  5. Adoption records should be accessible by adoptees of legal age, and restrictions should at least not continue past the adoptee’s 30th birthday.
  6. Adoption records should be made available to the general public after a 100 year restricted access period.

As genealogists we do have some things in our favor. For one thing, the Surgeon General is especially supportive of the pursuit of genealogy, and recommends that people research the causes of death in their family for at least two or three generations. The Social Security Index is also published in order to ensure that someone is not making use of a deceased person’s Social Security Number. A third factor is that we need to access public records on a regular basis to prove birth dates when applying for passports or drivers licenses and such. The biggest thing we have in our favor is our desire to research our heritage and family histories, and it is from this desire that such organizations as the IAJGA are born.

There is no proof that open records have contributed significantly to terrorism, in fact state or county records were not used at all in the attacks on September 11, 2001. You may not realize it, but in spite of that, over one thousand acts of legislature of been passed since to restrict access by the general public to open records. Sometimes we take the availability of records for granted, without realizing that such organizations are working tirelessly so that we may continue to have such access, and even in the future. What do you think about the Records Preservation and Access Committee? If you’d like more information before making a comment, first read through the Association of Professional Genealogists’ report – The Case for Open Public Records.