2 June 2008
The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senate
104 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-4402
Sent via fax: (801) 524-4379
The Honorable Jim Matheson
United States House of Representatives
1323 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4402
Sent via fax: (202) 225-5638
On behalf of my genealogy “how-to” blog readers and podcast listeners, I am writing to urge your support as a co-sponsor of the Preserving the American Historical Record Act (PAHR). H.R. 6056, “To authorize the Archivist of the United States to make grants to States for the preservation and dissemination of historical records,” was introduced by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY) and referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on May 14.
Our nation has recognized the importance of preserving federal documents, archives, and our history by its support of national institutions such as the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution. However, this support does not address the other vital archives being held in state and local governments, historical societies, and library history collections. It is essential that more resources be directed to states and localities to ensure that documents and archival records can be readily used for a host of purposes by the people of this nation.
When archival documents are preserved in our states and communities, we protect the evidence of ownership of land, the rights and privileges of individual citizens, the right to know about the workings of government, the genealogy of our families, and the cultural heritage of our nation.
The organizations managing this essential evidence face many challenges, from fire and hurricanes to mold and mildew; from decaying materials to ensuring the recovery of outdated electronic media. This part of the American record needs attention now to ensure that the documents, records, and collections we need and treasure are cared for and available to all Americans for generations to come.
The PAHR bill will address this issue. When enacted, the proceeds will bring critical support to the state of Utah through a formula-based distribution of funds. If the full request of $50 million is approved, Utah will receive $499, 691. This would have a major impact on the ability to ensure that your constituents have access to irreplaceable archival records throughout our state and in our communities.
Determining one’s ancestry by searching copies of old public records is a right long honored by your constituents in Utah, that is also valued by historians and genealogists the world over. Those with roots in war-torn countries cringe at the thought of records lost to time and the ravages of war.
On the local front, folks throughout the US are at a loss as to how they can educate and provide for preservation of documents given current economic difficulties of the past few years. I have written a series of blog entries about preservation of documents in a small county courthouse in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.
- 21 Sept 2007 “
“In past years, I spent much time up in the Tuscaloosa County courthouse attic with those records. They are a goldmine of information not to be found anywhere else on the earliest settlers of the county—many of whom do not show up in the early land, marriage, and probate records. The records in Greene County are in even worse condition. When I last used them, they were piled in an outbuilding behind the jail, with—literally—rusted out lawnmowers piled on top of the heap.”
The responsibility for preservation of government records is virtually mandated by your constituents on the premise that public records are to be maintained for viewing by the public. Our nation’s residents cannot take up the slack if government fails in this regard. It is all our aging population can do to keep up with inflation, and the choice of purchasing food or the medications prescribed by their physicians.
Some of our nation’s leaders provided opinions about the importance of history:
- President Martin Van Buren’s Inaugural Address, Monday March 4, 1837 highlights the importance of studying history in living our lives as responsible citizens: “All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us if we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we happen to possess.” See: h
How different would recorded history be if it weren’t for an 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes, or the loss of pertinent data surrounding events at Roswell, NM or Kennedy’s assassination? We cannot reduce history to well-timed sound bites and news tickers flashing across the bottom of our television screens during commercial breaks between episodes of Dancing with the Stars and reality TV shows.
SAVE THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS and PROVIDE A METHOD FOR VIEWING DIGITAL IMAGES.
Certainly the NARA has provided a worthy example by partnering with Footnote.com and Ancestry.com. WorldVitalRecords.com is a new player in this arena. FamilySearch.org is willing to digitize records for a local government, such as the death records of West Virginia that appear in the Family History Library Catalog at:
I urge you both to become original co-sponsors for this legislation. For more information on becoming a co-sponsor, you may contact Anne Georges in Representative Hinchey’s office (202-225-6335). I look forward to your support of this important initiative.
Making such a choice is the high road. The “common folk” portion of your constituencies may never appreciate this initiative, but even 25-50 years from now, the wisdom of preserving our nation’s historical documents will prove itself in the works of honest reporters and students of history. And it will help genealogists with US ancestry, to boot.
Thank-you, for your immediate attention to this important initiative.
CC: The Honorable Maurice Hinchey
Sent via fax: (845) 331-7456