Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More thoughts on preservation

Looks like Ol’ Myrt got a response from NARA to her comments reported in my previous blog entry NARAtions: Voice your opinion about the 2010 Census Records

On December 13, 2010, NARA employee Arian Ravanbakhsh said “Pat, as you know, the proposed records schedule provides that the 2010 decennial census forms will be preserved in the form of scanned images. This is similar to past practice with census forms. Paper forms have not been preserved for any of the 20th century censuses, with microfilm having replaced paper as a permanent medium for the forms. Please let me know if you have any further questions.”

These are my new comments, yet to be approved at the NARAtions blog, but cross-posted here in my blog:

Must people of this republic be forced to rely solely on second generation copies?

Maybe casual genealogy researchers won’t mind.

What happens if during the digital processing, pages are unreadable or missing? NARA has that problem with pre-1900 census microfilming.

Admittedly with digitizing, the error rate will be small. But what if it is your family records that are missing?

Our history is modified, and indeed our ability to reevaluate that history over time is hampered, if we permit any technology to distance serious historians from viewing original records in context.  Shall we destroy petroglyphs found in the caves of New Mexico and Arizona, in order to replace those ancient homes with brand-spanking new energy-efficient town homes, merely because our burgeoning population needs the space?

The fact that record groups are being preserved digitally doesn't mean we should throw away any originals.

For example, when some census microfilm pages are unreadable, turning to the original census book is the alternative if the original exists.  Some serious researchers discovered transcription errors between the original census enumeration (housed at the county level) and the copies made for the state and federal government. What NARA has is essentially a 2nd copy of those original enumeration. But with few originals at local county courthouses, we’re forced to rely on that copy.

We’re smarter now.

When requesting copies of complete US Civil War Pension files, some researchers found pages were skipped.  Discovery of this phenomenon happened when impatient researchers couldn’t wait for NARA’s copy, and hired professionals to go in person, order up the original file, and copy the entire contents. Later when the file copies were received from NARA, comparisons between the two sets of copies showed on more than one occasion, that indeed pages were missing in the NARA “complete” copies.

I know Ol' Myrt here cannot change policy. But at least my voice can be heard. I am thankful for original records mentioning my ancestors that have survived. All too much has been lost to the ages. Digital copies make things more readily available, but let's not knowingly destroy the originals.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt    :)
Your friend in genealogy.

1 comment:

  1. As multi-spectral imaging (MSI) becomes more readily available, the mandate to keep originals is even more essential. Information not captured in the copying process (film or digital scan) is lost forever when the original is destroyed. MSI, while currently expensive, will become one of the most significant tools for retrieving now hidden information. Digital scanning currently helps save originals, by forcing researchers to view the image and handle the original only when the image falls short.