Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Your Part in Helping to Preserve the World's Records 
My own father's records are among those that were lost as a result of this huge fire that took place back in 1973. According to the National Archives, 80% of the records of Army Personnel discharged November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960 were lost, including 75% of the records of Air Force Personnel discharged September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.). Here is a description of the fire from the above post by FamilySearch.
The flames started shortly after midnight on July 12. Firefighters arrived only four minutes later, but the intense heat and smoke kept the firefighters from reaching the sixth floor. Millions of gallons of water were poured on the blaze. 
Twenty-two hours later, the 1973 inferno at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, had destroyed 16 to 18 million military personnel records. It was a disaster unparalleled in US records keeping. Most of those records had no duplicated or microfilm copies. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 80 percent of Army personnel records and 75 percent of Air Force personnel records from 1912 to 1960 were lost forever.
This tragedy is still having its consequences felt by those veterans whose records were lost. The second part of the tragedy is that the loss could have been prevented had the government made microfilm copies of the records.

As genealogists, we are significantly impacted when valuable historical records are lost for any reason. But when they are lost and the loss could have been prevented the whole situation is worse. Of course, there is an argument that all record losses could have been prevented. But the reality of record preservation is that few of the governmental and social organizations that maintain records are willing to allocate the resources necessary to preserve their records.

As genealogists, we need to become more proactive in the process of preserving the world's records. At the very least, we should be acting out of our own self-interest in working to preserve records and then make them available to everyone. All the world's records are interconnected from the briefest of Bible records to huge collections of government documents. We never know when one more record might make a difference in our research. But most of us are so focused on our own "genealogy" that we don't think about the benefit of not only our own records but all of the other records to others than ourselves. I am still constantly running into genealogists who are so possessive about their genealogy that they refuse to share it with anyone, even close family members.

But back to the issue of the preservation of the world's records. Since 1938, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been preserving the world's records as a free service. Today, FamilySearch has around 300 volunteers that are out on assignments digitizing millions of records a year. Strangely, based on either political or religious narrow-mindedness and bigotry, some record repositories refuse to "do business" with FamilySearch because of its sponsorship by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These organizations refuse to allow a free copy of their records due to doctrinal differences. OK, that given, there is a much bigger problem. Many smaller, local repositories simply do not know that FamilySearch will use its volunteers to copy and preserve their records. This is where the genealogical community can come in and help. 

Now, if you would like to help preserve the world's records either as a genealogist or simply out of a general desire to preserve our world's history, I would like to suggest some simple ways you can become involved. 
I have personally been involved in preserving local records that have ended up in the Historical Record Collections and I am very familiar with the process. I suggest that there are many genealogists out there that are concerned about the preservation of records they use frequently and I suggest that they now have a way to get involved and start helping themselves and the rest of the community. 

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