I was saddened yesterday when I received an email announcing the recent “Declaration of Rights of Genealogists”. It didn’t take long for my sadness to turn to disgust over this supposed statement of the ‘rights’ of all genealogists of America. You can see the document by clicking here.
In two words I respond to this declaration with this: “WHAT BUNK!”
I’ll also add what a bad light this casts genealogy and genealogists in.
The basic idea behind this press release might be OK. After all who can argue against ‘unfettered access to the records of our government’? But there is far more to it than that simplistic idea.
However there is far too much in this document for me to ever want my name associated with it. Let me explain:
• There is a huge difference between ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’ that was ignored by whoever wrote this piece. As Americans may have (as they include in this documents) ‘certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’, but these rights, as said in the Declaration of Independence, were endowed by the ‘Creator’. Not some group of genealogists. We are privileged to live in America and as genealogists we should know this perhaps better than many since we research and document what many of our ancestors did to get here. We need to work towards insuring our privilege of accessing documents in a timely fashion, not demanding them as a right our founders delineated in the Declaration of Independence.
• I am sick and tired of the bombastic, ‘us vs. them’, ‘we have to be outrageous to get Internet attention’ attitudes that pervade so much of our lives these days. There are a multitude of ways this issue could have been phrased in language that was much more collegial and seen as an effort to work together, not as a demand for some ginned up ‘right’ that we do NOT have.
• Not everyone will sign and thereby endorse this, but the title gives the erroneous impression by saying it is a “Declaration of the Rights of Genealogists” that anyone who uses the term ‘genealogist’ does just that.
• Do we really, as genealogists, believe that by publishing a document like this we are going to be seen as a welcoming, engaging, and inclusive community? Or does it smack of elitism, egotism run amok, entitlement, combativeness, snobbery, and pomposity? Time and again I hear folks lamenting the fact that more young folks have no interest in genealogy. Documents like this one just scream ‘stay away’!
• Why was this document on genealogy wrapped so much in the American flag and patriotism? Is this about genealogy or some political statement against ‘the government’? I could hardly get through the intense jingoism pervading this piece.
• And why, oh why, would the authors of this piece request ‘unfettered access to the records of our government’? Everything? Come on! Let me know when the NSA, FBI, CIA, and IRS respond to you about your request for access to ‘the records of our government’.
I have communicated with the National Genealogical Society (NGS) about my concerns with this document. Unfortunately, in his email response, I was told by Jordan Jones, the President of NGS, that he sees this as “…a fundamental human right to have access to documents…” A ‘fundamental human right’? Pardon me but I respectfully believe Mr. Jones needs to revisit what fundamental human rights truly are. Believe me, they are a far cry from accessing family history documents. Just ask some Native Americans, members of the LBGT community, members of minority communities, the poor of our country, the disabled, the homeless, and others. Sadly, this shows me exactly where the thinking behind this document came from.
Are we genealogists or some fringe political group?
Is this really the image of genealogy and genealogists we want to impart to the world?
I won’t sign and I never, ever will. I suggest you read it carefully before making your decision.