20 January 2011

Mailbox: PaHR-Access

Another one of our readers has asked about PaHR-Access and here is my response with his comments in bold. The interest in this bill is skyrocketing.

As you know the Pennsylvania State Library system's budget was cut by 44 percent last FY (or this FY?) ...

Genealogists are by far the primary users of archives, and if they are actually getting 11 dollar a pop from these people, ...

I posted to my blog to clarify the costs. I ought to have corrected this in my initial Mailbox post in which I quoted a comment from a person who gave misinformed information about cost.

then they will not provide open access content. ...

The attachment is a copy of a selection from Senator Robbins memorandum requesting cosponsorship from all PA senators.
or view the full memorandum here.

Digitizing is very expensive...

The bill to make the certificates open record does not require digitization. We are simply hopeful that FamilySearch will offer to do it for free as they have done. FamilySearch.org has countless collections of digitized death certificates for other states. The issue is that in PA they are not open record so they would not be allowed to do this until we get that law changed. It is different in each state, but most states have made them open record and many have already digitized.

and requires continuous upkeep...

FamilySearch Indexing ( https://giveback.familysearch.org/indexing ) is a program that anyone can get on and look at the digitized copies FamilySearch made and index. It is like your wiki idea in that thousands of people sit at home on their computers and type the information from original records. The typed index can be linked to the original certificate. The index will allow for name and date searches at FamilySearch.org. This will become possible when law allows public access. FamilySearch volunteers can have thousands of names done at no cost and it will become a free searchable online system. If PA doesn't want it to all be done for free and free online they can restrict it. PA can make FamilySearch only release a name and date index for example. That would skyrocket PA income for copies because the public could free and easy find the name of their ancestor and once they had a cert number they would mail the money to pa and get their cert in the mail. This is a good plan if they want to make more money.
Upkeep is a good point the health dept would have to ship a years worth of birth and death certs to the archive every year and the archive should then in turn microfilm a years worth every year. It is work, but most states already do this. It is a much better system than 50 year old certs rotting in the health dpt.

and the further you get from a paper record, the less reliable the new document will be...

The SB will require those certificates becoming open record 50 yr old death certs and 100 yr old birth certs to be transfered to the PA State Archive. Currently the PA Dept of Health keeps all of them, even the ones from 1906 - when PA started recording certs. on a state level. This will give the Pa Archive a better source of income as they will have completely new income based on the fees charged for copies. This is the way it is done in most states - older certs go to the Archive and become open record for genealogist while newer certs stay in the dept of health.

It seems like common sense to me that we don't want grimy genealogist hands :) all over the originals and most states microfilm all the originals and some states lend out the microfilm to FamilySearch to make copies. A microfilm copy could be kept at the Archive in PA and also in the famous Granite Mountain Vault in the Salt Lake Valley owned by FamilySearch. The bill does not require them to microfilm so the bill does not require any extra expense theoretically. It only requires whatever expense it would be to physically move the older originals to the archive building. Then it would be up to the building to use common sense in preservation.

Now data entry costs much less and a user generated wiki will save them money...

I believe that FamilySearch would be willing to make indexes and digital copies for free so that PA would incur zero cost for that.

PA will (sadly) loose a reference archivist or too, but they are facing restructuring as it is...

As I said none of the certs are held in the archive. This bill will actually require older certs to be moved to the archive and give theoretically more purpose for the archives existence. They really ought to be held there. It makes no sense for a health dept. to hold records for people who died 50+ years ago. Some Health Dept. employees have even been known to complain about genealogy requests and they refuse to treat them with the same priority as others. It has been known to take months before hearing back. Transferring them to the archive will remove a burden from the Health Dept. and is very likely to decrease wait time for copies.

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