Archives To Stay Open, Move To University System

Gov. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that the state will restore $125,000 to Kemp’s budget to keep the Georgia State Archives open to Georgians for the remainder of the budget year.
“Georgia’s Archives are a showcase of our state’s rich history and a source of
great pride,” said Deal. “I worked quickly with my budget office and Secretary
Kemp to ensure that Georgians can continue to come to Morrow to study and
view the important artifacts kept there. I appreciate Secretary Kemp’s
commitment to work with me to find a solution.”
The extra funding provides for Georgia State Archives to be open to the public
through June 30 of next year.

On July 1, the Georgia Archives will be
transferred to University System of Georgia, pending approval of the move by
the General Assembly.

This transfer will include appropriations required for
operation and assets of the Georgia Archives. Additional staff will be provided
by USG at that time.

Deal and Kemp intend to find efficiencies by consolidating the Archives under the University System of Georgia, just as the state has sought to do with the library system.
“From the beginning of this budget process, I have stated that it was my hope
that current access to the Archives could be maintained,” Kemp said. “I greatly
appreciate Governor Deal’s leadership and recognize the difficult decisions that had to be made in order to identify this funding. He has proposed a plan that supports Archives not just this year, but for years to come.”
Deal’s budgetary commitment allows Georgia State Archives to maintain its
current access hours.

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Archives Decisions Hurt Georgia’s Small Business People

I wrote a book once. About the history of a Georgia county. It took me almost five years to research and write.

Much of that research time was spent at the Georgia Archives. I’d be waiting when they unlocked the door in the morning. They had to shoo me out at the end of the day. I even told the archivist that I would be fine if they would lock me in overnight. And I meant it.

I figure I spent about 2,000 hours over the course of two-plus years conducting research at the Georgia Archives.

Using the system of appointments set up by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.  my research would take me 83.3 years to complete.

I didn’t go to the Georgia Archives every day, but when I did, I stayed from open to close. It never even occurred to me to go for two hours a day.  If the appointment system had been in place back then, I would not have attempted a book.

Like every other small business person who uses the Archives, I pay taxes on the income I earn.

The appointment system inhibits the ability of hard-working Georgians to earn a living.

Small business people who use the Archives are scrambling to figure out if they can honor contracts and how they will stay afloat. The Secretary Kemp, Gov. Nathan Deal and state legislators need to know that this is not acceptable.

Vivian Price Saffold

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What Gov. Deal and Daniel Appling Could Have in Common

The Friends of the Georgia Archives and History presented the Appling Sword to Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday. The sword had been missing from Georgia since 1909.

After it was discovered recently in a private collection, FOGAH raised $100,000 to buy it back for Georgia. For that effort FOGAH is to be commended.

The sword was commissioned in 1816 to honor Lt. Col. Daniel Appling of Columbia County. Appling and his men defeated the British at Big Sandy Creek in upstate New York in May of 1814. The sword was made for a real Georgia hero.

It was a tragedy that Appling died before the sword could be presented to him. Today’s tragedy is that the Georgia Archives is still virtually off-limits to the citizens of Georgia.

Does Georgia have a modern-day hero who will return the Archives to the people of Georgia, the people to whom it belongs? Gov. Deal?

Vivian Price Saffold

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Veterans and Archives, My Letter to Governor Deal

The following letter is reprinted with permission from Kim “Skip” Murray. Ms. Murray’s eloquence  tells of yet another important use for records in the Georgia Archives.

10 October 2012

Governor Nathan Deal
Suite 203, State Capitol
206 Washington Street
Atlanta GA 30334

Dear  Governor Deal,

I have the deepest respect for anyone who puts on a uniform and is prepared to defend the rights and freedoms of the citizens of this great nation of ours. Your Georgian roots run deep, and you have a long history of service to your state and your country, via the military, the judicial system, and your long political career. You’ve been one of the lucky ones to live the American dream. An education, a beautiful family, and a fulfilling career have all found their way on to the timeline of your life.

Unfortunately, many of the men and women who place an American uniform on their backs do not end up living the American dream, their lives turn into the American nightmare. Veterans make up 11% of the adult population in our country and 25% of the homeless population. Many homeless veterans die alone and forgotten, and don’t receive the honor and military burial that they deserve. All too often their families never know what happened to them.

Across America the forgotten cremated remains of our veterans are sitting on the storage shelves of funeral homes. Some of them have been there for decades. Veterans organizations such as the Missing In America Project are researching the unclaimed cremains of funeral homes, identifying which ones are veterans and arranging military burials for them. Forensic genealogists at organizations such as Families For Forgotten Heroes go to work and identify the living next of kin of these veterans to notify them of the death and burial of their hero. The story of a veteran’s life is not complete until they have received their military burial and their families have been found.

Deceased homeless veterans also end up in the morgues of Coroners and Medical Examiners. The issue of the unclaimed dead (civilian and veteran) is experiencing increasing numbers. This has caused a huge burden on tax payer dollars, as counties must take over the responsibility of the expense of burial when families can’t be found. A group of volunteer forensic genealogists at Unclaimed Persons assist coroners and medical examiners with finding the next of kin of unclaimed deceased people, so that families can be notified and make arrangements for the burial of their loved one.

Forensic Genealogists also assist JPAC – Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, with their mission of accounting for Americans lost during past U.S. conflicts. When the remains of our missing American heroes are found, the remains are sent to the JPAC lab in Hawaii. Forensic Genealogists assist JPAC by identifying living next of kin of these heroes, so that DNA samples may be taken to match families with the remains. It’s a very emotional experience, to see a widow or a child of our military from past conflicts finally receive the closure they have longed for!

Forensic Genealogists can not do the work they do without access to records and documents. I have been following the story of the closing of the Georgia State Archives with great interest. The closing of those archives will inhibit the ability to find the families of the above mentioned veterans, when they or their families have ties to Georgia.

On behalf of those veterans, I implore you to find the means to keep the Georgia State Archives open to the public for the rest of this year, and in January work with the leaders of your state to find additional funding to return the archives to being open at least 5 days per week.

Look into the eyes of yourself, the soldier from a few years ago. One nasty twist of fate, could have turned your life from the American Dream to the American Nightmare. You could have ended up as one of those unclaimed, unhonored, forgotten heroes. PLEASE help us keep access to the treasures in your state archives, so that forensic genealogists can continue their work to return each and every soldier of our country to their families!

Sincerely Yours,

Kim “Skip” Murray
Genealogy Team Leader (Retired), Research Volunteer – Families For Forgotten Heroes
Co-Director (Retired), Research Volunteer – Unclaimed Persons
8807 Gwynn Lane
Brainerd, MN 56401

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It’s All Online, Right?

In this age of digital imaging and online access, many researchers – especially novices – naively believe that everything you need to know about Georgia history and genealogy is on the Internet.

Concerning the looming closure of the Georgia Archives, one researcher recently said, “I hope they have everything scanned and online before they close.”

Right. That certainly would solve the problem. Researchers could access documents from the comfort of their home or office computers or even mobile devices. The struggle over public access to the Archives would be moot.

More than not likely. Downright impossible.

The Georgia Archives has been scanning and placing online documents for several years. The Virtual Vault has been hugely successful. Much of the funding has come from private sources, including the R.J. Taylor, Jr. Foundation, the Alfred Holt Colquitt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Georgia Genealogical Society.

However, what is online – in the Virtual Vault and every other Internet source – is a miniscule portion of the data that exists. The Archives contains millions of historical state and local records dating back more than 275 years. Millions. More arrive continuously, as governments decommission older documents.

Many of the older documents have been folded and stored for so long that special, time-consuming techniques must be employed simply to get them ready for scanning. Otherwise, just the process of unfolding could be catastrophic.

Even with unlimited staff and equipment, getting “everything” online will take many years. How many? Let’s just say that it will not happen during the lifetime of anyone reading this blog.

In one of many ironic, short-sighted aspects of Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s proposal, the supervisor of the scanning project and the person who uploads data to the Internet are among those Archives employees whose termination has been announced.

Although organizations may continue to fund the talented interns who do a good bit of the work, the entire future of the online project is in jeopardy. The two remaining archivists will try to take up the slack, but just how much reasonably can be expected from these overworked souls?

If you did not have anything else to worry about, consider this: what happens if the state cuts funding required to keep the Virtual Vault up and running?

What we thought was the future of research could be a thing of the past.

Vivian Price Saffold

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“Thank You” Doesn’t Begin To Be Sufficient

Weekends in autumn usually find people attending football games or fall festivals.

If you are a researcher in Georgia, the four Fridays and Saturdays in October are especially precious. They are the last chance for patrons to just walk in the door at the Georgia Archives.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Georgia Secretary of State plans to close the Archives to the public on November 1 (except by appointment). He also has announced the termination of seven of the remaining 10 employees.

This past Saturday the Archives was scheduled to be closed, as it has been on every Saturday immediately preceding a Monday holiday since public access was cut to two days a week.

But, the staff of the Georgia Archives, knowing how little time may be left, volunteered to keep the research room open.

They didn’t have to do that. They could have been spending time with their families or doing those traditional fall things. They could have been sending out resumes.

But, these are no ordinary employees. They are dedicated professionals. They believe in the importance of their work. They understand how important the Archives is to Georgians.

They take pride – and rightfully so – in the job that they do. During the last few lean budget years, they have seen their colleagues cut, and they have filled in the gaps.

If the state of Georgia allows the closing of the Archives and lawmakers allocate enough money for the facility to reopen after the coming legislative session, the state will lose these knowledgeable, experienced and obviously generous employees.

Such a move is short-sighted at best. Rebuilding the institution that was once one of the best in the nation will take years and cost more than if it had been allowed to remain open.

Closing and reopening simply is not good enough.

The staff and the citizens of Georgia deserve better. Georgia needs the Archives, and it needs these dedicated public servants.

Vivian Price Saffold

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It’s Not Over: The Future of Our History Is At Stake

The last two weeks have been filled with emotional conversation about the Georgia Archives.

After Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s announcement that he would close the Archives to the public and terminate seven of the agency’s 10 employees, supporters around the state rallied, aided by media coverage and facilitated by the speed of social media and email.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s ironically-timed ceremony at which he proclaimed October as Archives Month gave him an opportune platform from which to announce that he would find funding to keep the Archives open. Supporters, predictably, were ecstatic.

There were no details, and since the proclamation, the governor has remained silent. The Secretary of State stands by his decision to close the Archives and terminate the employees. As a constitutional officer, Kemp has complete control over his department’s personnel.

Word quickly spread, and advocates breathed a sigh of relief: the governor stepped in and “saved the Archives.” The protest was successful, the crisis averted. Time to move on.

After the initial euphoria, however, thoughtful supporters have begun to realize that the announcement might not have been the news they had been hoping for.

Will the Governor use emergency funds to maintain Archives service at the current level – with 10 employees? Will the Archives remain open, but with only three employees? Will the Governor exempt the Archives from cuts in the coming year’s budget or reduce the amount of cuts? Depending on the answers, the Archives could close as planned on Nov. 1 and to re-open after the legislative session, possibly with three staffers or inexperienced new-hires.

The Archives currently is open only two days a week. Users could face even more inconvenient – potentially impossible – access to records, if staff is cut or the Archives closed. Secretary Kemp apparently believes that a system of appointments satisfies the state Open Meetings law, which mandates “reasonable” access. That is a matter for debate and perhaps for the courts.

The state-of-the-art facility in Morrow was designed for only one purpose: the careful preservation of millions documents and artifacts. Its staff has been trained to carry out that mission, as well as to assist the public.

The Georgia Archives is not just a resource for hobby genealogists and history buffs or the repository for evidence of our cultural history. Professionals from lawyers to watchdogs to authors to government officials rely on the records, often to aid Georgia citizens.

Access to records held at the Archives is vital to transparent government. Not having “reasonable” access to these records will prevent citizens from learning about what decisions were made, when and why.

All Georgia departments have been ordered by the Governor to cut another three percent from their budgets for the coming year. Of course, after several years of cuts, there are no easy choices. Secretary Kemp chose to take all $730,000 from the Archives, leaving other divisions untouched. This small amount is all that stands between closure and maintaining the current level of service.

If the Archives closes, Georgia will rank 50th among states in terms of access to the records that belong to its citizens. It will be the only Archives in the nation without public hours – a shameful statistic.

The governor, the secretary and the state legislature need to hear from Georgia citizens that this is not acceptable.

The struggle to keep the Archives open and the staff in place is not over.

Note: This article ran in the DeKalb Champion/Free Press newspaper on Friday, Oct. 5, as well as in other newspapers around the state.

Vivian Price Saffold

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The Fire Department and the Georgia Archives

Thought for the day:

How is the Fire Department like the Georgia Archives?

In case of a fire at your home or business, you dial 911. Fire-fighters arrive promptly with equipment to put out the fire. The Fire Department exists to protect people and property from unexpected catastrophe.

If you have a dispute over the title to your home, you call an attorney. That attorney researches deed records at the Georgia Archives. The Archives exists to protect the rights of people and property.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp wants to restrict public access to the Archives to appointments. He says this is justified because the Archives does not generate revenue.  The Fire Department does not generate revenue. Would you make an appointment for a fire-fighter?

If the budget of your local fire department were cut to the point that fire-fighters could not respond in timely fashion, citizens would demand funding.

Now is the time for citizens to demand that the governor and secretary of state work together to keep the Archives open.

Vivian Price Saffold

 

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Rally Draws Vocal Supporters

More than 100 passionate supporters heard several equally passionate speakers at Wednesday’s rally in support of the Georgia Archives.

Protestors outside the capitol called for the Archives to remain open, the employees to remain and Secretary of State Brian Kemp to be impeached.

Speakers inside the capitol added their voices., speakers, including former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr, University of Georgia history professor Jim Cobb, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society chairman Emma Davis-Hamilton, two state legislators, Sen. Gail Davenport from Clayton County and Rep. Debbie Buckner from Talbot County, and Morrow Mayor J. B. Burke

Former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr called the Secretary of State’s decision to close the Archive “short sighted” and questioned the legality of closing the facility. “Reasonable access” to the historical records, he said, “is not discretionary. It is mandatory… it essential to having a free people and an educated people.”

“The records do not belong to Brian Kemp or Nathan Deal,” Barr said, prompting loud applause and cheering. “They need to hear from us, politely and respectfully, but loud and clear, that this decision will not stand.”

Closing the Archives, with its historic documents dating back to 1733, said University of Georgia Professor Jim Cobb, “is like wrapping up the Hope diamond and putting it under the seat of my truck.”

The $730,000 needed to keep the Archives open with the current service level and employees, he pointed out, is less than half the operating budget of Go Fish, former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s much publicized “educational center” in Perry.

Prof. Cobb suggested that Georgia increase its cigarette tax to the national average, a move he said would raise $500 million. Or, he said sarcastically, the state could sell special license plates: “Historically ignorant, but a great place to smoke.”

Comparing the closing the Archives to the burning of courthouses by Union Gen. W. T. Sherman on his march through Georgia, Prof. Cobb said the state is “handing the keys to the Archives to old Billy Sherman.”

Emma Davis-Hamilton, chairman of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, grew up hearing stories about her ancestral home. “Georgia had a bad name,” she said. At the Georgia Archives she found records verifying that her ancestors had registered to vote and owned land shortly after the Civil War. The story of black Americans may not be in history books, she said, but it is in the Georgia Archives. “Don’t lock my history away again.”

Sen. Davenport spoke about the economic impact of the Archives on Morrow, Clayton County and the state of Georgia. She received a standing ovation when she declared that “on Oct. 31 no one should lose their jobs.”

Rep. Buckner agreed, adding that the start-up time for new employees would be more costly than keeping the current employees in place. She said she understands the dilemma caused by declining revenues, but keeping the Archives open “is not only the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced last month that the Georgia Archives would absorb the entire three percent budget cut required of his department. He also said that seven of the remaining 10 employees would be terminated.

Kaye Minchew, co-chairman of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, told the supporters that she hopes “we’re in good shape with the supplemental budget.” However, she added that she expects the Archives to close from November to mid-March.
Dianne Cannestra, chairman of the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, moderated the event.

Vivian Price Saffold

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Rally Reminder

The rally in support of the Georgia Archives and the seven terminated employees will be Wednesday, Oct. 3 beginning at noon in the rotunda of the state capitol.  Signs are not permitted in the capitol building. Signs will be allowed on the capitol grounds at the Washington Street (west) entrance. Please note that signs must be hand-held — no sticks or stakes. Please join the effort to keep the Archives open to the public.

 

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