Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Privacy for Ghosts

In many places, medical records are closed in perpetuity for reasons of privacy. This means that even records that are, say, 150 or years old are closed to researchers. This makes no sense to me, and I've always thought there should be a provision in state laws that all government records will be open after a certain date. After all, what kind of harm can come from allowing historians and genealogists to look at records that are twice as old as human life expectancy?

On her blog, Paula Stuart-Warren highlights an example of heavy-handed use of privacy laws; in this case, HIPAA* being applied to the records of a Civil War soldier. (Via Midwestern Microhistory)

*HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Not to be confused with HIPA, the Hawaii Island Paddlesports Association. They bear no responsibility.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ALA Online Genealogy Course

I'll be offering my online course, Genealogy 101 though the American Library Association starting in November 9. The course runs through December 23. For more information, visit the ALA-RUSA blog.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Upcoming Talks

Greetings from Ann Arbor!
I'm back to blogging after an extended summer break to announce a few upcoming talks.

I'll be speaking about new internet sources for genealogy at the Western Wayne County Genealogical Society in Livonia on October 19. There's more information here.

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, I'll be giving two talks at the Michigan Library Association's annual conference in Lansing. One is on "Hyper-Local History" and the other gives tips for "Surviving a Genealogy Reference Interview." The conference program is available here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Farewell to the Newberry Library

Saturday was my last day of work at the Newberry Library. I left because my wife got a good job at the University of Michigan, and living in Ann Arbor seems like a good change for our family. But I'll miss the staff and patrons of the Newberry- it's a really great place. I was there for a decade: from 1999-2009. It was a period where genealogy research methods changed dramatically, so it was an interesting time to work in the Local and Family History department.

Luckily for Chicago-area family historians, the current genealogy staff at the Newberry is really excellent. Matt Rutherford is the new curator, and I think he'll do an great job.

I'll be taking care of my daughter and doing some freelance research work in Ann Arbor in the near term. I hope to have a new research website up soon. But I'll also continue to blog here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Jersey Library Association Talk

I'll be speaking at the New Jersey Library Association Conference on Tuesday, April 28, at 1:30.

For the sake of the Garden State librarians who are attending, I will refrain from making any references to Bruce Springsteen, the Sopranos or Bon Jovi in my presentation.

The title of my talk is "Surviving a Genealogy Reference Interview."Here are some of the resources I'll be discussing in my talk:


Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking.
The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy
Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

Simpson, Jack.
Basics of Genealogy Reference: A Librarian's Guide.
Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.


Librarians Serving Genealogists (Genealib) listserv:


Newberry Library genealogy page:

Ancestry Library Edition and other Proquest genealogy databases:

FamilySearch Labs: Record Search

Cyndi's List: Genealogy charts for download

Social Security Death Index on Rootsweb:

ALA-RUSA History: Genealogy Committee

ALA-RUSA: Genealogy 101 class:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ready for My Close-up

Tomorrow (Feb. 23) the BBC is airing an episode of Who Do You Think You Are are that was partly filmed here in Chicago and features yours truly, I believe. I haven't seen it yet, but they shot one scene with me at the Newberry Library. The episode traces the ancestry of the actress Zoe Wanamaker. Her father, the actor Sam Wanamaker, grew up in Chicago- just a few blocks from where I live, in Humboldt Park. Unfortunately, the show isn't broadcast in the U.S., so I'll have to wait to see it. I think it should be pretty interesting, and hopefully I didn't have food in my teeth or a cowlick or anything. Despite my demands, I wasn't provided a hair stylist and make-up artist. I did go get my hair cut the night before they filmed it, and the barber's name was Maestro. So here is an extra credit that should have appeared at the end of the show:

Mr. Simpson's hair by Maestro.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Non-Update on Vital Records Access

When I was working on the first section of my book about two years ago, I noticed that there were two conflicting dynamics affecting access to birth, marriage, and death records.

First, the Internet and digitization were making vital records more easily accessible in some places- Missouri, for example. My previous posts about FamilySearch Labs shows how this process has been continuing.

Second, fear of identity theft was leading other local and state governments to restrict access to vital records. Around that time, it also seemed that the Federal government might further restrict access. For example, this article warned of sweeping new Federal regulations, a part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

As far as I can tell, those Federal plans never got any further, as I haven't seen any further discussion or reporting about it since then. If any readers have an update, let me know via a comment.

The issue of state regulations on access continues, of course. Family Tree magazine has a forum for reporting new information on the issue. Anyone have other updates on this issue?