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October 20, 2014

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Genealogy:

Politics can enter genealogical arena

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

What, genealogists get political?

Yes, when it comes to records preservation. Especially in a tough economy. We have the opportunity to help provide Nevada's historical societies with $492,965 in annual federal funds to administer records preservation within the state. Rep. Shelley Berkley is a co-sponsor of H.R. 6056, "To authorize the Archivist of the United States to make grants to States for the preservation and dissemination of historical records," which is jointly sponsored by Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Chris Cannon, R-Utah. The proposed legislation, also known as the Preserving the American Historical Record Act (PAHR), is still in its infancy, which gives us time to encourage our other Nevada congressmen, Jon Porter and Dean Heller, to sign on as co-sponsors.

Records preservation enables us to safeguard our past through such activities as digitizing, microfilming, cataloging, index creation, Web site development and restoration of records. State budget cuts have frozen museum positions, resulting in staff doing double duty; for instance, Eric Moody, curator of manuscripts at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno, is also serving as acting director; Peter Barton, director of Carson City's Nevada State Railroad Museum, is also acting administrator of the Division of Museums and History, effectively leaving the Railroad Museum without a full-time director; and the Nevada State Museum (Las Vegas) currently has two vacancies it cannot fill because the necessary funds were cut from its budget. PAHR monies could be used to hire temporary staff to help preserve collections or expert conservation consultants.

Text of the proposed legislation can be found online (PDF). If it passes and becomes law, the total annual package of $50 million will be distributed to states and territories according to an area- and population-based formula. According to Jeff Kintop, state archives manager, Nevada State Library and Archives, grant monies would be distributed by the Nevada State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) to Nevada's state or local historical or genealogical archives, libraries, or societies, public or private, for preservation efforts. SHRAB is a bipartisan board whose members serve staggered terms and are appointed by the governor.

Currently, the Nevada State Historical Records Advisory Board administers regrants; it applies for preservation grants and then distributes grants received to applicant societies to preserve their collections. PAHR will provide SHRAB with reliable annual monies, which will offset state budget cuts, increase funds available to the state, and relieve the board from continually applying for grants. In Kintop's estimation, given Nevada's size and cultural resources, the annual $492,965 will make a significant impact. Currently the Nevada State Historical Records Advisory Board has no grants to distribute.

Here is only one example of how PAHR could benefit Nevadans. According to the Ely Times (John Plestina, "State to close East Ely Railroad Museum after $1.4 million renovation," Oct. 9, 2008), the 101-year-old East Ely Railroad Depot Museum, one of Nevada's seven state museums, may have to close July 1, 2009, due to state budget cuts. According to the Times, Museum Director Sean Pitts pointed out, "We're the only state-sponsored cultural museum in rural Nevada." The museum is part of the state museum network; the other six include the Lost City Museum (Overton), Nevada Historical Society (Reno), Nevada State Museum (Carson City), Nevada State Museum (Las Vegas), Nevada State Railroad Museum (Boulder City) and Nevada State Railroad Museum (Carson City). According to Kintop, "PAHR funds could not be used for operating funds, but they could be used to make sure that the historical records were safely moved to another museum in the system to help preserve them."

You will find background information published by the Joint Task Force on PAHR, sponsored by the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), Society of American Archivists (SAA), National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) online at www.archivists.org/pahr. The information page contains links to other sources of information regarding the bill.

According to the Joint Task Force, PAHR would "establish a program of formula-based grants to states for regrants and statewide services to support preservation and use of historical records … Each state would receive a portion of these funds for redistribution to organizations within its borders."

The Joint Task Force makes the following recommendations:

  • Ask your members of Congress to sign on as an original sponsor, or ask Jon Porter and Dean Heller to sign on online at humanitiesadvocacy.org/action_ctr.html.
  • Tell your representative in a few sentences why PAHR will benefit his or her constituents — that means you, your organization, and your researchers.
  • Urge your friends, local government officials, relatives, everyone, to contact their representatives as well.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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