Video and Show Notes
On their website, the U.S. National Archives states their mission is to: “provide public access to Federal Government records in our custody and control. Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.” (Source: https://www.archives.gov/about/history/about/history/history-and-mission)
Shockingly, as of February 2022 the archives has not been fulfilling that mission for nearly two years! (Source: Visit each facility web page listed at https://www.archives.gov/locations)
My guests Geoff Gentilini, President of the Archival Researchers Association, and Jessica Taylor president of the international genealogy research firm, Legacy Tree Genealogists explain:
- more about the situation,
- its far-reaching impact,
- and what you can do to help.
Please make time to watch this important video and support the genealogy community! Sign the Petition: Two Years is Too Long: Reopen National Archives Research Rooms
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Geoff Gentilini is the president of the Archival Researchers Association. He is a professional researcher specializing in military records, individual veteran searches, unit histories, and family history research. He is the owner and project manager of Golden Arrow Research. In 2011, Geoff devised a unique process to rebuild the service histories of individual WWI, WW2 & Korean War veterans whose personnel records were lost in the 1973 archives fire. His work has enabled thousands of descendants to gain a better understanding of their ancestors’ military service. He is the president of the Archival Researchers Association, an organization that has been instrumental in advocating (to Congress) for an increase in the budget of the National Archives.
Jessica M. Taylor serves as president of international genealogy research firm, Legacy Tree Genealogists, and as a board member for the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Genealogy Business Alliance, and the Association of Genealogy Educators and Schools. With a degree in Family History – Genealogy and over 20 years of experience, Jessica loves contributing to the genealogy community and pushing the industry forward to better help others discover their roots.
The Scope of the Records at the National Archives
Lisa: Can you give our audience a quick overview of the scope of the records that are housed at the National Archives?
Geoff: There are about 46 facilities, including 15, presidential libraries, 14 archives, 17, federal record centers, and these are spread out across the country. They contain more than 13 billion textual records, 20 million photographs, 40 million aerial images, there’s 75,000 miles of film. These records tell our national story. The holdings are massive.
Today, something like 1% of this material is online. Researchers access the other 99% of these records in our nation’s public research rooms, which are scattered across the country.
I think the National Archives has the goal of digitizing somewhere near 3% of these records by the year 2024. But as we all know, just because something is digitized, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be online or usable for research.
Jessica: The first time he said, you know, 99% of the records are digitized, I said “no way, there’s no way that that could be true.” So he sent me information that’s put up by the archives, and I did the math. And I said, “Holy cow, you know, it’s absolutely true.” There are records there that you can’t get any other way, besides going in person to get those records.
Lisa: I did an entire hour show on the National Archives website last year, and it got on my radar as well, that as wonderful as the site is, and it’s got some access to some things, it’s such a tiny fraction! This means there’s a treasure trove remaining, but you have to access it in person.
(How to Search the U.S. National Archives Online Catalog for Genealogy with Lisa Louise Cooke.)
Jessica, that leads us to the research rooms because that’s where we gain access to the records. What and where are the research rooms? And who uses them?
Jessica: There are 14 National Archives research rooms spread around the country. Washington, DC has a major one. There’s one nearby in College Park, Texas, a few on the West Coast, one in Missouri. So they’re spread out throughout the country.
Each one of these research rooms has different records. So, like we said, they’re all paper still, and in different facilities. If you want a certain type of record, you have to go to that facility to get it.
The people who use these research rooms are obviously genealogists, that’s my primary interest in them, historians, authors, filmmakers, and lots of use for veterans. There are educators, students, I mean, there are so many groups who need these records and have been on hold.
I have a friend who is working on a book that she’s had to put on hold for two years because she needs the information that’s in one of the archives. She can’t complete the book until the archives opens.
The Impact of the Research Rooms Closures
Lisa: Geoff, I know that you work a lot at the National Archives in St. Louis, can you explain to our audience the significance of that particular location, and its closure, and particularly on veterans? How are they affected?
Geoff: The Research Room in St. Louis is really special because it contains the personnel records and military records that tell the story of the men and women who served in the armed forces. These are records from World War I, World War II, the Korean War all the way up through Vietnam, and later.
Many living veterans and veterans’ advocates rely on researchers to work on these more complex research cases. They help to reverse denied benefits claims in many cases. This type of work has been stalled for two years!
From the historical record side of things, this is the work that I used to do primarily in St. Louis. I would rebuild the service histories, the individuals whose records were lost in the 1973 fire, primarily veterans of World War II but also World War I, and the Korean War. Families who really knew nothing about their loved ones service could gain closure by understanding their contribution to the war effort.
This research in St. Louis also helps to do things like correct grave markers for veterans and locate the remains of fallen soldiers who were lost on the battlefield.
At this point, there hasn’t even been a minimal reopening in St. Louis, the way that there was at some other research locations.
Lisa: You’re talking about veteran records. I imagine that people are trying to verify benefits. Don’t you guys work with people who volunteer to help veterans get the records they need so that they can apply for their benefits or is that stalled?
Geoff: Yeah. There is a massive backlog right now of requests that come in from veterans and their families for DD 214 records. These are like the military discharges that you can use to when you’re seeking benefits to get a home loan and things like that. What has happened is that the historical research portion of the archives there has not been reopened, because of that enormous backlog. But at this point, it’s been two years, and they’ve sort of locked the doors. But that that backlog is still growing. The St. Louis Research Room is also a smaller Research Room, and we believe it can be reopened by leaving a smaller footprint.
Lisa: Jessica, can you give us a sense of the financial impact of these closings on the people who rely on access to the research rooms for their work?
Jessica: When when COVID first hit in 2020, and they were closed, that’s the time period when I got in contact with Geoff. What drew me to trying to help his organization initially was people like Geoff who are completely out of work. Their businesses revolve around access to archives, to the National Archives, to specific facilities in specific regions. And so, I thought, wow, I’ve got to help them be able to work again, right?
So we’ve tried and now two years have gone by, and I just can’t imagine how these people are faring. Because they’ve been out of work for two years. I just talked with somebody on LinkedIn who reached out about this petition, and he was so thankful that we have this petition and said, “Well, I’ve been so frustrated. I was actually told, you know, shame on me for building my business model around relying on the National Archives.” And I thought wow, how sad that we can’t rely on the National Archives to open. It just hurts my heart. I mean, beyond that, there is this author I mentioned who is trying to finish her book can’t finish it. It’s been two years!
And of course, we have many clients who have ordered genealogical research that we can’t finish. Many have asked for refunds, because two years is a long time to wait for something like this. So unfortunately, it definitely has had an impact in the genealogy industry and other industries as well.
Geoff: The work that we do is important work. It’s specialized skills, too. And after two years, we’re starting to see our colleagues quit and move on to other things, because how long can you sustain yourself without being able to access these records that enable you to do your job? So that that’s something else too. It’s a loss for the public. We’re losing the expertise and the people that help to tell these stories by accessing these records.
Will the National Archives Reopen?
Lisa: Let’s talk about the reopening because right now, we’ve looked at two full years of closure and lack of access. I was doing some research in anticipation of getting together and talking today and I was looking at what the National Archives is saying about their policy and what they call high, medium and low risk. Even if the risk is considered low, they’re not saying full reopening. They’re talking about appointments and screenings and things.
I know that David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, put out a letter, the most recent one I could find was November 8 of 2021. He says “at low transmission level staff will be on site to complete all types of work, and research rooms are expected to remain open by appointment only.”
Geoff, does that sound like an organization that’s planning on and anxious to get back to full time access?
Geoff: Yes, well, it certainly sounds like a difficult system for someone who would need to be able to do their job five days a week and get in there and really access these records in the way that we need to, to do our jobs. We really are trying to look past that. The restrictions, until we can get back to a level of normalcy, at least in the level of access to records, the sliding scale system with the case rates, and how they open and close. This appears to be how the federal government has structured things for the agencies that fall underneath of the executive branch, the IRS, and the Social Security Administration. Some of this is out of the hands of the archives management.
Other things we think they might be able to do when they do open to kind of prioritize the research rooms and get them back to functioning at pre pandemic levels. That’s really what we’re seeking. We kind of feel like where there’s a will there’s a way. And when 99% of the records that you work with are physical, it really demands that you have the staff and be open to meet that public demand.
Lisa: I noticed on the petition website, which we are going to talk about, there is a way that our viewers can help try to get the message forward to those in power to make a different decision and maybe open this up.
One of the things that’s interesting is that the museum in the Washington DC area is open. It’s in the same building as the research rooms, and those are closed.
Geoff, have they told you anything about ‘here’s the mark, here’s the goalpost? When this happens, we will welcome you all back.’ Do you have any sense of what that place is?
Geoff: I think that the pandemic has been so unpredictable that no one is willing to make any type of you know, there’s no clarity. Everyone is sort of seeking cover. And in this hyper partisan environment that we live in today, nobody’s willing to kind of stick their neck out and say, ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do to take initiative, be imaginative.’ And that’s really what we need so that we can function in a type of new normal when it comes to research.
We know that we’ve got vaccines – 95% of the federal workforce is vaccinated. I believe that you have to either show proof of vaccination status to get inside of the archives or show that you’ve had a negative test. And then of course, you’re required to wear a mask. So, there are things in place to make sure that we have a safe environment when we’re researching. So, the public is safe, and the staff are safe. We just need to figure out how to get back to pre-pandemic levels of access, even if we do have some new restrictions in place, like masks or vaccines or things like that.
Jessica: Geoff mentioned to access the archives, showing that you’re vaccinated, using a mask. So that was in place during the couple of weeks that two of the archives were actually opened in November. We had two archives opened for a couple of weeks, in November. And we did follow all of those protocols. However, they were closed, and the other facilities around the country have never opened since March 2020.
Lisa: And of course, since then, with the coming up Omicron, we know that the vaccinated get ill just like the unvaccinated. So, you’re right, it keeps changing and keeps moving. And that’s where the lack of the goalpost is kind of a challenge.
Let’s talk about some of the ways you’re trying to communicate with the National Archives to see what could be resolved so that everybody feels good about what’s happening and can participate and get what they need.
How You Can Make a Difference in the Reopening
Jessica, you’ve put a petition together. This is what first came to my attention. Tell us about what that is and what your goals are.
Jessica: Absolutely. A main goal that I have with this petition is I just thought ‘I can’t let over two years go by with these important archives being closed, and the leaders of the archives not receive a united strong message from our communities that we care about this, and that it affects us.’ So a major goal is I just want to be able to show them how many people care that they’re closed, especially because it affects us not only now, but genealogists and historians have a long history of having to fight for public access to records.
I don’t want those leaders to look back on this event, years into the future and think ‘well, nobody really seemed to mind that they couldn’t access those records.’ I want them to know that many, many thousands of people cared that they couldn’t access the records.
The ask of this petition is that they reopen by sometime in March 2022. That will be a full two years that many of these facilities have been closed. We’ve seen many other events and businesses and groups have been able to safely reopen, I think that the National Archives is capable of doing the same. I think that it’s important that we ask for that strongly and in the united fashion.
The petition is at https://change.org/reopen archives. We want thousands of signatures. We have about 3000. We’d like to at least double that. We want them to know that these archives matter to the citizens of the United States and the world.
Lisa: I wholeheartedly agree. And I know you’ve just had it up a couple of days, and that’s an amazing start right out of the gate.
As you said, there’s a lot of different players involved who make the decisions, but it’s so important that we make our voice known and our needs known because how else would they incorporate that into the decision-making?
Anything else Geoff that you want to mention about this and things that you would encourage people to do?
Geoff: Something else folks might think about doing is reaching out to your house representative to your senators and just letting them know that you care about this issue that you want to see the archives open all the research rooms back open again. Citizens need and deserve access to government records. That’s the archives mission.
Lisa: it certainly is, and I really appreciate and respect that the two of you have taken some action and made your voices known and hopefully we will ask everybody here watching to help do the same.
Jessica: And please share, you share it, sign it and also share!
Lisa: Yes, That’s the best way to get the word out. Everybody knows another genealogist!
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The Genealogy Gems Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
This blast from the past episode comes from the digitally remastered Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 11 and 12 (originally recorded in 2007). They are now interwoven with fresh narration and updated show notes. Topics include: Google Images; Top 10 Tips for finding Graduation Gems in your family history; Display your family history with an easy to create Decoupage plate.
Did you know you can use Google to help identify images, to find more images like them online, and even to track down images that have been moved to a different place online? Find these great Google tech tips in this episode, along with 10 tech-savvy tricks for finding an ancestor’s school records. You will also hear how to create a family history photo decoupage plate: a perfect craft to give as a gift or create with children.
This “blast from the past” episode comes from the digitally remastered Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 11 and 12 (originally recorded in 2007). They are now interwoven with fresh narration; below you’ll find all-new show notes.
Google Image searches: Updated tips
Click here to watch a short new tutorial video on using Google Images to find images for your genealogy research.
Conduct an initial search using the search terms you want. The Image category (along with other categories) will appear on the screen along with your search results. For images of people: enter name as search term in quotes: “Mark Twain.” If you have an unusual name or if you have extra time to scroll through results, enter the name without quotation marks. Other search terms to try: ancestral place names, tombstone, name of a building (school, church, etc.), the make and model of Grandpa’s car, etc.
Click on one of the image thumbnails to get to a highlight page (shown here) where you can visit the full webpage or view the image. If you click View images, you’ll get the web address.
To retrieve images that no longer appear at the expected URL: Click on View image to get the image URL. Copy the image’s URL (Ctrl+C in Windows) and paste it (Ctrl+V) into your web browser to go to that image’s page. When you click through, you’re back in Web view. The first few search results should be from the website with the image you want. Click on a link that says “cache.” A cached version is an older version of the website (hopefully a version dated before the image was moved or removed). Browse that version of the site to find the image.
NEW Tip: Use Google Chrome to identify an image and find additional images showing the same subject, such as a place, person or subject.
From the Google home page, click Images.
In the Google search box, you’ll see a little camera icon. Click on it.
If you have an image from a website, insert the URL for that image. If you have an image on your computer, click Upload an image. Choose the file you want.
Google will identify the image as best it can, whether a location, person, or object, and it will show you image search results that seem comparable.
Click here to watch a free video tutorial on this topic.
GEM: Decoupage a Family Photo Plate
- Clear glass plate with a smooth finish (available at
kitchen outlet and craft stores)
- Sponge craft brush
- Decoupage glue
- Fine paper-cutting scissors (Cuticle scissors work well)
- Small bottle of acrylic craft paint in a color you would like for the back
- A flat paintbrush
- Painter’s tape
- Brush-on clear acrylic varnish for a glossy finish on the back of the plate
- A selection of photos (including other images that complement the photos)
Assembling your plate:
- Lay out your design to fit the plate
- Add words if desired. You can draw directly on the copy or print it out and cut it to fit.
- Put an even coat of glue on the front of each photo. Don’t worry about brush strokes, but be careful not to go over it too many times which could cause the ink to run.
- Apply the photos to the back of the plate, working in reverse order (the first images placed on the plate will be in the foreground of the design). Glue the edges firmly. Turn the plate over to check the placement of images. Smooth using craft brush.
- Brush glue over the back of each photo.
- Turn the plate around so you can see the image from the front and work out the air bubbles.
- Continue to place the images until the entire plate is covered. Let it dry 24 hours.
- Use painters’ tape to tape off the edges before you apply the acrylic paint to the back of the plate. Paint the back and let dry. Apply a second coat. Let dry.
- Apply an acrylic varnish for a glossy finish on the back. Let dry.
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. And it is in the works for RootsMagic to be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze.com/Lisa, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems.
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Our current book is Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Follow the story of Mary North, a wealthy young Londoner who signs up for the war effort when the Great War reaches England. Originally assigned as a schoolteacher, she turns to other tasks after her students evacuate to the countryside, but not before beginning a relationship that leads to a love triangle and long-distance war-time romance. As her love interest dodges air raids on Malta, she dodges danger in London driving ambulances during air raids in the Blitz.
This story is intense, eye-opening and full of insights into the human experience of living and loving in a war zone and afterward. Everyone Brave is Forgiven is inspired by love letters exchanged between the author’s grandparents during World War II.
Click here for more Genealogy Gems Book Club titles
GEM: Top 10 Tips for finding Graduation Gems in your family history
- Establish a timeline. Check your genealogy database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended high school or college.
- Consult family papers and books. Go through old family papers & books looking for senior calling cards, high school autograph books, journals and diaries, senior portraits, fraternity or sorority memorabilia and yearbooks.
- Search newspapers. Look for school announcements, honor rolls, sports coverage, end-of-year activities and related articles. Updated tips and online resources:
Ancestry.com has moved the bulk of its historical newspaper collection to its sister subscription website, Newpapers.com.
Search your browser for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the online card catalogue, look for a local history or genealogy webpage, or contact them to see what newspapers they have, and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through interlibrary loan.
Search the Library of Congress’ newspaper website, Chronicling America, for digitized newspaper content relating your ancestor’s school years. Also, search its U.S. Newspaper Directory since 1690 for the names and library holdings of local newspapers.
FamilySearch.org online catalog
Contact local historical and genealogical societies for newspaper holdings.
- Consult the websites of U.S. state archives and libraries: click here to find a directory of state libraries
- State historical and genealogical societies. In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks or school photograph collections. For example, the Ohio Genealogical Society library has a large (and growing) collection of Ohio school yearbooks. Local historical and genealogical societies may also have school memorabilia collections.
- RootsWeb, now at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Check the message board for the county and state you’re looking for. Post a message asking if anyone has access to yearbooks or other school info.
TIP: Use Google site search operator to find mentions of yearbooks on the county page you’re looking at. Add site: to the front of the Rootsweb page for the locale, then the word yearbook after it. For example:
- Search for online yearbooks at websites such as:
Yearbookgenealogy.com and the National Yearbook Project, mentioned in the show, no longer exist as such
- US GenWeb at www.usgenweb.org. Search on the county website where the school was located. Is there anyone willing to do a lookup? Is there a place to post which yearbooks you’re looking for?
- Call the school, if it’s still open. If they don’t have old yearbooks, they may be able to put you in touch with a local librarian or historian who does.
TIP: Go to www.whowhere.com and type the school name in “Business Name.” Call around 4:00 pm local time, when the kids are gone but the school office is still open.
- ebay: Do a search on the school or town you’re looking for to see if anyone out there is selling a yearbook that you need. Also search for old photographs or postcards of the school. Here’s my extra trick: From the results page, check the box to include completed listings and email potential sellers to inquire about the books you are looking for.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask ? ebay sellers want to sell! And if all else fails, set up an ebay Favorite Search to keep a look out for you. Go to and check out Episode #3 for instructions on how to do this.
MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.
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As of today, the National Library of Ireland expects to launch a free, digitized collection of ALL its Catholic parish registers on its website (this link takes you to the English version; it’s also available in Irish). Nearly 400,000 digital images of microfilmed parish records comprise this collection.
According to a press release, “The parish register records are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census. Dating from the 1740s to the 1880s, they cover 1,091 parishes throughout the island of Ireland, and consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records….Their digitisation means that, for the first time, anyone who likes will be able to access these registers without having to travel to Dublin.”
Catholic parish registers are a vital genealogical resource. In addition to the names of those baptized or married, they usually include those event dates, names of parents of baptized children, godparents and witnesses (who may also be relatives).
NOTE: This is a browsable-only collection. There are currently no plans to index or transcribe the records. However, the press release included a great suggestion for accessing indexes: look to local family history centers for that parish or neighborhood. “The buy diet medication online nationwide network of local family history centres holds indexes and transcripts of parish registers for their local areas,” it says.
Those unfamiliar with Ireland research may assume this means local FamilySearch Family History Centers, but a map shows only a few of these in Ireland. I would start first with the network of county genealogy centers, accessible online at Roots Ireland. According to that site, “The county genealogy centres are based in local communities, working with volunteers, local historical societies, local clergy, local authorities, county libraries and government agencies to build a database of genealogical records for their county. By using this website you are supporting that work and the communities from which your ancestors originated.” Several counties actually already have online records you can access through the Roots Ireland link above. Ancestry also has several databases of Irish Catholic parish registers.
For more tips on researching your Irish relatives, listen to the FREE Family History Made Easy podcast episode 21, in which we interviewed Irish expert Judith Wight. You’ll hear her tips on finding Church of Ireland records, civil registrations, estate records and how history helps us understand gaps in the records.
Thank you for sharing this post with those who will LOVE to know about these Irish genealogy resources!