The State of Genealogy

By Lauren Eisenstodt Premium

What’s the outlook for family history research in your area — or the place where your ancestors lived? The answer often hinges on actions by state legislatures and agencies, whose decisions have (sometimes unintended) consequences for genealogists. Here’s an update on recent measures that will affect ancestor hunters in four states.

In July, the price of obtaining your Ohio ancestors’ vital records climbed after Gov. Bob Taft approved a state-budget amendment requiring Ohio counties to charge an extra $5 for certified copies of birth and death records. The fee will help fund the digitization of those records.

This price hike means certified copies now cost at least $12, because counties had been required to charge at least $7. The legislation also prevents the issuance of uncertified copies of vital records — previously available for mere pennies — in order to curb fraudulent use of the documents. In the days leading up to the fee increase, genealogists scrambled to get uncertified copies of their kin’s records.

Money’s also at the heart of the issue in Texas: Proposed budget cuts threaten to close the University of Texas’ Center for Studies in Texas History, a genealogical gem in Austin. The center works with the renowned Texas State Historical Association to publish the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, now in its 107th year of publication, and The New Handbook of Texas, a six-volume guide to Texas people, places and history that’s now searchable online at <>. Learn more about the Texas State Historical Association and Center for Studies in Texas History at <>.

Maine researchers, however, have much better fortune. Rather than cutting programs — as every other state seems to be doing of late — legislators are working on the New Century Community Bond, a provision to allocate $4 million for cultural improvements. The bond would provide $500,000 to the Maine Historical Society to upgrade the Maine Memory Network, an online database of the state’s historical documents, including letters, journals, photographs, and sound and video files. Visit the Maine Memory Network Web site at <>, and urge your local legislators to support the New Century Community Bond.

And there’s even more good news for New Jersey researchers: The New Jersey Division of Archives & Records Management has launched a browsable online catalog of its 27,000 cubic feet and 25,000 reels of historical and genealogical records at <>. Now, you can see what the archives holds before planning a trip to Trenton. Plus, the catalog includes a New Jersey county map with information about when each county was formed, as well as a place-names search.

From the October 2003 Family Tree Magazine