Friday, February 10, 2017

What will Genealogists Lose through Proposed Government Budget Cuts?

@RogueGenealogy Top Ten List

"If not you, then who?
If not now, then when?" - John E. Lewis, Freedom Rider (b. 1940)

This is a blog post for everyone. It is not meant to be left, right, alt, or liberal. It's information all genealogists should consider in light of the new administration in Washington DC.

Genealogy is a bi-partisan hobby, and also a professional occupation for people of all political persuasions.  People of all sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and ethnic groups. Genealogy is for people of all age groups and socioeconomic levels.  And as genealogists we are accustomed to budget cuts because, let’s face it, who uses dusty old archives? Libraries are an easy target.  If there are cuts to the defense department, you can be sure that their military archives will face cuts before any other defense budget items.

I’ve never been a political person, and I don’t want to have a political blog.  I have no party affiliation and have been registered “undeclared” for 30 years in New Hampshire.  Recent events have made me suddenly interested in politics, calling my representatives, and signing petitions.  It is no time to be complacent.  There are signs that some of these acts of resistance are working to change minds in Washington DC.  The big question is "Can genealogy survive ALL these cuts at the same time?"  Just think about that for a moment…

What will genealogy be like after ALL these cuts?

1. National Endowment for the Humanities – budget $150 million, cost per American $0.46 – funds research at institutions like museums, colleges and libraries.   These are the grants for small town museums and historical societies that genealogists depend on for local information.  These are the grants that larger institutions need for oral history projects, preservation of documents and ephemera, research, digitization projects and other great ideas.  Think of all the historic homes, archives and repositories that would be affected by the budget cuts. And the administration wants to shut down this program permanently, not just reduce funding.  The biggest loss to genealogists will be the Chronicling America website, full of newspaper access.  Imagine not having Chronicling America!The value of an education in a liberal arts college is the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955).

2. National Endowment for the Arts – budget $150 million, cost per American $0.46.  The Republican Study Committee states “The federal government should not be in the business of funding the arts.”  This is another case of not just reducing the funding, but eliminating the entire department.  Where would family historians be without terrific historical projects like the documentaries by Ken Burns or memorial projects like the Vietnam War memorial?  Both were funded by NEA grants.  Many historical societies have received NEA grants to preserve culture such as local music or art from immigrant or ethnic groups.  Many films were funded in part by the NEA to preserve the voices and stories of people such as holocaust survivors, immigrants, families from the Japanese internment camps or the Armenian genocide.   NEA grants have supported the preservation of archival and historic materials all over the USA.  Perhaps the RSC should listen to George Washington (1732 - 1799), who said “The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.

3. Corporation for Public Broadcasting – budget $445 million, cost per American $1.37.  This is not just about Big Bird.  Genealogy can survive without PBS, but what a loss for getting newbies excited about family history, what a loss for learning more about DNA, what a loss for spreading the love of genealogy to other people.  PBS is the sole producer of programming that includes quality history and science documentaries, Masterpiece Theater, Ken Burns specials, ballet, opera, Shakespeare, dramas based on classic literature, history specials, Genealogy Roadshow, Finding your Roots with Henry Louis Gates and more.  You can bet your boots that commercial TV is not going to air opera.  The only television I have ever seen about DNA was on PBS.  Even the History Channel no longer shows history programming, but instead produces malarkey like Ancient Aliens and Counting Cars. What a loss!  TV programming that includes the arts and sciences is the ultimate non-partisan element in American culture.  All Americans should resist these cuts.  I love this quote by scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson (b. 1958) “Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive.”    

4. Department of Education – It is no secret that the new administration wants to shut down this department.  Cuts to public school education come along with that proposal.  Our children deserve a secretary of education that cares about quality education for every child.  Such shortsightedness is appalling.  The entire education of a generation is at jeopardy.  The history curriculum in some schools and school districts is at risk of defunding, censorship and revision.  Schools and public education have suffered horrific cuts during the recession, and now they are at risk of not recovering from those cuts.  Music, arts, physical education, recess, and now history and the humanities are being lost from most public school curriculums.  Yes, this affects genealogy.  Imagine an entire generation not schooled in American history, world history, geography, social studies and all the other studies that go along with these cuts. Imagine an entire generation who never learned critical thinking, debating, writing and critical reading skills.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana (1863 - 1952).

5. Social Security Benefits  - First, remember that social security is not an entitlement program, but it is self-funded by taxpayers who have contributed to the fund throughout their working lives. Defunding it and raising the retirement age affects thousands of genealogists who keep saying “I’m waiting for retirement”.  Don’t wait to start your family history – start now!  (This is why I’m so glad I started my genealogy research when I was in my teens, when I could interview relatives who remembered their grandparents stories about living through the Civil War)  Besides, cutting payments will mean less spending money for people on fixed incomes.  Less spending money means fewer dollars for some senior citizens to put towards genealogy classes, subscriptions, books, heritage travel, etc. or even towards food, housing, medicine for other seniors.  “Cessation of work is not accompanied by cessation of expenses” – Cato (234 BC - 149 BC).

While we are on the subject, we stand to lose a lot of research through gagging and defunding other government agencies, such as these examples:

6. National Park Service - The National Parks are more than just a place to take a hike.  The National Park Service also oversees hundreds of historical sites.  Personally, the staff at these places has helped me many times with my family history.  When I was researching my 2nd great grandfather, Abijah Franklin Hitchings, who was shot at the Battle of Fredericksburg, a staff member looked up his service record for me at the visitor center and then walked me out to the battle ground to the exact spot where he was injured.  I left Fredericksburg with a file full of information, and lots of photos.  This same thing happened to me in California while researching another 3rd great grandfather who was a “49er” in the Gold Rush.  And several times I have been assisted by staff members at the Salem Maritime Historical Park in Massachusetts, not just for historic guided tours, but with actual research documents and maps.  “What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself”  Mollie Beattie (Director, US Fish and Wildlife Service) (1947 - 1996).

7. National Archives - Budget cuts risk public access to records.  Cuts here are the worst of all for genealogy and family history.  This is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for providing access.  NARA took a big hit on their budget during the Great Recession a few years ago.  Many regional NARA centers were closed, programs were reduced or eliminated, hours and days were reduced.  Additional budget cuts will prove to be very detrimental to public access.  These cuts affect genealogists in every aspect of their research.  The most basic genealogy searches include federal records such as census, military, and immigration records held at NARA. This is not just bad news for genealogists, but for researchers across the board in all disciplines and occupations.  “Withholding information is the essence of tyranny.  Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship” Bruce Coville (b. 1950)

8. National Science Foundation – rumors are that the NSF is next on the list behind the NEA and the NEH for reforms and budget cuts. I don’t know if the current administration plans to cut the department entirely.   Research funded by the NSF has increased our knowledge of DNA and genetic genealogy greatly in the past.  Forensic genealogists depend on this DNA research to solve unclaimed body cases for veterans and the military.  Adoptees use this DNA research to find family members.  Criminologists work with genetic genealogists to solve crimes and cold cases using DNA.  Family histories can now include medical histories to trace genetic diseases, traits and chronic conditions because of NSF funded DNA studies.  The science community is so alarmed about  proposed gag rules and budget cuts that they are organizing at the grassroots level to protest, petition and change policy. [“The Nation’s Top Scientists Can’t Get Through to Trump”, The Washington Post, January 26, 2017,]    “By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox” – Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)

9. The Library of Congress - I haven't heard yet of any cuts to this institution, which falls under appropriations for the legislative branch.  During the Great Recession, the LOC suffered cuts in 2013 and 2014 which slowed digitalization projects and caused backups for copyrights.  Slow downs in conservation projects meant that endangered manuscripts continued to decay instead of being preserved. Further cuts in this department could mean that new works and copyrights will linger instead of being registered with the LOC, and preservation projects might be completely cancelled instead of being just delayed. Historians, genealogists and citizens will experience cuts in access online as well as physical access to collections in the buildings in Washington, DC.  "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries", - Anne Herbert (b. 1952)

10. More announced budget cuts are happening every day.  But just listing them, complaining, and whining is not enough.  Reach out to your senators and representatives.  Reach out to the staff of these departments under consideration for elimination or budget cuts to see how you can make a difference. Reach out to your colleagues, research friends, and genealogists from both sides of the aisle about resolving these issues amicably.  Continue to patronize these institutions, and help spread the word about their contributions to American society.  Get involved. Keep informed. Vote. 

"If liberty and equality, as it is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons like share in the government to the utmost."  -Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

"On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does."  -Will Rogers (1879 - 1935) 

The source of budget information is from Money Magazine


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "What will Genealogists Will Lose through Proposed Government Budget Cuts?", Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 10, 2017, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. I spent almost 30 years working as an inspector in the Federal Aviation Administration, an embattled federal agency of the Department of Transportation that has been the target of 'outsourcing' and 'privatization' for decades. During those years, I managed to survive two "government shut downs" as an "essential position," but would not have survived the third most recent had I not been retired.

    As the current batch of extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives looks for ways to "reduce the size of government," which in their eyes, means handing over as many governmental functions as possible to their CEO overlords - except the military - no department and no part of any department is safe. In addition to National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the others listed, what about the Peace Corps? John F. Kennedy's signature creation, an organization that has given individual college grads and Senior Citizens experiences of inestimable value, while helping individuals in other developing areas of the world. If he were alive today, he would wonder what has happened to the two chambers in which he served before becoming president.

    Just remember that it is the Congress that determines which laws and Departments in the Executive Branch will be created and removed and which services are "inherently governmental." The FAA was one of those; recall, also, that part of it has already been outsourced. Privatization is not far away.

  2. Very disheartening. First step, urge all my friends and their grown children to register to vote. Second step, urge them all to get out and VOTE! Third step, never stop communicating with state legislators and Congress to let them know about concerns and priorities. If constituents don't say anything, how will our elected officials know what we want or don't want? Thank you, Heather, for this thoughtful post.

  3. An important post Heather and one I have mentioned in this week's Saturday Serendipity. Thank you for bringing these matters to light within the genealogy community!

  4. Thank you, Heather. We need to spread this far and wide!

  5. Thank you so much for providing talking points we can all use in our letters and phone calls to Congress and in discussions with friends and family.