FGS History, Part II

FGS History: Looking Back

Looking Back, Part II: 1980–1984 by Loretto Dennis Szucs

Part II of the FGS history series considers the second five-year segment, 1980 through 1984. During these years, the Federation clarified and refined its role in records access and preservation, introduced programs and publications of importance to societies, and accepted two assignments from the Genealogical Coordinating Committee which it continues to fulfill.

The Federation's activist role in vital record legislation solidified during the second five years of its history. Discussion within the genealogical community convinced the Federation that while genealogists recognized that some vital records were being obtained for fraudulent purposes, legislators must be informed of the value of these records in family research. The Federation and member organizations worked together to find remedies for the problem less drastic than closing the records entirely.

One solution was to propose model Bills for legislative action. FGS endorsed the following: (1) the Bill To Open Vital Records for Genealogists; (2) the Bill To Prevent the Fraudulent Use of Birth Certificates; and (3) the Bill To Microfilm Old Vital Records Prior to 1900 (and deposit the films with the State Archives). The second bill had been passed in one state; the third Bill was pending in two states. The Federation was then working with seven states on the first Bill.

Involvement was not limited to legislative action on vital records. By 1980 the FGS Newsletter had expanded its coverage to include more information on the genealogical collections, activities, conferences, and concerns of its member organizations. The June 1980 Newsletter asked member organizations to support the Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Sutro Library by encouraging California senators to fund and maintain Sutro under the auspices of the California State Library.

The Sutro case proved, perhaps for the first time, that record access and preservation concerns in one state could be witnessed and acted upon by genealogical and historical societies throughout the country. The importance of the Federation as a national organization to marshal the resources of its member societies was becoming clear. As more member organizations became involved, state legislators and record agency personnel began to acknowledge that genealogists, numbering in the thousands, were an organized force that could effect change.

Code of Ethics

In August 1979, George Williams on behalf of the Federation developed the Genealogists' Code of Ethics. Asking legislatures to open vital records to genealogists deserved a commitment that the members of genealogical societies could use and care for these records in a professional manner. The first member society to adopt the Code was the Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County, Washington.

Member Services

In August 1979, the trademark management seminars were inaugurated at "The Organization: Management of the Genealogical Society: A Symposium," sponsored by the Federation in Omaha, Nebraska. The Federation soon became a consultant for new genealogical societies. To guide them through the maze of incorporation, bylaws, and organizational procedures, FGS published a handbook written by Doris Bowers, titled, Genealogical Society Guidebook (1981).

A Speakers Bureau established in early 1980, and publication of Doris Bowers' Planning a Genealogical Conference the following year, proved to be great aids to program chairs. Educational programs of societies were further helped by the 1981 publication of Ten Lessons for Beginners in Genealogy by Myrtelle Molyneaux, C.G.. This work included a bibliography by Eileen Willis.

In the fall of 1983, FGS published Handbook for the Organization and Operation of Genealogical Societies by Kathleen W. Hinckley and Betty Robertson Kaufman. The volume addressed all aspects of bringing a genealogical society into existence and then managing it properly.

FGS Newsletter

In 1981, new editor Joyce B. Hensen of Kansas crafted the FGS Newsletter into a 12-page periodical with a regular Message from the President and columns called Know Your Officers (biographical sketches); Honor Roll of Members; News From the Societies; Calendar of Events; and Legislative News. Projects in Progress, added in 1984, described publications and enterprises undertaken by member societies. This column continues today as State Reporting. In 1982, newsletter subscriptions were increased from $6 to $8 for FGS members and from $8 to $10 for non-members.

NARA Independence

The September 1981 issue of the Newsletter included an urgent message from Rabbi Malcolm Stern. "The Reagan budget as approved by Congress is posing serious threats to the services which the National Archives will be able to render all of us interested in genealogy. The inevitable cuts in staff, programs, and publications will affect our researching. This is bad news. The good news is that we can do something to counteract these problems: We can help to make the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) an independent institution by urging our senators to support the pending Archives Independence Bill S1421, and by requesting the Senate to hold hearings on the bill this year..."

The challenge was accepted. The Federation joined forces with the historical community, rallying their respective member organizations to conduct a vigorous campaign for NARS independence. Issues of the Newsletter urged action until, on June 21, 1984, the United States Senate gave unanimous consent to S. 905, a bill to restore independence to the National Archives by separating it from the General Services Administration. On August 2, the House of Representatives passed a similar legislation. This was cause for celebration!


Annual national FGS conferences began when 130 registrants attended the "FGS Symposium and 6th Annual Meeting in Collaboration with Illinois State Genealogical Society's Fall Conference and 13th Annual Meeting," in Decatur, Illinois, October 22–24, 1981. The 1982 FGS West Coast Conference in Buena Park, California, was hosted by the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and the Orange County Genealogical Society. Fifteen speakers were featured and 502 registrants were accommodated. At this meeting a new set of FGS By-laws was approved, and an Awards Committee set in place.

The "First National Conference for Genealogists in the Northeast" was held in Hartford, Connecticut, July 13-16, 1983. 801 persons attended the event, which was co-sponsored by the Federation, APG, and the Connecticut Society of Genealogists.

Denver, Colorado, was the site of the 1984 conference on September 12-14. The Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies was the host society and the event was chaired by Betty Kaufman. James W. Moore, Assistant Archivist of the United States, was a special guest at the Federation's Annual Meeting where he received a Directors Award for distinguished public service in support of genealogy.

Genealogical Coordinating Committee

On August 13, 1980, at the Temple Square Hotel in Salt Lake City, FGS director Rabbi Malcolm Stern conducted a meeting to foster closer relations between various genealogical groups. Robert Anderson, Arthur Sniffin, and George Williams represented the Federation. Representatives were also present from the American Society of Genealogists, Association of Genealogical Educators, Association of Professional Genealogists, Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the National Genealogical Society.

Within two years the Genealogical Coordinating Committee was in place. The Federation was appointed treasurer for the National Archives Gift Fund (now known as the Malcolm S. Stern NARA Gift Fund. This fund was established to finance the creation of genealogical finding aids at the National Archives and its regions. Monies would be donated by genealogists: $1 per genealogist per year. The Federation was also directed to maintain a clearing-house calendar for genealogical conferences.


Two presidents served FGS during this five-year period. In 1980 and 1981, Robert D. Anderson was president, having been a director for three years. He was a counselor for the Nebraska Association for State and Local History and held memberships in the National Genealogical Society, National Historical Society, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archives, and several other genealogical and historical societies. He was a national lecturer on genealogy and the editor/publisher of a genealogy magazine.

David S. Vogels, Jr., of Denver, Colorado, became president of the organization for 1982.Vogels was then serving as president of the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies and a legal administrator for Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, Denver. He went on to hold the office of presidency in 1983 and 1984. The David S. Vogels, Jr. Award was established in 1990 to honor the accomplishments of this president.


The first awards given by the Federation were in 1983 at the Hartford Conference. Brainerd T. Peck, a founding member of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, received the Distinguished Service Award. Other special awards were presented to Chief Archivist Reed Whitaker, and staff members Diana Duff and Mark Corriston of the National Archives Kansas City Branch (now titled the National Archives Central Plains Region. These awards recognized their efforts on behalf of genealogists. Volunteers at the Kansas City Branch also received certificates of recognition from the Federation.

Continue to Part III: 1985-1989