03 August 2017

An Update -- Document Conservation Resumes for War of 1812 Pension Files

An Update -- Document Conservation Resumes for War of 1812 Pension Files

From our friends, at the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), we have received an update on the War of 1812 Pension Files (Preserve the Pensions project).

Please do read this message in its entirety. It conveys a lot of important and vital information about this project from fundraising to a NARA security incident (which temporarily stopped a lot of projects including this one), and much more.

Today, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced the resumption of conservation of the War of 1812 Pension Files.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is pleased to announce National Archives staff have recently resumed document conservation of the War of 1812 Pension files covering surnames M(Moore)-Q. Document conservation is the essential first step in digitizing these files. Our digitization partner, Ancestry.com, has scheduled image capture of these newly conserved documents to begin the second week of September 2017. As capture resumes, new images will be added to Fold3.com on a rolling basis. The Federation and the dedicated volunteers of the Preserve the Pensions project have worked tirelessly for well over a year to negotiate a resolution to the work stoppage. This portion of the project plan is expected to be completed by third quarter 2018.

Many in our community have expressed frustration with the lack of new information on the status of the Preserve the Pensions project, ongoing negotiations and the safety of donated funds. As incoming President, I had an obligation to hold any response to those concerns until I could evaluate the history, speak candidly with the Preserve the Pensions team and meet with our partners. From the outside, and with perfect hindsight, it is easy to see a few opportunities missed to share more with you, our supporters. I stand behind the Preserve the Pensions team even so. They have worked incredibly hard to bring this unprecedented fundraising and preservation effort this far.

As frustrating as it may be to hear, FGS is limited in how much it can share with the community at large regarding ongoing negotiations with partners. As an organization, we most certainly may not reveal the internal discussions between our partners. That simple fact of business leaves you, our funding supporters, at times without satisfactory answers to your questions. While I will do everything in my power as FGS President to keep you apprised going forward, I will likely never satisfy your questions completely. With that in mind, and with the current project plan in place, I am able to share with you a very brief outline of events.

A security incident at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in St. Louis led to a work stoppage of digitization projects for security review. This incident was unrelated to the Preserve the Pensions project in Washington D.C., however, our project was impacted.  The Federal bureaucracy is a slow-moving beast, as many of us have experienced outside of genealogy.   The completed review led to new security and project protocols. These protocols imposed new cost, space, and completion date constraints on the project. Neither conservation nor digitization could resume without a renegotiated project plan. These negotiations were difficult and time-consuming as each partner fought for their organization’s priorities. Ultimately, each partner compromised where they could to bring this important preservation project back online. The negotiations, however, are not over. The project plan above is a test of both the new project protocols and the compromises each of us made. It is a proof of concept. As this new project plan is put into practice, NARA, Ancestry.com, and FGS will continue to work together to evaluate the process with an eye towards negotiating the project plan for the final phase of conservation and digitization of surnames R-Z.

I can assure you, the funds you have so generously contributed to this effort are secure. In accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), funds donated for a specific purpose must be separate from general operating funds. Your donations were deposited into a restricted fund. Any monies FGS provided for matching campaigns were moved from our operating capital into this restricted fund. Digitization and other project expenses were spent from the restricted fund.

While the total value of the project was originally projected to be $3.456 million, FGS was responsible for raising only half that amount - $1.728 million - due to the very generous match by Ancestry.com. This valuation was based on a projected 7.2 million pages in the War of 1812 Pensions collection at a total cost of $0.48 per page image. The new project plan has added to the total cost of the Preserve the Pensions project.  However, the number of images for the first half of the collection was less than originally expected.  We anticipate this trend will continue in the second half of the collection. Therefore, FGS stands by its decision to close community fundraising for the project.

On behalf of the board of the Federation and the dedicated volunteers of the Preserve the Pensions team, I have heard and acknowledge your concerns. Your support of this project has been both overwhelming and inspirational. As a first of its kind effort to crowdfund preservation of a genealogically-valuable collection, there was no roadmap. The Preserve the Pensions team is dedicated to seeing this project through until the very last page of the very last pension is online. We will evaluate the successes and shortcomings of the project as implemented before proceeding to a new project. In the meantime, we will work to regain your trust by being as forthcoming as the realities of these sensitive negotiations will allow.

FGS remains grateful to the community for your contributions; this project would not have been successful without the energy of all of you behind us. I welcome your questions or concerns at [email protected].

--Rorey Cathcart, FGS President


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