As I write this, Ancestry.com is a central party in a lawsuit with the organization Reclaim The Records, citing that it, a private corporation, received preferential priority and access to public records before individual patrons of the public in Freedom of Information requests for genealogical records.[i] Concern that public records may move into private hands demarcates an increasingly digital realm of record-keeping and public history. As companies and the public jockey for access to records in a race for access – one open and the other annexed behind a paywall – the blatant corruption is alarming. Yet, public records agencies are also actively pursuing partnerships with the private sector to digitize materials for online access. This case study centers on the Georgia Archives and Ancestry.com to explore the implications of these public-private partnerships in a neoliberal economy that affects the digital stewardship, provenance, and access of cultural heritage collections. Such partnerships, which often form around genealogical records and thus engage in questions of citizenship, property, and race, reveal and reify technologies of state power to marginalize and exploit people of color in national projects.
[i] Katie Notopoulos, “Ancestry is in Cahoots with Public Records Agencies, A Group Suspects,” BuzzFeed News, October 22, 2018, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katienotopoulos/ancestry-com-reclaim-the-records-new-york-lawsuit.