Massachusetts Genealogical Council

Shirley M. Barnes Records Access Award

Who Was Shirley M. Barnes?


A little slip of a woman, frequently donning an inviting smile, and a big orange “Save Massachusetts Records” button, Shirley M. Barnes was committed to advocating for record preservation and access. Weekly she rode the commuter rail from Concord to Boston to walk the statehouse, visiting with legislators. Her work brought about the 1983 Massachusetts vital records law which mandated the transfer of vital records to the state archives in five-year intervals. After 25 years of dedicated service as MGC’s Civil Records Director, Shirley tirelessly stayed on the board, mentoring her successors, until attending meetings became a physical challenge.

Shirley passed away on August 24, 2018, at the age of 95, only eight months after her husband. She is survived by two children and a genealogy community that she had served for decades. (Her obituary may be accessed here.) Shirley’s efforts served to establish a model for other New England states to follow in protecting access to public records for research.

The Shirley M. Barnes Records Access Award

The Massachusetts Genealogical Council, at the annual meeting on February 17, 2019, established an annual award to be given in memory of Shirley M. (Armstrong) Barnes at a luncheon, held in odd years at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference and in even years at the MGC Annual Seminar. The award will recognize people who emulate Shirley’s volunteer spirit and whose dedication to records access has made a significant impact for genealogists.

The award takes the form of a wooden book clock. It is a duplicate of the award MGC gave to Shirley when she retired from the Civil Records Director job after 25 years of service. She treasured her book clock.

2021 Award: Jan Meisels Allen

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Since 2003 Jan has been the chairperson of the Public Records Access Monitoring Committee (PRAMC) of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). She served on the IAJGS Board of Directors from 2004-2013. Since 2004 she represents IAJGS as a sponsoring member on the Records Preservation and Access Coalition (RPAC). In 2015 she was awarded the IAJGS Volunteer of the Year award. In 2013, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) awarded Jan the President’s Citation. In addition to her international and national work, she has served the boards of local Jewish genealogical societies in California. She continues to research her own Polish, Hungarian, and Galician roots. Jan’s work for records access is seen in her frequent Records Access Alerts on behalf of PRAMC. In recent years, Jan’s support of MGC in her letters citing law and precedent have been instrumental in our successes.

You can sign up for PRAMC's records access alerts by filling out the form for Subscribing to the IAJGS Public Records Access Alerts at

2020 Award: Rich Venezia

On April 4, 2020, at the opening of the Virtual Conference "Origins and Destinations," the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) awarded its second annual Shirley Barnes Records Access Award to Rich Venezia, Founder, of Records Not Revenue. The award is an engraved book clock, a replica of the award presented to Shirley Barnes July 14, 2007, upon her retirement as Civil Records Director of MGC.

Rich Venezia is a Pittsburgh based expert of twentieth-century immigration records in the genealogical field. Rich spearheaded a public campaign, Records Not Revenue, to leverage the power of social media to persuade U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to withdraw fee hikes before the window for public comment closes. Through his efforts, the agency received over 39,000 public comments detailing the adverse consequences not only from genealogists but to other government organizations. 

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2019 Award: Brooke Schreier Ganz

(MANCHESTER, NH: April 4, 2019)  At the opening luncheon of the New England Regional Genealogical Conference, the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) awarded its first annual Shirley M. Barnes Records Access Award to Brooke Schreier Ganz, Founder and President of Reclaim the Records. The award is an engraved book clock, a replica of the award presented to Shirley Barnes on July 14, 2007 upon her retirement as Civil Records Director of MGC.

Brooke is a friendly, outspoken mother of two residing in California. A computer programmer, she developed an open source records management software and is a lifetime volunteer with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Researching 95% of her ancestors who resided in New York City


proved difficult from California. Brooke promptly understood that public records should be accessible to all; especially to those whose taxes paid for them. Drawing from the success of her personal record access and publishing project, she founded the non-profit Reclaim the Records which utilizes the Freedom of Information Laws and Acts to reclaim public records, making them accessible for free, to all genealogists.