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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Estonia and Others: Digitizing Records and Preserving Them for Posterity

I've been thinking about this article for some time now. Entitled, Estonian Lutherans lash out at Mormons, it was published by Baltic Reports: Daily News From the Baltic States on August 31, 2010.


The Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church is lambasting the Ministry of the Interior for allowing the Mormon Church access to records that may be being used to re-baptize deceased Estonians.
Estonian Lutherans are not happy with the state’s cooperation agreement with the U.S.-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that allows the copying of Estonian state archives to Mormon databases.

I can see where these feelings may come up in a knee-jerk reaction, but none of the concerns hold up to further review.

Consider the following.

1. Yes, it will make these names available to Mormons to perform ordinances such as baptism, but since it also makes the records available to ANYONE in the WORLD any other religion is free to perform ANY ordinance on their behalf.

2. How can anyone conclude that they or their religion, country or other entity OWNS rights to people that are dead?

3. Isn't it in everyone's best interests that historical records are preserved regardless of their source?

4. Doesn't it makes sense to have the BEST system do the job?


State archivist Priit Pirsko told the Postimees newspaper that the state had started an online archive but concluded that “the Mormons’ technological capability is tens of times greater, so we made them a proposal to exchange digital copies.”

So the Mormons got the materials that were already digitalized by the state, but also made the rest of the digital archiving saving the archive three years of work.
The records are archived faster, better and access is universal.

In a similar controversy some years back,  I heard an expert comment on preservation of historical records. "If you don't have the Mormons do it, who ARE you going to have do it? The Mormons are the only ones out there." Would Estonians be better served if the records were not preserved at all?

5. Mormons PAID for access under an agreement entered into by the governing entity. In turn, Mormons allow everyone FREE access. Sounds like a good deal to me.

6. From a comment by DB:

Besides, in most cases, it’s Mormons doing baptisms on behalf of their own ancestors. How can the Lutherans lay stronger claim to those individuals than their own descendants can?
7. From a comment by Dave Crea

This seems to be an overreaction by the Estonian Lutherans. From what I understand, the Mormon Church is digitizing vast quantities of records that would be irretrievable in the near future due to record degradation or lost from courts and libraries disposing of old records that are taking up too much space. They are saving vital pieces of history that otherwise would be lost and making it publicly available to everyone. This is amazing.
8. The agreement between the Genealogical Society of Utah and the Estonian government has been in place since the early 1990s. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction by the Estonian Lutherans it appears to be a rather belated reaction.

9. Are Estonian Lutherans suggesting that everyone's MOTIVE for accessing historical records be evaluated? Are we going to withdraw records from people until we find out what their purpose for accessing them is and then evaluate whether that purpose is justified or acceptable to us?

10. Ownership of records probably isn't that clear cut. Anyway, does prior ownership constitute absolute ownership? The records have not been turned over to the Mormons. The Mormons will only own the records made of the records. The Estonian government retains ownership and control of the original records.

Tuhkru explained that as church records belonged to their congregations previously before being archived by the state under the Soviet regime, it would have been natural for the government to ask permission from the Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as Roman Catholic Church.
If being archived by the state means the Soviet's made records of the original records, then the Mormons are preserving the records of the original records.

We Mormons preserve all records we can find anywhere, often paying for the privilege and then preserve them indefinitely, at our expense, and make them available to everyone and anyone for free. Why aren't people cheering us on?

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