Friday, March 23, 2012

Dealing With Governmental Red Tape

Overall, I would say that thus far in my life, I have managed to avoid governmental red tape. Sure I have had my run ins of having to provide documentation here and there and even had to wade through the multi-year process of marrying someone who was not a U.S. citizen. Believe you me, it was a process but as long as you read the directions of the scores of forms and followed them, things kept progressing... slowly. But the last place I expected to deal with governmental red tape was while pursuing my genealogy addiction.

In order to obtain Civil War military records, one must download a form from the National Archives, fill it out thoroughly including the person of interest's full name, state served, war served, side served, kind of service, company served, regiment served, arm in which he served, list whether officer or enlisted, date of birth, place of birth, date of death and place of death. After finding all this information out and filling out the paperwork, you have to mail it out and wait 90 days for a reply.

I have received a few packets of records thus far after 90 days of waiting but I have also receive a few rejection letters. The first one stated that they could not find the record. They found a record where I had correctly matched 12 of the 13 things required of me but incorrectly had the wrong state in which he was born. (I actually have the correct state but he must have incorrectly filled out or dictated it wrong back then.) Despite having also to fill out a phone number and an email address as well as a mailing address where I presumed they might call, email or write to question whether that was the record I wanted, remember I answered 12 out of 13 correctly, they simply stated they didn't have a record because the place of birth was incorrect. The remedy, correct it, fill out the 13 boxes again making pains to write the incorrect state of birth down, resubmit it and wait another 90 days. So basically I have to wait a half of a year for my answer.

Rejection letter two was even more vague. There was nothing on the paper except a check mark in the box stating they could not find the record and a circle with a slash mark written over the last name. The last name is Luther and belonged to my 3rd great grandfather Jesse Luther. Now here is the kicker. I have already received his pension records which contain the name Luther written and typed out hundreds of times. I have death certificates, census records, probate records, etc., all using the last name Luther. However, I had seen the name spelled Louther one time and remembered that after seeing my rejection letter. So after much digging, I found out where I had seen the name Louther and you guessed it, it was on a Civil War registration card. So despite there only being one Jesse Louther/Luther of Company I of the 211th Pennsylvania Infantry who was born on 19th of June 1836 in Fairfield township, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania and who died on the 24th of July 1921 in Miller township, Scotland county, Missouri, they couldn't make that connection, didn't call, didn't email and didn't write. Now I have to refill out the form, lie about his last name and wait another three months after already waiting three months.

Rejection letter three found that I had filled out all 13 boxes correctly yet despite me checking the box saying I was okay paying for the extra copies beyond the standard fee that includes up to 100 pages, they sent me a form requiring that I okay the extra dollars. After all this, I wonder why they even bother for a phone number that I can be reached during the day and email address. They have shown they have no inclination to contact me to perhaps be more efficient.

Yes sir, this is red tape at the government's finest.


sage said...

With April 15 approaching, I thought this was about something else!

I am sure these guys are overworked too... Having spent a lot of time in libraries researching, the "research libraries" also have strict rules (only staff can retrieve and make copies, etc) but I'm sure if they let everyone into the stacks and allowed everyone to make copies, they'd ruin a lot of the collection. Hang in there!

R. Sherman said...

I think they make it more difficult so people won't even bother. That way, the bureaucrats can just sit on their asses and surf the internet.


Vince said...

To some extent we're lucky for our national archive has entire buildings filled to the rafters with stuff that hasn't been opened since the bloke closed the box 160 years ago. This is sarcasm btw. At least you don't have to mine for the stuff yourself.

Be thankful anything at all gets out of those places.

geri said...

My husband works for the government and no matter how hard he works and even exceeding his quota year after year (he turns in the highest number of quota done in his department), the pile of paperwork/forms on the desk he has to wade through is always, without exaggeration (according to him) 3 feet deep, there's no letting up.

So while I sympathize with you, I can also imagine the guys working on these Civil War records (what department is this?). True, they could be more systematic, but with regards for asking for more money, they probably want a hard copy of your signature, no matter how small, Lord knows they are probably dealing with a lot of yahoos everyday.

And to streamline the process needs approval from the higher ups/management - which if based on my husband's experience - usually where the problem comes from.

Ed said...

Vince - I have gotten some useful information. Posts are in the works for early April on two of my ancestors in the Civil War.

Geri - What gets me though is that in two of my three examples, had they just used common sense, they could have saved themselves future paperwork by knowing that the wrong information was so insignificant, that it was most likely wrong on either their part or my part. Instead, I have to create more paperwork and they will still have to dig the record out eventually so all they have done is punted the ball to a different day.