VSARA is the acronym for the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration. It is “located” within the Office of the Secretary of State. Physically, it is located in a very large structure in Middlesex. It is sandwiched on property shared with a Vermont State Police barracks and a “temporary” residential mental health care facility, “temporary” since Tropical Storm Irene, but that is a whole other story.

In technical terms, VSARA is charged with administering the Statewide Records and Information Management of all public agencies.

Those “public agencies” include any agency, board, department, commission, committee, branch, instrumentality, or authority of the state, or of any of the state’s political subdivisions. The “foundation” of VSARA is Chapter 1, Article 6 of our state constitution which stipulates that government officials be accountable to the citizens they serve. VSARA is integral to accountability and transparency at all levels of government.

The Vermont State Archives, one component of VSARA, consist of records that “have continuing value to the State of Vermont and its citizens.” These records include governmental decisions and the history of the state from 1777 to the present. They include the boxes of materials from gubernatorial offices. They include engineering maps for the building of our interstates. They include “you name it.”

The archives are accessible by all for research. VSARA personnel welcome visits, emails and telephone calls. They respond in depth to reference inquiries, they suggest helpful resources, they assist in navigating the records.

One case in point. I learned that a 69-year-old adoptee, a friend, was hoping to know about his birth parents and the possible existence of a sibling. He had run up against a wall in terms of statute: For adoptions finalized before July 1, 1986, the mutual consent of the adult adoptee and the birthparent or sibling is required for an adoption file to be released, mutual consent or the passage of 99 years from the adoptee’s date of birth. On the face of it, mutual consent was not likely. This person had been abandoned by his parents. Left, supposedly for a year, with an aunt and uncle. After the passage of a year, without parental reappearance, this person was turned over to the state for foster care, then, ultimately adopted during the winter of 1956-1957 out of foster care. So, mutual consent or the alternative 99 years from date of birth? Really?

I turned to VSARA to see if there might be some ideas. This did, after all, involve records, information. Well, to say that research help was forthcoming is an understatement. Personnel not only suggested resources, they took personal time to help in the search.

The fellow hoping to know his birth family followed the “breadcrumbs” and discovered various accessible vital records, newspaper articles about his birth parents, even a yearbook picture of his birth mother. In the process, it was discovered that both birth parents were deceased. Unquestionably then, no possible “mutual consent” to be found there. His request for release of his adoption file is now making its way among various probate courts, the “correct” county apparently in question. Good grief. (With help from the Vermont State Archivist, I am introducing a very carefully crafted bill to remedy this sort of situation while still respecting privacy rights.)

One other case in point. Eldridge Cemetery abuts the airport on Airport Drive. Twenty-four War of 1812 soldiers are referenced on a marker near the street. I learned that a group of South Burlington historians are hoping to know more. I thought immediately of VSARA and, once again, personnel not only suggested resources but also took personal time to help in the search.

They reached out UVM Special Collections and consulted with an historian for the archaeology program at UVM. This historian has much information about the camp of those 24.

It is pretty certain that this camp was a satellite camp at which soldiers ill with smallpox were billeted. The main camp was at Battery Park and many soldiers there were ill with pneumonia. Major General Wade Hampton was in command of the satellite camp. Discovering the names of the particular 24 remains elusive, but the search continues.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at mtownsend@leg.state.vt.us or at mftownsend@comcast.net, by phone at 862-7404, at my home at 232 Patchen Road, on the street, or at Duke’s Public House Saturdays, 8:3–9:30 a.m.

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