Last Chance to Comment on Rules Regarding Social Security Death Index Access

Board-certified genealogists working in forensic genealogy should read the new regulations for access to the most recent three years of deaths in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), also called the Public Death Master File (Public DMF). The regulations were published in the Federal Register on 30 December 2014, and are available here.

A comment period was opened at that time. All comments are due by 29 January 2015. Your comments must be submitted through the “Submit a Formal Comment” button on the Federal Register website associated with this Final Rule.

The closure of recent deaths in the SSDI was enacted into law on 26 December 2013 and officially began on 28 March 2014. After that time, genealogists needing to locate the recently dead had to qualify for a certification program instituted and developed by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the entity responsible for selling the Public DMF produced by Social Security Administration. The history of this regulatory process was covered in an earlier Springboard post.

NTIS has requested specific feedback on several areas. Two are important to genealogists: (1) security and (2) impact on small businesses.

The original law provided more than one type of information security solution. Rather than request a technical amendment to the law, NTIS has picked a solution. It asks for feedback on that solution, which is to use third party companies to perform the security evaluation. All costs, of course, are to be borne by the NTIS-Certified Persons with access to the Limited Access DMF.

The impact on small businesses must be measured by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act. The majority of Board-certified genealogists certainly come within this group. If your small business has been hit by the 2013 law and regulations restricting the SSDI/Public DMF, your comments are specifically requested. The Federal Register states:

NTIS is unable at this time to estimate the number of impacted entities that may be considered small entities. Because NTIS lacks information about the types and sizes of entities [small businesses] impacted by this rule, it cannot determine impacts. Accordingly NTIS requests that the public provide it with information about the types of entities impacted by this rule, whether those are small or large entities under [the Small Business Administration]’s size standards, and the level of or a description of the type of impacts that this rule will have on those entities.[1]

Would you like to be NTIS-certified but are uncertain about the user query system on their DMF database? Would you prefer to pay by the query rather than a flat fee of nearly $1000 each year? Are you worried about the third party security program and how much it might cost? Would you rather make your queries through a database aggregator like Ancestry.com? Has this regulation made it more difficult to find next of kin? All of these are important impacts on your small business. NTIS needs to hear about them in order to fulfill its responsibilities under section 203 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

by Barbara Mathews, CG, FASG

As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), Barbara advocates for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participates in RPAC’s monthly conference call. RPAC is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. Non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, non-voting representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license. For more information, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/arts/34758108/in/gallery-halliebateman-72157629088082905/.


[1] Federal Register, vol. 79, no. 249, p. 78320, 30 December 2014.

 

The Road to Better SSDI Access Goes Through All Fifty States

A stretch of road between California and Nevada, photograph by Dan Thorburn, used under Creative Commons license, https://www.flickr.com/photos/danthorburn/7558581290 .

Do you remember how with one stroke of a pen on 26 December 2013 genealogists lost access to recent deaths in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)?

Nearly a year ago, the President signed into law the 2013 federal budget compromise bill. It included Section 203, which removed Freedom of Information Act protection from the SSDI and eliminated deaths from public record until the end of the third calendar year after they occur, effective 28 March 2014. As an example, deaths that occur between 28 March and 31 December 2014 will first appear in the SSDI on 1 January 2018. Closing the SSDI’s most recent records hides that critical single element, the Social Security number, but it also hides names, dates, and locations—information which could remain open and is used and needed by genealogists.

As the new session of the U.S. Congress begins in January, the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) plans to ask that only the Social Security number be omitted from recent death entries and that other information be returned to the SSDI. RPAC plans to show Congress that genealogists care by gathering signatures on a petition. Signatures are needed because Congress responds to numbers. The goal is to reach at least 10,000 signatures before approaching senators this coming year. In 2014 the petition traveled to the NGS, FGS, and IAJGS conferences, as well as the Southern California Jamboree, resulting in the collection of 4,000 signatures. We have six weeks to collect 6,000 more signatures!

Now is the time to take this petition to the fifty states. RPAC needs your help!

RPAC asks that you, in each of your home states, gather signatures on this petition. If you are an officer in a state society, take this petition to your board and to meetings. If you are a society member, ask your society to support this effort. If you attend genealogy roundtables at your local library, bring this petition along.

  • Once you get signatures, scan the signed pages and email the images to Jan Alpert, RPAC’s chair; her email is listed at the bottom of the page.

Please help by printing out this paperwork and bringing our case to the genealogists who don’t travel to national conferences, to genealogists in all fifty states.  We have six weeks. Let’s top 10,000 signatures! Let’s get Congress to listen to our concerns!

You can read more about this on RPAC’s own blog, “Genealogists Declaration of Rights—We Need Your Support!”

 

 by Barbara Mathews, CG, FASG

As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), Barbara Mathews advocates for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participates in RPAC’s monthly conference call. RPAC is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. Non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, non-voting representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.

Please Welcome John D. Beatty, CG

 

John Beatty, CG, in the stacks of the Allen County Public Library. Photograph by Dawne Slater-Putt, CG. Used with permission.

This post was contributed by Dawne Slater-Putt, CG:

            John D. Beatty, CG, of Fort Wayne recently became one of five Board-certified genealogists in Indiana. He is a reference librarian at The Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL), an institution well-known for its second-largest genealogical research collection in the United States. John also serves The Genealogy Center as its bibliographer. He is the author of numerous genealogical articles and books, including Protestant Women’s Narratives of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, published by Four Courts Press of Dublin; and the two-volume James Beaty and Ann Bennett of Ballycanew, County Wexford, Ireland, and More than Two Centuries of Their American Descendants, which he self-published in 2010 and considers his magnum opus. He was also the editor and major contributor to volume 1 of the two-volume History of Fort Wayne & Allen County, Indiana, 1700-2005.

            Through his work as bibliographer for The Genealogy Center since the 1990s, John has comprised a database of more than 65,000 titles ordered – but he was ordering books before the advent of that record, so he cannot cite the total number of volumes he has been responsible for adding to this great collection. His other duties include Continue reading

Please Welcome Christy Stringfield, CG

Christy Stringfield

Christy Stringfield is a full-time fifth grade teacher. She recently returned to her childhood love of genealogy. She remembers being 8 years old and sitting at the kitchen table watching as her Great Aunt filled out an application to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Throughout high school and college she interviewed family members and collected and transcribed artifacts. All that was set aside as her children grew and she started her teaching career. When Christy returned to genealogy, the field had changed and she was able to use computers and online resources.

Already working in a field with strict certification requirements, Christy looked to the Board for Certification of Genealogists as a way to perfect her skills. “I read every professional book I could get my hands on to prepare myself for certification, all the while working on items for my own files that I could use in my portfolio,” Christy remembers. Finally she joined the DAR herself, where she volunteered in genealogical research for the trickier applications, not long thereafter becoming the chapter’s Registrar.

Christy specializes in New England and Mid-Western genealogy and lineage applications. At this time, she only take paid clients who are working on Supplemental applications to the DAR.

Her advice to anyone considering applying to BCG is “Do it! But complete as much as you can -- at least through a first or second draft – before you officially become on-the-clock. I had everything ‘finished’ before I sent in my application. Then I used the advice on the message boards to modify, revise, and rewrite some sections before sending in the final portfolio.”

This teacher’s advice to applicants is to know how they learn best. If they are visual learners, read books, study genealogical journals, and visual genealogical proof maps. For auditory learners, attend seminars, conferences, and lectures. Kinesthetic learners can find mentors, gets hands-on experience in libraries, archives, and courthouses, and learn to write things down and cite them properly.

Looking towards the future, Christy often sets new goals for herself. She is working to establish at least ten new Patriot lines that are not yet in the DAR database, and she is developing presentations for genealogy workshops. She feels that Board-certification will give her more confidence in moving forward and in contributing to the broad genealogical community.


(CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.)

 

Welcome to Board-Certified Genealogist Nora Galvin

Claire Ammon, CG, and Fred Hart, CG, FASG, joined Nora Galvin, CG, at the annual meeting of Connecticut Ancestry Society. Photograph © Robert Locke, used with permission.

In April 2014, Nora became Connecticut’s third Board-certified Genealogist. Nora combines her professional work in Connecticut and Irish research and genetic genealogy with activities in local genealogy societies. She is journal editor and past president of Connecticut Ancestry Society, board member of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, president of the Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council, and editor of the e-zine of the New England Regional Genealogical Conference. In her past career as a biologist, Nora worked in laboratory research for a pharmaceutical company and as a high school biology teacher.

When asked about advice she would give to those considering certification, Nora suggested finding as many varied genealogical experiences as possible. She said,

I worked as a professional for five years before I began to feel I might be ready to start on my portfolio. My own family research taught me about the “known knowns” and the “known unknowns” but it was my client work that taught me about the “unknown unknowns.” (Apologies to Donald Rumsfeld.) I thought I was getting a “feeling for the organism,” the title of a book about biologist Barbara McClintock. It captures the sense of knowledge that I had to develop to be ready to get that portfolio put together.

With tongue in cheek, Nora also advises starting your genealogy career early. She took time to be a high school teacher, a stay-at-home mother, and a research scientist. She started genealogy research about twelve years ago and set up her business soon after, in 2006.

Where does she see her career going now that she is Board-certified? She will have fewer clients but bigger projects and she will be able to devote more time to editing Connecticut Ancestry. Travel to Ireland for research is also in the cards. She admits to being at first skeptical of the hype around autosomal DNA testing, but is now a convert. She enjoys applying her scientific background to genetic genealogy.

Her genealogy heroes are “The people who dig, dig, dig and put together amazing work.” In New England, she admires the work of Robert Charles Anderson on the Great Migration Project, and that of Helen Ullmann, who has transcribed countless almost illegible early records so that others can use them easily. She also admires the family historians who call themselves amateurs but who turn out wonderful narratives documenting their ancestors.

In Connecticut, vital records, town records, and land records are kept by the town clerks. The Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council has worked for decades to provide support and improve communications with the Town Clerks Association. CPGC instigated legislation to provide funds for records preservation at the town level as well as legislation to clearly state genealogical access to vital records. Nora is a member of the Town Clerks and Genealogists Action Committee as well as a member of the consortium of Connecticut genealogical societies. She has testified before legislative committees regarding open records and continues to advocate for preservation and access.


(CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.)

Nora in the vault in Manchester Town Hall, admiring a book of records preserved with funds stemming from legislation instigated by Connecticut genealogists. Photograph © Barbara Mathews, used with permission.

ACTION: Mutual Support for Those Assembling Application Portfolios

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office

BCG established a mutual support network for applicants, called ACTION. Here is how our Certification FAQ describes this list:

BCG invites preliminary applicants to subscribe to an email mentoring group called ACTION (Aids to Certification Testing: Interactive Online Networking). This list does not provide educational preparation; it will not teach applicants about sources, citations, analysis, or any other aspect of research. It does, however, provide a supportive forum where applicants can meet other applicants, and BCG trustees and members of BCG’s Outreach Committee are available to answer questions about the certification process and requirements.

What is it like? Don’t forget that all current Board-certified genealogists have already gone through the process of assembling a portfolio and can relate to the emotional and intellectual issues involved. Several have volunteered to participate in ACTION.

In an ACTION conversation on May 15th of this year.  BCG President Elissa Scalise Powell wrote at 8:04 pm, “So how does … our sense of perfection affect our portfolio process? Does it affect the work sample selections? Does it affect the inability to submit until we find that one last perfect record or case?”

Then at 8:36 pm, Patti Hobbs came back with a story to which we all can relate.

I, too, since I started the clock, am just trying to finish up stuff I’ve been working on for many years. I returned to a courthouse I’d visited about 8 years ago because I hadn’t developed my system for photographing book covers that I now have implemented, and I didn’t have exact titles to use for citations. I also made a trip to Wisconsin just to look for a tombstone that was not on Find-A-Grave and no cemetery book exists outside of the town where the cemetery is located. And the library will not do look-ups because of staffing problems. But without it, I had no proof of one person’s death. Thank goodness she actually had a tombstone!

My first issue was deciding which family to use for my KDP. I worked on two, and then decided not to use either. All totally different. One was a Pennsylvania family, one was a Virginia to Indiana to Iowa family, and the one I settled on is a New England to New York to the Midwest and to-many-parts west.

Then since I had not done “client” work, I did several projects, two of which were very time-consuming, for other people to find a good client case to use. (I do not lack for people to help with their genealogy since I work in a library.)  I rejected using cases I had not solved even though I know that’s permissible.  And even now I don’t think the one I’ve chosen is necessarily the best I could do because I’d prefer to do something more challenging. But as it is no one “out there” had the answer, and I found the answer. Although by the time I submit my portfolio relatives of the now-deceased “client” (pro-bono) may get it out there.

Then I spent a very long time tracking collaterals for the KDP, and probably doing much more than is necessary for the portfolio. But in that process, I found that I really enjoyed doing that. I felt that what I learned from fleshing out all the collaterals, who did not move en masse to the same areas, was very interesting for learning about migration. So I have more biographical detail on the collaterals than is needed. I also did an extra generation because there’s a facet that is in the first generation I wanted included, and there’s a facet to the fourth generation I wanted included. I also wanted the KDP to be enjoyable and informative for other family and not necessarily just those in my direct line.

For me, I had too many other things in my life that were more important in the grand scheme of things than submitting my portfolio for me to make it a priority. That has now changed. And a big motivator for me is I really want to get to work on some other families that are just dangling around waiting to be written up.

Thank you, Patti, for sharing your process for choosing portfolio elements.

To all our readers, once you are on-the-clock, you can participate in ACTION. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Our Newest Associate: Cheryl Brown Abernathy, CG

Cheryl Brown Abernathy

Cheryl Brown Abernathy of Fredericksburg, Ohio, became a Board-certified genealogist on 9 April 2014. She is the owner of The Past Lane where her professional work focuses on Wayne County, Ohio, and nine nearby counties. She does in-depth research, records look-up, and lineage society applications. Living in the north central Ohio region to which her ancestors migrated more than a century ago has given her the skills and experience she uses in her business. She volunteers as chair of the Settlers and Builders of Ohio, one of the lineage societies of the Ohio Genealogical Society.

Cheryl’s top genealogy hero is her grandmother, Mary Belle (Wear) Martin, who developed and nourished her interest in genealogy. In her family genealogy website, in its coverage of Mary Belle, Cheryl provides a great example of melding facts and source citations. Today her friends Donna Gruber and Elissa Scalise Powell give her encouragement.

For Cheryl, preparation for the submission of her BCG portfolio including attending an impressive selection of institute courses:

  • Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University
    • Course Two, Intermediate Genealogy & Historical Studies – 2009
    • Course Four, Advanced Methodology & Evidence Analysis – 2011
  • Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) at La Roche College
    • Beneath the Home Page, Problem–Solving with Online Repositories – 2012
    • Advanced Land Research: Locating, Analyzing, Mapping – 2013

Her advice to others interested in becoming Board-certified is that they “take all the coursework you can, whether it’s a ProGen study group, IGHR, GRIP, SLIG, Boston University or any of the numerous opportunities available.” Asked if she would do anything differently, Cheryl said that she’d start attending institutes earlier in her career. In five years, she sees herself as still learning, researching, and honing her skills.

Welcome, Cheryl!

Welcome to New Board-Certified Genealogist Clarise Soper

Clarise Soper

Clarise Soper of Heidelberg, Mississippi, became a Board-certified genealogist on 21 February 2014. She is an expert in Mississippi genealogy and loves working on families from the Civil War era.

A graduate of ProGen 14, Clarise says, “The program is invaluable because of the unbiased, constructive critiques you receive from fellow group members and guidance from the mentor—a Board-certified genealogist.” She recommends ProGen study to those who are thinking about becoming certified. Clarise is giving back to this study organization; she is now the Coordinator for ProGen 22.

Her genealogical heroes are Marcia Rice, her sister Beverly Rice, and Michael Grant Hait, Jr., CGSM, all of whom pushed her to think more analytically. It was Marcia she met first, in the food line. Clarise remembers lively discussions, nearly debates, with all three at the Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research. Clarise also appreciates the support and coaching she got from Linda Woodward Geiger, CGSM, CGLSM, the Mentor for ProGen 14.

At the current time Clarise mixes both volunteer and paid work in genealogy. If there was one thing she would change, she would find more time for pro bono speaking engagements for the rural genealogical societies in Mississippi.

Clarise’s advice to those considering certification is this:

I probably hold the record for being “on the clock” the longest. I extended each time to keep my personal goal in the forefront while my life centered on being caregiver to my Mother who had Alzheimer’s. That five-year journey taught me patience and perseverance, attributes that helped me complete my portfolio. Don’t give up when life gets in the way of your dream!

 

 

RPAC Report, April 2014: Access Changes to the SSDI – Update 2

Photograph courtesy of Microsoft Office.

Submitted by Barbara J. Mathews, CGSM, BCG’s Representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee:

Implementation of Access Restrictions to the SSDI/DMF

The 2013 Ryan-Murray bipartisan budget compromise was signed by President Obama on 26 December 2013. Section 203 of that bill implemented restrictions on access to the Death Master File. The thinking was that the Social Security Death Index (the SSDI is about 60% of the full DMF) was used by crooks to commit IRS tax fraud. Closing it would lower the amount of fraud, saving the government money. The money value associated with fraud reduction became an offset in the budget deal.

Confusion abounded after the bipartisan budget compromise passed. Although there was a 90-day extension for the development of regulations, one congressman thought that the Commerce Department was violating the law by allowing continued access. Although the bill stated explicitly that the fees for certifying access to recent death information could only cover the expense in implementing it, commentators thought that the fees would make it a “money-raiser.” Other analysts pointed out that tax fraud involving the dead constituted only 1.8% of all tax fraud and that nothing was being done about the other 98.2% of fraud.

Section 203 mandates that deaths are redacted from the SSDI until the end of the third calendar year following the death. The Commerce Department was directed to develop within 90 days a certification process for those people who need to gain access during those first three years. That task was delegated to the National Technical Information Services department — the same department that sells access to the Death Master File.

NTIS held an information meeting 4 March 2014 that was attended by about four dozen entities. The attendees represented the interests of life insurance companies, medical researchers, fallen soldier repatriation efforts, state attorneys general, genealogists, and the financial industry. Oral presentations are archived in two batches (Batch 1 contains prepared presentations, beginning with the one by Fred Moss of RPAC, and Batch 2 continues those presentations using a court reporting system [with many transcription errors] as well as presentations from the floor that answered questions asked by the NTIS staff). Follow-up written testimony was accepted until 18 March 2014 and is also archived.

The NTIS regulations are in Interim Final Rule status. They have been published in the Federal Register. To gain access, a researcher must first apply for certification and then subscribe. BCG associate Dee Dee King, CGSM, was an early NTIS Certified Person and subscriber. She describes her experiences here.

At this time, we expect access to deaths that occurred prior to 26 March 2014 to continue as before. We expect that deaths added to the DMF after the implementation of the new regulations will be restricted. Deaths in 2014 will not be posted to the SSDI until the end of 2017.

Genealogists originally gained access to the Social Security Death Index through the Freedom of Information Act. Section 203 removed FOIA protection but the long-term repercussions of that are still unclear.

Update 1: added more accurate description of differences between Batch 1 and Batch 2, courtesy of Fred Moss.

Update 2: added a link to Dee Dee King’s article on the NTIS certification process.

As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), Barbara advocates for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participates in RPAC’s monthly conference call. RPAC is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. Non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, non-voting representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.

RPAC Report, January 2014

Courtesy of Microsoft Office.

Submitted by Barbara J. Mathews, CGSM, BCG’s Representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee:

As BCG’s official representative to the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), I advocate for the concerns of Board-certified genealogists, and participate in RPAC’s monthly conference call. RPAC is a joint committee organized by the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Each of these three societies has a vote on the committee. Non-voting representatives are sent by several national groups: American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, BCG, and ICAPGen. In addition, non-voting representatives attend from two corporations, Ancestry, and ProQuest. Communication is fostered by an email list, monthly telephone conference calls, and the RPAC blog.

Two topics are important this month:

  • at the federal level, ensuring that genealogists are involved as stakeholders in the process of writing regulations regarding access to the Social Security Death Index; and
  • at the local level, ensuring a rapid response to legislative or administrative activity involving records preservation and access.

Advocating as Stakeholders in Death Master File Regulations

At the federal level, the impact of the recent federal budget compromise bill on records access remains everyone’s top priority. The budget bill embargoes recent deaths from the Social Security Death Index until the end of the third calendar year after the event. It was discussed here in my 2013 year-end report.

On behalf of RPAC, Fred Moss submitted written testimony in relationship to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s SSDI closure language. His testimony is linked to the RPAC blog post “Senate Finance Committee — Tax Administration Discussion Drafts,” together with an attachment from Michael Ramage, CGSM, outlining a forensic genealogy definition.[*] The summary at the end of the testimony states:

We offer four main points:

  1. We are anxious to support the effort to implement the provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act requiring the Department of Commerce to develop a Certification Program governing access to the Death Master File. Genealogists who fit the (a – f ) categories listed on pages 2-3 should be accommodated for quick certification. The genealogical community is a vitally interested stakeholder in this process.
  2. As existing policy regarding public access to the Death Master File is reviewed, we urge that input from professional genealogists be sought. The members of the Records Preservation and Access Committee stand ready to assist in arra