RPAC 2013 Year-End Report: SSDI Recent-Death Redactions Begin in 90 Days

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

A Look at the Year 2013
This year had its highs and lows in the fight to preserve records and to ensure access to them. This year saw accomplishments galore as far as records access and preservation go. Those accomplishments came from the active participation of local genealogists.
  • Genealogists in Texas, and Oregon testified against access restrictions in bills based on the 2011 Model Vital Statistics Act and Regulations. They were successful.
  • Connecticut genealogists testified in legislative hearings against death records closure related to the December 14th event in Newtown. They were successful.
  • BCG advocated for records access in response to questions from the School of Government at the University of North Carolina regarding possible future access restrictions based on the 2011 Model Act and Regulations.
  • Genealogists from throughout the U.S. supported the Georgia Archives, seeing it endure draconian budget and staff cuts, supporting its transfer to the University System, and advocating for a return to a more realistic budget.

I was hindered in providing advocacy for one critical item this year. This was the redaction of recent deaths from the Social Security Death Index. The Senate Finance Committee scheduled a hearing, cancelled it for snow, rescheduled it, and cancelled it again. The Finance Committee Chair released his staff’s notes about what they might put in the bill. The Ranking Member of the Finance Committee (that is, the senior member of the opposition party) released a statement that this was not agreed-upon text. (Both statements appear to have been removed from the Finance Committee page.) One week later, there still had not been a hearing, but the Finance Committee’s text turned up as Section 203 of the Ryan-Murray Budget Conference Committee’s compromise. Section 203 had bypassed committee hearings and public feedback; it lacked committee approval.

In the middle of this process, one person was willing to listen to genealogists. Leah McGrath Goodman, a senior writer for Newsweek magazine, often writes about financial issues. Her article, “The Deathly Flaw Buried Deep in the Budget Bill,” went online the morning of the Senate vote. I and other genealogists tried to put fraudulent use of the SSDI into the context of the total fraudulent returns paid by the IRS. Returns to dead people represent only 1.8% (that’s one point eight percent) of the fraudulent returns to which the IRS annually issues $5 billion in refunds. Our point was that closing the SSDI does not address the bigger issues the IRS has.

The provisions about restrictions to access to the Social Security Death Index will become effective 90 days after the President signs the budget compromise bill. That 90-day period ends in March. The bill provides that a death will not be listed in the SSDI until the end of the calendar year in which the third anniversary occurs. This means that any death during 2014 will first appear in the SSDI on 1 January 2018. At this time, I do not know how that implementation will occur or how retroactive it will be. I will keep you posted as I learn more.

The budget compromise bill states that government agencies and organizations involved in detecting fiscal fraud can have full use of the parent of the SSDI, the Death Master File, during the recent-death redaction period. The Secretary of Commerce must set up a bureau to oversee a certification process and for on-going audits. Fines and possible jail terms were built into the bill for unlawful disclosure of information.

The process of creating this new certification/audit bureaucracy provides genealogists with one last opportunity to participate in the discussion. The Records Access and Preservation Committee has already had an emergency telephone meeting and plans to advocate before the Senate Commerce Committee as the new regulations are developed.

Many Board-certified genealogists work through contract with the Department of Defense’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. You might remember that RPAC, through meetings with the Chair of the House Social Security Subcommittee (himself a former POW) had successfully advocated for inclusion of this DOD project among the entities to be certified for access during the redaction period. Unfortunately, that text was not in the Senate draft used in the budget compromise.

Former BCG Vice President Joy Reisinger, RIP

Free of copyright, posted on Pixabay.com by Karla31 of Mörlenbach, Germany.

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. David McDonald, CGSM

It is my sad duty to report that Joy Reisinger, Certified Genealogist Emeritus, died early Tuesday morning, 10 December 2013, in her hometown of Sparta, Wisconsin. A past trustee and vice president of the Board, Joy also served as conference program co-chair for the NGS conferences at Saint Paul and Milwaukee. For many years, she lectured across the United States and Canada on research methods, and Quebecois resources. She last attended a national conference in 2006 at Chicago.

Among the many tasks on which she served so capably was the legislative lobbying effort that kept Wisconsin’s historic vital records accessible and available to the public at a time when pressure was being exerted to close off the materials from public view. She was invited by then-Governor Tommy Thompson to attend the bill-signing ceremony at the state capitol in Madison. She was the longtime editor and publisher of “Lost in Canada,” a newsletter for Canadian-oriented researchers.

In her service to BCG, Joy was actively involved in the development of the first version of the Board’s policy manual. She also began the lecture series for the Family History Library staff during BCG’s October meetings. Most recently, she was a participant in the genealogical community’s Records Access and Preservation Committee collaborative work. First earning her credential as CGRS No. 442 in 1980, and then as CG No. 410 in 1998, she was elected Emeritus in 2007.

Recent ill-health has kept Joy from full participation in the wider life of our genealogical community, but she has kept herself up-to-date on various events and activities as best she has been able. We met as often as possible, given the physical distance between us, usually for a treat of Culver’s frozen chocolate custard with plenty of Diet Pepsi to wash it down. I last visited her on 30 November at the hospital in Sparta, enjoying the chance to share stories of the most recent Board meeting in Salt Lake City and the celebratory events marking the Board’s semi-centennial.

Joy is survived by her husband of 59 years, Jim; three daughters, Barbara and Martha (Brad) of Sparta; and Mary Angelis of LaCrosse; four grandchildren: Emilie and Samantha McKenzie, Ben Reisinger and James Gennaro; and two great-grandchildren. She is further survived by her siblings June (John) Wulff, Linda Deters (Bob Colby) and Lanny (Linda) Deters; and one sister-in-law, Carol Deters. Along with her parents, Joy was preceded in death by a brother and her youngest daughter, Jane, in September.

Details of the visitation and memorial mass will be forthcoming from the family. Burial will be in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery, Sparta. Notes of condolence may be addressed to the family at 1020 Central Avenue, Sparta, Wisconsin 54656.

On a personal note, Joy was indispensible as a mentor in my own certification process, and a trusted friend and ally. I will miss her, and her counsel, tremendously.

Early Bird Registration Ends October 31st for SLIG 2014 – Course 5 – Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?

Last weekend in Salt Lake City we kicked-off celebrations of the 50th anniversaries of two credentials, those administered by the Board for Certification of Genealogists® and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional GenealogistsSM. The banquet in Salt Lake City heard speaker Judy G. Russell, JD, CGSM, CGLSM, discuss the instigating factors for the establishment of credentials as well as the developments in those organizations over the last 50 years.

Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL

To continue the celebration in the “50th year of our age,” a track on accreditation and certification is included in SLIG 2014. Apryl Cox, AG®, Co-Chair of the Testing Committee of ICAPgen, and Elissa Scalise Powell, CGSM, CGLSM, President of BCG, will coordinate Course 5 in the upcoming Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, 13-17 January 2014. Course 5 is “Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?”

Apryl Cox, AG    

The two called on great speakers to present topics in the week’s worth of classes. Their instructors include David Rencher, AG, CG; F. Warren Bittner, CG; Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL; Kelly Summers, AG; Linda Gulbrandsen, AG; Ray Clifford, AG; Raymon Naisbitt, AG; Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL; and Mark Lowe CG. Classes will cover the histories of the two organizations, their application processes, and how the applications are judged. Practical exercises will be part of the workshop experience. In the concluding lecture, David Rencher will ask, “How Many Credentials Should I Have?”

Early-bird registration ends of October 31st for the Utah Genealogical Society’s 2014 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. There are still a few seats left in Course 5. For more information, click here.

Report from Day 2 of the 50th Anniversary Lectures

 

Sometimes you can’t prove parentage by citing a single document to a line on a pedigree chart. Copyright © 2013 Warren Bittner, used with permission.

The 50th Anniversary Lectures, Salt Lake City.

Day two started early with two presentations by F. Warren Bittner, CGSM. His first, “Complex Evidence: What It Is, How It Works, Why It Matters,” gave me my favorite quote of the lecture series:

It’s not the quality of the source (original, primary, direct); it is the comparison of the sources that leads to proof.

Warren was impassioned in his message “Proof Arguments: for the Next Generation.” He presented a complex evidence case in which no single record was sufficient to prove the parentage of Minnie. It took a network consisting of her death record, her marriage record, her baptism record, and her parents’ marriage record to supply all the data. But her name differed on every record. So did their names. They lived in different addresses in Greenwich Village, New York City, for every record. Could we be sure we had the right woman and her correct parents? A family group sheet supplies only birth, marriage, and death data spaces. A well-written proof argument for Minnie’s parents names gives much more satisfaction. Warren walked us through the construction of the proof argument.

Dave McDonald, CGSM, gave us a hands-on workshop for his presentation “Reach for the Power Tools: Record Transcription and Analysis.” His power-of-attorney document from the Wisconsin Historical Society was executed in Illinois by a man from Massachusetts. It appointed his brother to dispose of a one-seventh share in their mother’s dower rights. Attendees transcribed it, abstracted all the information, extracted important data, postulated a research question, and developed a research plan. It was a great discussion.

Judy G. Russell, CGSM, CGLSM, discussed “Bringing Josias Home: Using Circumstantial Evidence to Build a Family.” She took Josias from his residence in Texas to his origins in North Carolina. Her exhaustive research in Texas produced information that they had lived for a period in Indiana. In Indiana, carefully researching associated families, she found a record that suggested research in Burke County, North Carolina.

Elissa Scalise Powell, CGSM, CGLSM, presented “Baker’s Dozen Steps to Writing Research Reports.” After reviewing the elements needed in a report she brought us on a methodical walk through the report-writing process. Her practical approach made the process straightforward.

 

Report on Day 1 of the 50th Anniversary Lectures

Copyright © 2013, Cathi Becker Wiest Desmarais, used with permission.

The 50th Anniversary Lectures take place yesterday and today in the auditorium of the LDS Church Museum Library on West Temple in Salt Lake City, just north of the Family History Library. For several years now, before the BCG Board’s Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, board members and associates present lectures to the staff of the Family History Library to give back to them in recognition of their support of genealogists worldwide. This is the first time these annual lectures have been made open to the public.

Thursday saw a BCG Certification Seminar, three lectures, and the Keynote Speech.

F. Warren Bittner, CGSM, and BCG President Elissa Scalise Powell, CGSM, CGLSM, presented the BCG Certification Seminar. They discussed the application process, from the preliminary application form to the final portfolio submission. Did you know you can download the BCG Application Guide for free here? The BCG website includes skillbuilding materials and descriptions of the application and judging process. From the How to Become Certified Page, you can navigate to a recorded version of an earlier presentation of this seminar here.

Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CGSM, had the after-lunch spot for her lecture, “It Takes a Human: Genealogists and Writing.” Based in Chicago, she led us through several issues tackled by the Chicago Manual of Style. Jeanne also presented practical steps in writing, editing, and proofreading. She has shared with us her handout It Takes a Human Syllabus – May 2013.

Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CGSM, gave us pointers on analyzing sources in her lecture, “Should You Believe Your Eyes? Sizing Up Sources and Information.” She started with images of several records, asking if they were correct. No, every image had got its red X. Laura coached us to look askance at records until we have correlations.

Barbara Jean Mathews, CGSM, closed the late afternoon with her presentation, “Write While You Research: Let the Joy of Researching Infect Your Writing.” Barbara provided some practical steps to take in order to write your reports or genealogical narratives while you are in the library researching.

The Keynote Address was delivered that evening by Thomas W. Jones, CGSM, CGLSM, who tackled the topic “Kinship Determination.” He discussed the three Rs of proving kinship, Research, Reasoning, and ‘Riting. He pointed out that “no source is perfectly trustworthy,” and that “ancestral identification is rarely perfectly certain.” Tom offered rich examples of research and reasoning processes. For the writing section, Tom went over the structures of genealogical, lineage, and pedigree narratives.

Updated 11 Oct 2013, 10:51 a.m., with addition of Bloom syllabus.

Schedule of the 50th Anniversary Lecture Series, October 10th and 11th

BCG’s 50th Anniversary Lecture Series

Greetings from Salt Lake City. Today marks the start of the one-year celebration of BCG’s 50th anniversary. It starts with two days of lectures. The BCG board has presented lectures here in the past. Those lectures were open only to Family History Library staff. This is the first time we’ve been able to open them to the general public. They take place in the auditorium in the basement of the LDS Church History Museum immediately north of the library.

The program chair for this series is F. Warren Bittner, cgSM, cglSM, of Centerville, Utah. He issued a Call for Papers to BCG associates. He also elected to reprise few lectures that had been popular in the past in the small audiences.

Please come on by. If you are busy during work hours, remember that the Keynote takes place tonight, at 7:00 PM, in the museum auditorium.

 

 

RPAC Report, August 2013

Jan Meisels Allen presenting at IAJGS 2013. Photograph © Barbara Mathews.

Submitted by Barbara Jean Mathews, CG.

The three societies that are voting members of the Records Access and Preservation Committee hold annual conventions. At each convention RPAC presents a session. This year, I attended two meetings and telecommuted to the third. They were:

  • National Genealogical Society convention in Las Vegas, Nevada (reported here in April).
  • Federal of Genealogical Societies (FGS) in Fort Wayne, Indiana (telecommuted).
  • International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) in Boston, Massachusetts.

Both FGS and IAJGS were this month. What a delight it is to make connections with people who care about records preservation and access. It is a great lift to my spirits.

The FGS presentation was made by Janet Alpert and Fred Moss. Jan Meisels Allen presented a slide show remotely from her home in California. The FGS slide presentation by Janet Alpert is available on the RPAC website as a PowerPoint presentation (17M in size) or as a pdf handout with six slides to a page (only 1M in size). The slides cover the main themes seen this year, including the 2011 Model Act, state budget restrictions, bills currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress, and misunderstandings around identity theft and the Social Security Death Index.

Over the summer, RPAC strengthened its coordination with its state liaisons. A liaison is the individual within each state who communicates concerns to and asks for support from RPAC. (Disclosure: I am the state liaison for Massachusetts.) A state toolkit and sample state slide show are available for download from the RPAC Publications site here. In the first eight months of 2013, seven state states have had to actively respond to state legislative actions or budget restrictions. All were successful.

RPAC strongly urges that state genealogists visit their U.S. Senators and Representatives. Their suggestion is that the president of the statewide genealogical society and a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists schedule a meeting with the Congressional member or their staff. RPAC’s talking points brief is available from as a Microsoft Word DOCX (or as a pdf), APG’s talking points are covered on their Advocacy Committee’s website here.

Members Jan Meisels Allen and Kenneth Ryesky, Esq., of the Public Records Access Monitoring Committee (PRAMC) of IAJGS together with RPAC chair Janet Alpert presented the session in Boston. The PowerPoint slide is available from the IAJGS site here and the handout is here.

 

 

RPAC Report, June and July 2013

Courtesy of Microsoft Office.

Report from Barbara Mathews, CGSM

The Records Access and Preservation Committee is tracking activities at both the federal and state level regarding records access. On all fronts, RPAC has good news to report.

At the State Level

Genealogists in a handful of states have been alert to the introduction of legislation that could restrict vital records access — legislation based on the 2011 Model Act and Regulations (for more on the Model Act, see my previous report).

  • Genealogists in the Texas Genealogical Society uncovered HB 3252. They sent alerts about the bill to every other genealogical society in the state of Texas. Members wrote to legislators and genealogists testified before the House Public Health Committee. The bill has died in committee.
  • Genealogists in Washington discovered legislation in committee. Their quick action meant that the restrictive legislation stalled in that committee.
  • Genealogists in Oregon testified before a legislative committee. They opposed longer restrictions for the release of vital records, as did archivists and other interest groups. Their efforts were successful, resulting in amendment 4 to HB 2093.
  • Genealogists in Connecticut found strong allies to assist in responding to bills to close death records for 100 years — records that have been open for 350 years. These bills were instigated out of concern for the feelings of the survivors and families of Newtown, Connecticut, following the December 14th shootings there. Newspaper reporters and publishers, the Freedom of Information Commission, and State Medical Examiner all spoke out against the closure bills. The committee hearing was covered by the Hartford Courant. RPAC and others wrote to the House Speaker asking that these extreme bills be tabled. This effort was successful. At the last minute, an amendment to an unrelated bill closed 911 tapes and crime scene photos. The New York Times published an editorial against the disturbing backroom process. The process, however, did result in a situation that settled the concerns of the Newtown families without changing 350 years of state policy.

While the Georgia State Archives was under the management of the Secretary of State, the archives saw massive layoffs and  access restrictions. Legislators moved the management of the archives over the University of Georgia System. The chancellor there advocated for better funding and things are improving. RPAC sent letters to members of state legislative committees in support of funding improvements and the management changes. See the blog posting for the Georgia State Archives, titled “More Good News from the Georgia State Archives.”

I was wearing my hat as a Civil Records Co-Director for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council when I attended the annual convention of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), an organization of state public health vital statistics offices. At the convention I was able to learn about the complexities of the jobs held by vital statistics registrars. In addition to their responsibilities for civil registration, the registrars are a part of the state public health efforts to produce the birth and death information used by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. If I get a chance to blog about the concerns of state vital records registrars, I will post the links as follow-up comments to this post.

At the Federal Level

RPAC continues to monitor Capitol Hill legislation restricting access to the Social Security Death Index, which is the public version of the Death Master File. The bills introduced earlier this year are still under consideration by committees in the U.S. House and the Senate. Those bills were listed in one of my previous reports which you can see here.

It appears that all is poised to move forward this fall on Capitol Hill. RPAC expects legislation to be introduced in the U.S. Senate and committee hearings to take place in both the House and the Senate. In the meantime, Fred Moss of RPAC went to Washington, DC, to make the case that closure of the SSDI is now unnecessary. The misuse of the social security numbers of dead people is no longer an issue because genealogical websites voluntarily redacted numbers and because the IRS now monitors better.

During the Summer Recess (the month of August), our Congressmen and Senators will be back in their home states. RPAC sees this as a wonderful opportunity for genealogists to express their concerns to their House and Senate members. The step suggested by RPAC is that the president of each state’s umbrella or statewide genealogical society, together with a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, schedule meetings with each member of the state’s federal delegation or their staff. In those meetings, they can discuss the concerns of genealogists. RPAC provides SSDI-Talking-Points-2013 for this discussion.

The Advocacy Committee of the Association of Professional Genealogists is monitoring records access issues. They have posted a list of recommended actions in regard to these bills before the U.S. Congress. You can read their recommendations here.

Please get in touch with me if you have any questions or concerns about records preservation or records access.

 

Have You Heard of Dual- and Cross-Credentialing?

Hundreds of people have one of two genealogical credentials. Within this group of credentialed people, there are two smaller groups with impressive achievements.

  • There are the dual-credentialed people who hold both levels of credential from BCG: Certified GenealogistSM and Certified Genealogical LecturerSM. Search the BCG roster for the credential CGLSM. They total 16.
  • Then there are the cross-credentialed people who hold both types of credentials: AG® from the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPgen) and CGSM from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). Search the BCG roster for the credential AG®. They total 13.

Jim Ison, AG®, CGSM, spoke to the ICAPgen conference in 2009 about how important credentials were to a working genealogist. This is the message that a credential gives your potential clients:

  • It shows a commitment to your field.
  • It demonstrates expertise beyond the norm.
  • It demonstrates adherence to approved standards
  • It shows that your skills and knowledge were independently verified.
  • It provides for an increased level of trust due to the Codes of Ethics.

In addition, Jim shared two graphics developed for this lecture. They are based on a study of the membership of the Association of Professional Genealogists in 2009 so the details may vary this year. They show that having a credential makes the professional genealogist stand out from the thousands of other genealogists working in the field.

© 2009 by Jim Ison. Shared with permission.

There were only thirteen cross-credentialed genealogists in 2009. The commitment to qualifying for a credential also involves a commitment to renewing each credential every five years. Both tasks take experience, hard work, and the courage to be measured against standards.

© 2009 by Jim Ison. Shared with permission.

If you want to understand more about either credential, consider attending Course 5 at the 2014 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. For information, see our blog posting “Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?” Online registration begins 1 June 2013 at 9:00 AM Mountain time and many courses fill within minutes.

 

Updated 3 June 2013 to correct number of course.

 

Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?

Beach tug of war at Southport, Queensland, Australia, 1917. From the collection of the State Library of Queensland. No known copyright restrictions.

Apryl Cox, AG®, and Elissa Scalise Powell, CGSM, CGLSM, are coordinators of Course 5 at the 2014 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. The track is “Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?” Apryl will coordinate presentations about the credentialing process used by the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPgen) and Elissa will coordinate presenters for BCG.

The institute will run 13-17 January 2014 at the Radisson Hotel in Salt Lake City. SLIG registration opens June 1 at 9:00 AM Mountain time (11:00 AM Eastern time). Registration must be done online. At that time, a registration button will appear on the website of the sponsoring society, the Utah Genealogical Association. Many popular courses sell out within minutes.

The credentials of both organizations mark their 50th anniversary in 2014. BCG was started by the American Society of Genealogists. That society elects life members based on their “published genealogical accomplishments.”[1] Successful BCG candidates submit a portfolio of work that meets standards.

The Accredited Genealogist credential originated in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to replace the functions of the Research Service, an in-house group of volunteers and library staff performing research and reporting for patrons.[2] Successful ICAPGen candidates submit a research report and pass a proctored written exam.



[1]  “Significant Contributions,” American Society of Genealogists; www.fasg.org : viewed 29 May 2013.

[2] Jill N. Crandell, “A Brief History of the Accreditation Program,” Kory L. Meyerink, Tristan L. Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen, editors, Becoming an Excellent Genealogist (Utah: ICAPgen, 2012), 214.

Updated 3 June 2013 to correct number of track at SLIG to 5.