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.

Fifty Years of Credentialing: Presentations Available

In the “B. C.” era (Before Credentialing) genealogical fraud was rampant. Two organizations sought to give confidence to the public when hiring researchers and coincidentally were founded in the same year of 1964.

Please join BCG and ICAPGen at an unprecedented joint banquet at the NGS conference in Richmond, Virginia, on Friday, May 9, 2014. The evening’s speaker is David Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA, whose topic is “Celebrating Genealogical Credentials–The Accreditation and Certification Programs Turn 50!” Both organizations want to thank NGS for their recognition of this milestone in genealogical history. NGS registrations are being taken now at http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/. One does not need to be registered for the conference in order to attend the banquet.

BCG began its celebration last year “in the 50th year of its age” with a luncheon talk at FGS in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, by Rev. David McDonald, CG on “No Diamonds, No Cherries: Celebrating a Jubilee” which can be heard on the BCG website.

At a joint banquet in Salt Lake City in October, the American Society of Genealogists and BCG sponsored Judy Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, as the banquet speaker. Her full presentation “We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” can be viewed on the BCG website. Judy’s presentation is also an article in the NGS Magazine (January–March 2014, volume 40, number 1): 15-19.

When we think of the days of undocumented genealogies being fabricated on purpose or unintentionally, there was no recourse for the public or standards by which to determine the reliability of a pedigree. Now we have credentialing and a newly-edited Genealogy Standards book which helps consumers understand the parameters of good genealogy. We have, indeed, “Come a Long Way, Baby!”

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 arranging for that input to both the Executive and Legislative branches. We can best be reached at access@fgs.org
  3. Our strongest message is that steps already taken by the IRS and genealogical entities to protect SSNs listed in the SSDI may have already intercepted this particular form of identity theft without waiting for any additional legislation.
  4. The SSNs of living people will remain vulnerable as long as the IRS mandate is to rush payments of tax refunds before information returns can be compared with the submitted return to assure its validity.

RPAC will continue its efforts to participate in the regulatory process of the Department  of Commerce. The group will advocate for access for professional genealogists and those doing compassionate work for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and for Unclaimed Persons.

Those Board-certified genealogists who consider access to recent deaths to be important to their work can offer their support to RPAC by emailing access@fgs.org. Your stories about how access made a difference in people’s lives will be helpful in articulating this concern to Senators and Representatives.

Monitoring Action at the State Level

We expect the introduction of state legislation based on the unapproved 2011 Model Act and Regulations. State liaisons will play a continuing role in checking for new legislation and in rallying local response. I discussed the history of the Model Acts in my March 2013 report, as follows:

The registration of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces is done on the local level, that is, by 50 states, 5 territories, the City of New York, and Washington, DC. Information contained in those records is shared with U.S. government entities such as the Social Security Administration.

To ensure successful sharing, the U.S. government has made available text that states may elect to use for law as well as for regulations describing how those laws are implemented. States are not required to conform to the Model Act and Regulations. Each state, city, or territory is free to implement laws and regulations for its own needs. Nonetheless, the Model Act can have significant impact. For example, the movement of state vital records offices into state Departments of Public Health was first advised by the 1977 version of the Model Act.

Beginning in 2009, a committee formed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened to update the 1992 Model Act. The National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) approved the update by resolution 8 June 2011. NAPHSIS is an association of representatives from the 57 states, cities, and territories. Members of the organization had participated in the drafting of the new Model Act.

Previous iterations of the Model Act have gone through periods of public feedback and revision before approval by the federal agency involved. The 2011 revision has not yet been made available for public review by DHHS (see their note here) and so it is not yet considered final. In the meantime, several state public health departments developed legislation that conformed to the unreviewed version of the Model Act. This past Friday, 1 March 2013, at noon Eastern time, NAPHSIS independently released the 2011 revision of the Model Act on its website. It can be downloaded here.

What does the new version do? It incorporates changes in technology over the twenty years since the 1992 version. It also changes the records closure periods. Please compare these periods to the ones currently in law in the states in which you research. If they differ, it would be wise to work with local genealogy societies to monitor for the introduction of state legislation affecting records closure.

  • Birth records closed for 125 years.
  • Marriage and divorce records closed for 100 years.
  • Death records closed for 75 years.

Because the response to local legislation begins with local efforts, RPAC worked in 2013 to strengthen its state liaison apparatus, defined here as:

In each state there is or will be an individual responsible for maintaining liaison and communication between the FGS Records Access and Preservation Committee and the statewide genealogical/historical community with respect to matters concerning the preservation of and access to national, state and local historical records of genealogical and historical interest.

To locate a state liaison, RPAC must determine if there is an umbrella organization within the state, or an overall genealogical society. The committee then works with the President of that society to find the statewide liaison. This person becomes a contact for anyone in the state having a records access concern. The process means better representation, but it also means that it takes time to fill a slot. (Disclosure: I am the state liaison for Massachusetts.)

In December and January, RPAC hosted conference calls that included representatives from twenty states and RPAC leadership. On January 28th, we heard from Teri E. Flack of Texas and Helen Shaw, CGSM, of Maine. In both states, genealogists testified against records closure legislation. The Texans were successful in stopping closure. The Mainers saw modifications to the bill and are now considered stakeholders in the process of writing regulations. Rob Rafford of Connecticut spoke passionately about being proactive in monitoring legislative activity.

Efforts this year led to three states adding a state liaison, for a total of 33+1 represented states. If you live in one of these states, which are now unrepresented, please consider working with your state’s genealogy society to find a person willing to take on the role. Every state needs a person or a committee or a society checking for new legislation, budget changes, and preservation issues. Without attention, changes can happen that will come as a shock to genealogists.

  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

North Carolina is moving quickly to identify a state liaison. A matter of unexpected records destruction got everyone’s attention. The 2011 Model Act provisions are also relevant as the UNC School of Government was investigating records closure last year. My written response on behalf of Board-certified genealogists is available here.

To find the state liaison for your geographic area of concern, consult the RPAC roster here.

________________________
* The genealogy community has not rallied around an industry-wide definition of the term forensic genealogy. A definition focused on financial or legal work is slowly coming to the fore but there are points to be made for a broader definition that includes work involving living people. For example, Attachment A includes two out of three legs of the adoption triad (child, birth parents, adoptive parents). RPAC testimony adds medical and genetic genealogy.

UPDATED: 2 Feb 2014, to show that Nebraska is already represented by a state liaison.

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.

 

 

Please Welcome Rebecca Koford as a Board-certified Genealogist

Rebecca Whitman Koford of Mt. Airy, Maryland, earned the credential of Certified GenealogistSM this month. Genealogy has been her passion since childhood. She has been working professionally as a genealogist since 2004.

Rebecca’s commitment to education includes completion of the NGS Home Study Course, NIGR, ProGen Online Study Group 4, and Advanced Methodology at SLIG. She lectures and teaches about family history research. Until she moved to Mt. Airy in 2010, she was Assistant Director of the Family History Center and an Instructor in genealogy for Howard Community College, both in Columbia, Maryland.

She is now the Director of Genealogy for Reel Tributes, a company that creates films on family histories. Her professional work includes Maryland and lineage research. Currently she is focused on lecturing about, and spreading the word on, the War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions project sponsored by FGS at www.preservethepensions.org.  She can often be found at the Maryland or Pennsylvania State Archives.  She is grateful for the support of her three wonderful teenagers and very patient husband.

 

NGS 2013 Recordings Now Available for Online Ordering

JAMB-Inc’s recording from NGS 2013 are now available for online ordering.

The company has transferred its recordings from the National Genealogical Society’s 2013 conference to the online ordering site. You can click directly through to the NGS 2013 ordering information through http://www.jamb-inc.com/genealogy/ngs/2013-ngs-conference–las-vegas-nv.

To access the blog postings about BCG’s Skillbuilding track at NGS 2013, go to http://bcgcertification.org/blog/category/methodology/.

New Books at NGS 2013: Jones on GPS and DeGrazia on NYC

The National Genealogical Society announced two new books at the conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago.

© 2013 by the National Genealogical Society, Inc. Used by permission of the National Genealogical Society and the photographer, Scott Stewart.

 

The National Genealogical Society announced publication of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones, CGSM, CGLSM. It is a workbook for learning to use the Genealogical Proof Standard in our work. It can be ordered here.

Two types of online study groups have sprung up for those of us planning to use the book. Pat Richley-Erickson of DearMYRTLE fame established a group which uses Google+ Hangouts on Air to record to YouTube. It is all explained here. Angela McGhie of ProGen Study Group fame established small groups in a private setting. The GenProof groups are explained here, and in Angela’s blog.

 

 

 

 

© 2013 by the National Genealogical Society, Inc. Used by permission of the National Genealogical Society and the photographer, Scott Stewart.

 

Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CGSM, authored Research in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, a new book in the NGS Research in the States Series. As Laura states in her introduction, 62% of the state’s population resides in this area. Settled in 1624, its deep history and large population make for a significantly complex research environment. Laura’s book is a clear explanation of the types of records available and how to find them.

Soon this book can be ordered here.

 

BCG Skillbuilding at NGS: Certification Seminar

Post by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL

It was with great pleasure that I, along with Warren Bittner, CG, and David McDonald, CG, presented a double-session for the certification seminar. The advantage of the sessions held at every national conference over the one-hour video on the BCG website is that attendees can ask questions. And what good questions they were!

Clarification between certification and a certificate program, and how to go about the various aspects of preparing a portfolio were all discussed. In addition those who are actively “on the clock” and getting their portfolios ready gathered for a photo (see below).

Attendees also heard from current BCG associates about their reasons and various pathways to certification from Michael Hait, CG, Craig Scott, CG, and Dawne Slater-Putt, CG.

The double session was audio recorded by JAMB-Inc.com and will appear for sale on their website under session T211 of the NGS 2013 conference.

BCG President Elissa Powell and Executive Director Nicki Birch flank preliminary applicants who are “on the clock”

BCG Ed Fund Leary Distinguished Lecture: Elizabeth Mills on “Can Trousers, Beds, and Other ‘Trivial Details’ Solve Genealogical Problems?”

Please welcome guest blogger Diane Gravel, CGSM.

As genealogical researchers, we routinely pore through records in pursuit of elusive ancestors, grabbing at apparent minutia, anything that might give us the answers we seek. But are we really gleaning all of the information and clues that lie buried in each document before moving on to the next record?

As interpreters of facts, nitpickers of every detail, innovators of new ways to understand records and apply data, we must spend the majority of our time analyzing every document we retrieve. The careful eye scrutinizes each scrap of paper in an estate accounting, noting the date of an order of velvet and fine pants, recognizing it as a likely death record. The careful eye scrutinizes tax rolls for clues of kinship among the neighbors. These are only a few of the examples used by Mills in demonstrating the fine art of record analysis.

This lecture, used with the syllabus material, easily stands alone as a course in evidence analysis. It’s one of those presentations that will be played and replayed, each time inspiring the listener to take another look at their own brick walls, in search of all those missed clues!

This session has been taped. During the conference you can buy it from the JAMB-INC booth in the main conference hall. After the conference, it will be available online at http://www.jamb-inc.com/category/genealogy. This is session F312 under the heading 2013 NGS Conference/Las Vegas, NV.

From Diane’s profile at APG:

Diane is a full-time professional genealogist and lecturer, with emphasis on New Hampshire research. She is a graduate (with honors) of NGS’s American Genealogy: A Basic Course, and attended both the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (Advanced Methodology and Military Records) at Samford University and the National Institute on Genealogical Research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

 

BCG Skillbuilding at NGS 2013: Richard Sayre on “Genealogical Applications of Historical Geographical Information Systems”

Putting historical context into our family stories is impossible until we know the geography of their lives. Over what paths did they migrate? Where did they live? The term “geographical information system” is daunting, but Rick Sayre shepherded us through the details. He showed us that we don’t have to be GIS professionals to use these tools in our research.

Google Earth is a tool geared to the non-GIS professional. Rick showed us several examples in which historic maps were linked to the Google mapping system. That was just one of more than a half dozen such systems Rick demonstrated. One beautiful use of GIS is the Arlington National Cemetery’s system, available for browsers and smartphones at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/GravesiteLocator/GravesiteLocator.aspx.

Once we look at visual mapping of geography, there are a myriad of resources. You don’t have to create GIS from scratch. Rick’s syllabus material included three pages listing websites to help us map ancestors around the world. The tools and techniques that Rick shared were just the thing for my family stories.

This session has been taped. During the conference you can buy it from the JAMB-INC booth in the main conference hall. After the conference, it will be available online at http://www.jamb-inc.com/category/genealogy. This is session F321 under the heading 2013 NGS Conference/Las Vegas, NV.