Why Closing the SSDI is a Bad Idea

Recently, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) introduced the “Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011” (aka KIDS Act). Rep. Johnson claims that thieves have been using the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) “to access Social Security numbers, file bogus tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service and collect refunds.”1 By closing the SSDI to the public, Johnson claims, thieves will no longer be able to steal the identity of deceased children and claim them as dependents on tax returns (as what happened to the Watters family of Illinois).1

However, the SSDI is an excellent tool for preventing identity theft. The SSDI can be used to verify that the Social Security number in question was assigned to someone who is now deceased. Some of the publicly-available SSDI websites offer the ability to search by Social Security number. A quick search for that number would show if it was assigned to a now-deceased person.

If more agencies and employers used the SSDI, they would instantly spot that a number being passed off by a living person is actually invalid — thus preventing the identity theft.

It is true that there are instances of living people appearing in the SSDI. (According to Johnson, there are approximately 14,000 such people.1 The entire SSDI contains more than 90.8 million records.2)

It is certainly understandable to want to protect against identity theft. However, shutting off a valuable tool such as the SSDI is not the way to do it.

Resources:

  1. Wolf, Isaac. “Senators try to block ID theft of the deceased.” Chicago Sun-Times, 25 November 2011. (Accessed 25 November 2011).
  2. RootsWeb’s Social Security Death Index search page (accessed 25 November 2011).

Preserving Stories on 1000memories

In the past couple of years, there has been an shifting emphasis in genealogy/family history. Momentum has been building around capturing not only the names, dates, and places — the cold, hard facts — about our ancestors, but also capturing their story. As Lisa Alzo put it in her presentation on writing your family history at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, “You may have a family tree as long as this hall, but what do you know about any of those ancestors?” Curt Witcher talked about the importance of story in his keynote at RootsTech 2011. It’s the story that engages people.

In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Skype, and texting, it’s easier than ever before to share our stories. But how do we preserve them?

That’s where a new website called 1000memories comes in.

At 1000memories, the emphasis in on sharing and preserving stories of ourselves and our ancestors. It’s a place “to remember everyone,” as co-founder Jonathan Good describes it. It’s free to register and free to use. If you can type, you can post photos, stories, documents, sound clips, movies — anything that will tell a bit about who that person was.

You might be thinking, “Hey, I can do that on my blog or on Facebook. Why do I need 1000memories?” Unlike your blog or Facebook, 1000memories is working to preserve the material forever. (And as Prince sang, that’s a mighty long time.) They’re serious about this. 1000memories takes extraordinary measures to keep these materials safe. (One thing that isn’t mentioned on that page is their partnership with Internet Archives, the group that gives us the awesome Wayback Machine among all sort of other preserved digital material. I told you — these folks are serious!)

So how easy is it to share photos and stories? At the FGS conference, I stopped by the booth for a brief demo. I had not tried to post anything prior to talking with Michael Katchen, so I was starting from square one. Michael showed me how to login via Facebook, which took all of about 10 seconds. I could see all of my Facebook albums. All I had to do was choose which album and then click the photos I wanted to import into 1000memories. I chose this photo of my grandparents:

Grandma and Grandpa Johnson, Easter 1965

Within a couple minutes, I had imported that photo, created a page for Grandma, a page for Grandpa, and started the frame of a family tree. It really is that easy. I was hooked. That afternoon, I skipped sessions at the conference, and went back to my room so I could upload more photos from my laptop. I added more photos, and typed up a quick story about my great-uncle Harold.

Since then, I’ve gone back through some older family photos that had just vague identifications on them. “Great-Grandma Young and her children.” Considering that she had 10 children, I needed some help on the specifics. I emailed the photo to my Dad and he identified everyone. I cannot wait to get more photos and more stories uploaded.

The top part of the page I created for my grandma.

Pages can have different privacy levels. For example, you can make pages for deceased family members open to everyone (only registered users can add to or edit the page) , but set pages for living people so that only invited people can share content or even set it so only invited people can view the page.

1000memories makes it so easy. All of my cousins can go on any of the pages I’ve created and add their own photos and stories. I’m the youngest of the grandchildren, and I know that my stories of Grandma and Grandpa aren’t the same as those of my older cousins. Now we have a way for all of our stories to be shared and preserved.

I plan on writing more about 1000memories in the near future. But the site is so easy to use, you really don’t need a lot of tutorials to get started!

Learn more:
Michael Katchen of 1000memories will be a guest on GeneaBloggers Radio this evening at 10:00 Eastern.

You can also watch co-founder Jonathan Good’s presentation at the 2011 TEDxSF.


Disclaimer: I attended the “Engaging Your Family in Genealogy” breakfast panel at the FGS conference. However, I can honestly say that the free (small) glass of orange juice and the rather dry cheese danish did not influence this review. 

FamilySearch Has Lost Its Flash

It’s official. FamilySearch has lost its Flash. No, not the sparkly, “gee, this is the most awesome site since the dawn of time” kind of flash. I’m talking about Adobe Flash, which FamilySearch was using as its method to display images. Why does this mean anything to us as researchers? Because it changes how we can work with the image.

The positive side:
  • Drag the image around to pan. No more clicking on different areas of the thumbnail to move to the top or bottom. (In fact, there aren’t any thumbnails anymore.)
  • No more dependence upon updated versions of Flash. This wasn’t so much of an issue, as their implementation was pretty straightforward; however, it could have been had FamilySearch done much more.
  • Images can now be seen on more devices in more browsers. Yes! I can finally use FamilySearch on my iPad without having to use the Puffin browser (which was the only reason I used Puffin).
The negative side:
  • Printing is now all or nothing. Now when you print directly from the page, you get the whole thing — there is no option to print just part of it. FamilySearch, you’re killing me here! That wasn’t just a cool feature — that was a necessity! There are some images, like many death certificates, that have a large black border as part of the image. Ink is expensive! By allowing me to print just a portion of the image, I could crop out the black “background” and print just the certificate. But the really big deal about this is that census pages really don’t like to be printed on 8 1/2 X 11. (Especially when you’re talking about something like the 1900 US census which is wider than it is tall. Makes for itty, bitty, teeny, tiny print… )

I completely understand (and tend to agree with) FamilySearch’s decision to move away from Flash. Putting aside the browser and version compatibility issues, Flash has been plagued by a host of security flaws over the years. In fact, Adobe announced another new version of Flash today, in part to deal with another exploited security vulnerability.

However, I sincerely hope (oh please, oh please, oh please!) that FamilySearch will find a way to allow printing portions of images. That was too valuable of a feature to be thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

On the Radio This Saturday

Federation of Genealogical Societies logoThis Saturday, 27 August, I will be the “FGS 2011 Conference Speaker of the Week” on the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ My Society radio show. The show begins at 2:00 ET/1:00 CT. My portion will begin at approximately 2:30 (1:30 central). I’ll be talking about my sessions at the upcoming FGS conference as well as some of my other genealogical activities.

FGS My Society is an Internet radio show. If you have an Internet connection, you can listen! There is a chat room that runs simultaneously with the radio show. If you want to participate in that, you need to register. It’s free to register; you can also register through your Facebook account.

So tune in this Saturday for fun, excitement, genealogy, and my dulcet tones!

WeRelate sees increase in new users

WeRelate.org, the world’s largest genealogy wiki, saw a doubling of new users from Saturday, August 13 to Monday, August 15 over the same period the week before (August 6-8). Since people don’t have to give a reason for joining, it’s impossible to tell why the sudden bump in new users, but I strongly suspect it has to do with the user policy changes at Geni.com.

NOTE: Geni.com announced last Thursday a major change in how users with free accounts can access data. This has not gone over very well. Several geneabloggers have shared their opinions, including Randy Seaver, Thomas MacEntee, and Elizabeth O’Neal at Little Bytes of Life. I have never used Geni.com, so I’m not going to offer my opinion of whether or not their change in the terms of service are good or bad.

I will say that I love WeRelate. The atmosphere is friendly. Everyone truly wants to get the best data out there.

You can follow WeRelate on Twitter and on Facebook.

I plan to post more about WeRelate in the near future.

(Disclaimer: I am a volunteer administrator for WeRelate. I am not compensated for any of my work.)