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).

More Cuts at the Ohio Historical Society

The Columbus Dispatch today has a story (front page of the local section, above the fold) about yet more cuts at the Ohio Historical Society

“The latest round of budget reductions ordered by Gov. Ted Strickland to make up a $1.2 billion state budget shortfall resulted in the loss of $1.2 million for the society. In the past seven years, the agency has lost 40 percent of its state funding. [the emphasis is mine — ajc]

“In response, the society announced yesterday that from March 28 to April 3 next year it will close all its sites and furlough employees.”

Don’t misunderstand — I’m not upset with OHS. They can only work with what they’ve got. The whole situation is a pathetic, sickening state of affairs. Artifacts and records are deteriorating. They’re down to 1/2 of 1 full-time equivalent to keep track of incoming records. Bill Laidlaw, OHS executive director and chief executive officer, estimates that they’ve lost “about a decade’s worth of agency records.” (Keep in mind that OHS serves at the State Archives for Ohio.)

You can read the entire article at:

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2008/10/30/HISTORICAL_CUTS.ART_ART_10-30-08_B1_HEBO9BB.html?sid=101

If that link doesn’t work, try http://tinyurl.com/5zsw37

Action needed on Preserving the American Historical Record act

From the Records Preservation and Access Committee website:

Congressmen Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) have issued a “dear colleagues” letter to the members of the House of Representatives, inviting them to sign on as original sponsors to the “Preserving the American Historical Record” (PAHR) bill.

PAHR proposed to increase federal support for state and local archival records held by government agencies, historical societies, libraries, and related organizations. This initiative would establish a program of formula-based grants to states for re-grants and statewide services to support preservations and use of historical records. The program, to be administered by the National Archives, will provide a total of $50 million per year nationwide. Each state would receive a portion of these funds for redistribution to organizations within its borders. This program would be in addition to the existing national grants program within the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

How can you help?

Contact your Representative in Congress and urge them to sign on as an original sponsor of PAHR. Write a few sentences telling him or her how PAHR would help his or her constituents — you! (Tell them how vital it is to have records preserved and available to the public.) Also, spread the word about this action alert!

Time is critical. Deadline for action is Saturday, May 10.

Faxing your Representative is the preferred method of communication. The Humanities Advocacy Network maintains a website with all of the contact information for legislators: http://www.humanitiesadvocacy.org/action_ctr.html

Further information about PAHR, including the bill, background information, and the amount of funding for each state can be found at:

http://www.archivists.org/pahr/

FamilySearch Indexing and the National Archives

They’re at it again! This time, FamilySearch Indexing has announced a partnership with the National Archives. The press release states:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States and FamilySearch today announced an agreement that will lead to the digitization of millions of historical documents over time. The bulk of the digital images and related indices will be freely accessible through www.FamilySearch.org, 4,500 family history centers worldwide, or at the National Archives and its Regional Centers. …

Under the new agreement, FamilySearch will be operating highly specialized digital cameras 5 days a week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. FamilySearch intends to extend the digitization services to select regional facilities at a later date. That means there will be a continuous flow of new data for genealogy buffs to explore for years to come. It also means FamilySearch will be able to digitize the thousands of microfilms it has already created from NARA’s holdings, providing access to millions of images for genealogists to search from the convenience of their home computers with Internet access.

The first fruit of this effort is a portion of a very large collection of Civil War records, already underway. In this pilot project, FamilySearch will digitize the first 3,150 Civil War widow pension application files (approximately 500,000 pages). After digitization, these historical documents will be indexed and posted online by Footnote.com with the indices also available for free on www.FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch intends to do all 1,280,000 of these files over the coming years.

It wasn’t too long ago that we never thought we’d see records like these digitized, let alone indexed and online!

FamilySearch Indexing going online

FamilySearch Indexing is an incredible project started by the Family History Library. (Technically, FamilySearch Indexing is part of the FamilySearch. The names do get confusing.) The goal is to digitize the microfilm held in the Granite Mountain Records Vault, index it, and put it online. Just a few years ago, we thought that the microfilm would never be digitized in our lifetimes, let alone indexed and put online!

One of the first major FSI projects was Georgia Death Certificates. I received a press release today saying that the index and the images are now online! They can be accessed at the Georgia State Archives website — www.georgiaarchives.org (click on “Virtual Vault”) and at labs.familysearch.org.

The Ohio Genealogical Society is sponsoring the indexing of early Ohio tax records. I am hopeful that some of the images and data will be online very soon.

If you would like to help out with any of the FamilySearch Indexing projects, visit the site, read about the projects, and follow the instructions for registering to volunteer. You can do it from home and you can do as much or as little as you’d like.

This is a very exciting time to be involved in genealogy!