Wishing a very happy Thanksgiving to all (well, all the U.S. merrymakers, that is), and safe journeys wherever your feasting is taking you!
Lots of talk lately about the 100-year restriction on obtaining SS-5 forms for genealogical purposes. (That’s 100 years from the birth of the applicant, so in other words, you can’t obtain unaltered forms for anyone born after 1912.) This certainly seems like overkill, as Megan Smolenyak points out in her post.
It also got me to thinking about a recent flow of coverage about a proposal to restrict access to the Social Security Death Index. Actually, according to this story, the measure (H.R. 3475) would effectively end public access to the SSDI. The rationale is that we need to stop the theft of dead people’s Social Security Numbers to perpetrate identity fraud.
The link above is a Scripps-Howard news service piece. It was picked up and localized a lot nationwide, and focused upon a particularly low scam in which dead children’s Social Security numbers are harvested by crooks claiming fictional dependents on tax returns. Interviews with grieving parents whose children’s numbers were picked off by scam artists can only inspire helpless anger.
But. Outrage and anger might not necessarily be the best mind-frame for making a sweeping rule change that affects a whole lot of people, and not just the people quoted in the stories.
Now, keep in mind that this is a bill that just got introduced, and there’s no telling if it will go anywhere. Nevertheless, asking some additional questions isn’t a bad idea. Even if answering these questions might not reveal compelling reasons against this proposal, at least we could say we thought things through before plunging ahead.
1. What proportion of all identity fraud each year would we eliminate by shutting down the SSDI? Huge? Medium? Small? Is it worth closing off this research tool or not? Discuss.
2. Who bears the financial cost of the tax-return fraud? It would appear to be the government (dispensing tax credits to thieves who claim false dependents). In which case, why can’t we talk about better internal procedures rather than about shutting the index down?
3. Related question: If a person can check the SSDI for a dead person’s number, can’t other people check it too and figure out that an alleged somebody is actually dead and therefore cannot be opening bank accounts/taking driver’s tests/being claimed as a dependent? Why characterize the SSDI only as a sieve and not as a potential shield?
4. Thievery of identity bears a highly painful cost. But is this pain worth more than the pain of, say, an adoptee who is trying to trace blood kin and is now denied a useful tool? Can we balance them out? Why or why not?
H.R. 3475 is currently referred to the Ways and Means committee, for those who like to keep score on these things. Speaking of keeping score, a great resource on records access issues affecting genealogy is the website of the Records Preservation and Access Committee, a joint effort of the FGS, the NGS and the IAJGS.
Here’s an interesting essay from filmmaker Britta Wauer, who has made a documentary about Berlin’s Weissensee cemetery. She wonders aloud, “Who would go to the cinema to watch a cemetery film?” (She needs to read more genealogy blogs!)
Anyway, the Weissensee cemetery is Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery that is still in use (after 130 years in existence, too). Wauer’s film In Heaven, Underground aims at explaining its enduring place in Berlin’s history and culture. “I wanted the screen to be filled with people telling stories of the rich lives that were once led in Berlin,” she writes.
But where to find those stories? Wauer sent out tentative queries through a magazine sent to Berlin expatriates, expecting maybe a couple of dozen responses. Within a few weeks she had a couple of hundred, from all over the world.
The trailer for the film imparts a mood that’s beguiling, and oddly uplifting:
In Heaven, Underground (official film site)
Find-A-Grave: Notable Weissensee burials
Spiegel Online: “Renovations Begin at Europe’s Largest Jewish Graveyard” (2009)
My fifth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Ward, taught us nominative and accusative pronouns by teaching us to recite them like a football chant: “I! You! He-She-It! We! You! They!“
Well, Mrs. Ward would have loved this gem, shared by a friend on Facebook (original Facebook link here). I have to say it’s the most elegant, painless grammar lesson I’ve seen in quite a while, possibly since the football cheering pronouns.
From now on, every time I’m wondering about a grammar question, I’m going to be thinking about that bar.
A while back I got to fiddling with organizational charts in PowerPoint, wondering how they’d look with family names and dates instead of department heads and junior assistants. The chart includes the early Haigney family members I have been researching — my great-great grandfather Martin, his children and grandchildren. I did like the look, which is represented below, sort of. You can view a much bigger size chart here, where I stashed it on a separate page for posterity.
Speaking of posterity (well, not really, but anything for a cheap transition), yesterday was the second anniversary of the blog. Goodness, time flies.
It has been a tough fall for the blog. Hurricanes and unseasonal snow storms cut off its power source for two extended stretches. And it has been neglected while its owner (cravenly hiding behind passive voice as usual) has busied herself with a genealogy course.
Well, whose fault is that, blog? You’re the one who made me realize how much I still have to learn.
Anyway, as I step out from behind the grammatical shield, I’ve been thinking about why I keep writing the blog, and honestly, that’s the main thing: It’s keeping me thinking about what I’m doing with my genealogy, and how I can do more of it better. The kind people who have commented on posts with encouragement and suggestions are central to that, and I thank you with all my heart. You’ve helped my thinking and my technique grow, and enlarged my sense of what is sound work and what is not.
So despite this rather spotty blogging fall, I don’t think I’ll be stopping anytime soon. In fact I am acquiring a backlog of thoughts, rants and book reviews I just can’t get to yet, but are clamoring to be let out. If you like that sort of thing, consider yourself reassured; otherwise, consider yourself warned. And as always, thanks for stopping by.
Links are back — but not in great quantity. Too busy dragging branches to the curb.
The Irish Family History Foundation is running a November special — up to 30 percent off for record-search fees through its Online Research Service.
Thievery: A troubling story making the rounds about how ID thieves use the Social Security numbers of dead children has been shining an unwelcome spotlight on the SSDI databases of Ancestry and FamilySearch.
As 11/11/11 approaches, so do reminisces of veterans heading off to war and its impact on family life. Here is a nice one from Canada.
Pretty cool: Eleven historic buildings in eight Union County (NJ) towns will receive funds for much-needed repairs under a $500,000 matching-grant program. In other Union County news: A neat profile of a unique treasure: A tree “museum” containing 95 specimens drawn from the homes of famous people as well as historic places like Civil War battlefields.
Off to the brushpile again. Have a nice week!