Links: SSDI Access Under Threat Edition

I really hate writing headlines like that. But it looks as if plans to severely limit (if not altogether end) public access to the Social Security Death Index are back under discussion. This is all about HR 3475, sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX3). I was looking at it a while ago and it seemed like bad news to genealogical researchers.

And now, as Johnson’s press release informs us, there will now be hearings on the issue. Oral testimony this Thursday (Feb. 2) will be only from invited witnesses. That group is not terribly likely to include genealogists, but we can still make our opinions known through letters, phone calls and emails. Here are good places to go for information:

• Judy Russell at The Legal Genealogist has the essential post about how to act — what the essential arguments are, where to find the background information. Read it; it is important. Of special note is her list of the Ways and Means committee’s Social Security subcommittee members. Note also the members who take email only from constituents; you’ll want to snail-mail them instead.

• There are further resources here, courtesy of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.

• And Kimberly Powell also summarizes the context clearly and concisely. (Kimberly mentions that the Veterans Affairs’ BIRLS Death File on Ancestry has been affected by the current climate, as well.)

Kind of funny, when you think about it. It’s more possible than ever for all sorts of entities to mine the details of our private lives for commercial gain. Yet apparently the burning data security issue of the day involves … clamping down on genealogists? A few weeks back I was musing that it would be edifying to know just how big a proportion of all identity fraud each year would be eliminated by shutting down the SSDI, and whether a broad-scale change in access would really keep the crooks at bay. Hard numbers on the scope of SSDI problems were elusive in media reports about the issue last fall. And lost in the shuffle are examples of how the SSDI actually is a powerful tool to prevent fraud — the reason it was created in the first place.

Time to educate, inform, and raise our voices.


On the road to Rootstech 2012!

It’s total countdown mode here. I am headed to Salt Lake City for Rootstech on the 1st (is that really tomorrow?), and I can’t wait.

I was a stay-at-home last year, following the posts with envy and thinking, Yep, I gotta get out there next year. And so I am. At the moment I’m still fiddling with my schedule, awash in a sea of great workshop information. I’ve made my own big fat schedule chart that I pore over the way generals obsess over the wall maps in World War II movies. It’s dithering, but very pleasant dithering. (I did manage to abandon my chart-tweaking long enough to sign up for a couple of the hands-on workshops before they filled up.) There will be new friends to look up and official Rootstech bloggers to gawk at. (I promise to gawk in a subtle way. Really.)

Then, too, there’s the prospect of visiting the Family History Library for the first time. I am going through the obligatory first-timer’s agonizing over what to focus on first. Luckily I read Elyse’s sensible post in which she mentioned going for the books that can’t be loaned out. This stopped some of my hyperventilation, thank goodness. I’m still hyperventilating a bit, but it can now be handled by a lunch-sized brown paper bag as opposed to a supermarket-sized one.

Off to pack all my notes and drives and lists. Oh, and I guess I’d better pack some clothes, too.

The Stories Your Street Could Tell …

I’m working on a history of my house, mostly for my own selfish pleasure but also to practice my skills in this particular research area. When I spot any vintage news items involving my street, I naturally go on alert. Not long ago I was searching local newspaper microfilms for an obituary when I stumbled upon a terribly sad story from 1938 that took place across the street from where I now live. (Preliminary poking around in censuses and directories indicates that some relatives of the people mentioned in the news item may still be living, hence the brackets.)

Child Found Drowned in Goldfish Pool Here / Mother Transfers From Ship and Returns to Montclair

An 18-month-old baby […] was drowned on Saturday when she fell into a goldfish pool at the rear of [a] home on […] Place. Deputy County Medical Examiner Olcott said the death was accidental and caused by drowning.

The article went on to say that the toddler was staying with her aunt at a house neighboring the yard with the goldfish pool. Sadly, the scenario in the story could still be written today: The child went out of sight only for a few minutes, but somehow managed to circumvent a high fence around the pool. The toddler’s mother was on a ship en route to South America, but was intercepted off Cape Hatteras and transferred to a liner headed back north, so that she arrived back in New Jersey the following day.

It was strange and sad to read about such a tragedy on a street I know so well — a street that continues to be a favorite of families with young children. I can tell you that there’s no trace remaining of the goldfish pond mentioned in the story, but it was still oddly disturbing to read about something like that happening on our pleasant little street, even though it was so long ago.

Now I’m wondering what news items might be out there about my own property. I suppose  that’s a hidden hazard of doing house history reports — not all the stories are going to be colorful and heartwarming.  And I guess I’ll be mentioning this possibility up front in doing this sort of research for someone else.

Links, 1.25.11

Picture this: Here’s a heads-up for old-photo enthusiasts in the NYC metro area. On Friday from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m., The New York Public Library is holding  a workshop, “Clues From Family Photos,” at the South Court Classrooms of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. It is billed as first come, first served.

Awarded: Congrats to Ed Laput of Colchester, Conn., upon whom the Godfrey Memorial Library bestowed the Fremont Rider Award for Lifetime Achievement – only the third given in 65 years. Laput was recognized for spearheading efforts to catalogue cemeteries in the state.

Travelogue: Not all of this article on genealogy vacationing was news to me, but I did find myself deep in envy of James Derheim, founder of European Focus, which performs a combination of research legwork and travel agentry to give clients a genealogy trip to remember. Derheim’s work has taken him through Germany, Italy, Ireland, England and the Czech and Slovak republics. Talk about a dream job.

Forensic studies: If you are wondering about the world of forensic genealogy, the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy has organized its first Forensic Genealogy Institute, scheduled for October 25-27 in Dallas. It’s a seriously intensive proposition limited to 25 participants. (There’s a press release here.)

Interesting, If Creepy: ‘Invisible’ Mothers

Yes, moms are present in these vintage photographs of babies and toddlers, holding them steady for the photographer, but hidden under afghans or rugs to make it look as if the grownup isn’t actually there. I spied a pair of trouser-clad legs in one of the photos, so it looks as if there were invisible dads, too.

Irish Marriages and Deaths: A Nifty Workaround

Tom Kemp at the GenealogyBank blog notes that the New York City-based newspaper The Irish American published regular reports of marriages and deaths in Ireland between 1849 to 1914. This does not sound like a definitive listing, but apparently the listings occur often enough, and in enough quantity, to be notable. Civil registration in Ireland did not begin until 1864.

The newspaper is searchable through GenealogyBank, which is a subscription service, but is also often accessible through public libraries.

Sentimental Sunday: Musical Legacies

As someone who can’t imagine life without singing and playing music, even as the stalwart amateur I am, I think one of the nicest heirlooms a person could pass along would be a musical instrument.

I am the owner of a pretty good piano, as well as a totally mid-range guitar that for some reason has a really nice sound that impresses people who own much more fabulous instruments. I hope someday that someone in the next generations of our family will like the idea of owning them after me.

But most of all, I hope they’ll be played by somebody, anybody. Silence is not golden where musical instruments are concerned. There’s a mystique around a fabled antique like the “The Messiah,” a 1716 violin made by Antonio Stradivari that is said never to have been played, and was left to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford with the condition that it will continue never to be played. Which seems sad, but then, I don’t really get the attraction of a gorgeous violin in a glass case.

Yesterday we struggled through a January snowfall to hear my younger daughter play in her winter violin recital. The program contained a poignant footnote. One of the other young violinists was playing a three-quarter-sized violin once owned by Tyler Clementi, a young man whose tragic death made national headlines, but who is also remembered hereabouts as a gifted violinist who had an awful lot of music left to play.

It is sad beyond belief that we can’t hear more from the former owner of the beautiful smaller-sized violin. But the instrument sounded undeniably lovely yesterday, as the snow fell quietly outside the hall, and its current owner played selections from Handel’s Sonata No. 3. There is comfort, and no small sense of wonder, at the lasting power of music to touch hearts, and endure.