Saving SSDI: it’s up to us

Saving access to the SSDI is up to you and me, and four of our friends.

If the genealogical community loses the fight over access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI, also called the Death Master File), in large measure it’ll be our own fault.

Yeah, yeah, I know there are powerful emotional arguments in favor of closing the SSDI. Of course it’s a lot easier to sell protecting families of dead children from identity theft than it ever is to sell open access to information. But there are many solid reasons for keeping the SSDI open and many solid fact-based arguments for using the records rather than closing them.

So the task facing us isn’t impossible; it’s just difficult. And too many members of our community aren’t pitching in.

Case in point: the petition drive of the Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC), a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, in support of its Stop Identity Theft NOW initiative.

The petition is now up and running on the White House’s We The People system. To be taken seriously by the political establishment, that petition needs 25,000 signatures in just two weeks — the deadline is March 8, 2012.1 And there aren’t nearly enough people signing it right now to reach that goal.

Now I’m not about to tell you that signing the RPAC petition by itself is going to be enough. It won’t be. We still need to contact our legislators — as often as needed and in as many ways as needed — to try to defeat this ill-advised legislation. The petition is just one step and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that’s adding power to our individual efforts.

But it’s one step we can all take… and I’m asking you to join me in taking it.

I’ve heard basically four reasons why folks in our community aren’t signing the petition:

1. It’s too hard.

I know. The website isn’t easy to navigate. It takes registering on the site, getting an email, going back to the site, etc.

But, for pete’s sake, we’re a community that can find a census record for Auguste Schreiner and her brother Emil Graumuller when the index says Agusta Schreinal and Amel Gramuller.2 We’re folks who can exchange GEDCOMs from entirely different genealogy programs running on different operating systems and still find the information we need. Surely we can figure out one lousy registration system for this petition.

And we don’t have to fly blind. There’s a link at the FGS website with instructions for signing up at and signing the petition.

2. It doesn’t mention the SSDI.

I know this too. And I wish it did. It might be easier to get genealogists to take the time to do this if it was easier and faster to see just exactly what’s in it for us with this petition.

But the fact is that we have other avenues to say what we’re against — closing the records. There’s nothing wrong with using this avenue to say what we’re for — using all of the records of the government to prevent identity theft.

Making it clear that we understand and are willing to address the concerns that gave rise to these bills isn’t a bad thing, y’know. Let’s let the politicians know that we’re genealogists and good citizens too.

3. People don’t know about it.

And just exactly whose fault is that, pray tell? Yup, it’s our fault.

The local societies we work with aren’t telling their members. I belong to something in the neighborhood of 10 local, ethnic and state genealogical societies. Only one has sent an email blast to every member. If you’re in a position to do so, step up to the plate here!

And each and every one of us has personal friends, family members, genealogists we’ve met or worked with. And we have their email addresses, right? So… we can email those people individually, right?

4. It won’t make any difference.

All I can say to that is, how the he– can anybody possibly know that it won’t make a difference? So how can it possibly hurt to sign the blasted thing?

What I do know is that, if we don’t have 25,000 signatures by March 8th, somebody out there is going to try to argue that, as a group, we don’t care enough about this very important issue to band together, stand together and speak out. That we only care about ourselves and not about the broader issues.

So… what does it take to stop THAT from happening?

It takes you, and me, and — for each and every one of us — four of our friends.

You and me to sign the petition. Four of our friends to take the number of signers over the top. We already have more than 4,000 signatures on the petition. If every last one of us who hasn’t signed would do so, and if all of us would get just four of our friends to do so, we’d easily have the signatures needed in plenty of time.

I’ve signed. And I’ve gotten at least four of my friends to sign.

How about you?


  1. For an explanation of the We The People petitioning system, see Wikipedia (, “We the People (petitioning system),” rev. 11 Feb 2012.
  2. 1920 U.S. census, City of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1878, p. 3A (penned), dwelling 37, family 53, Agusta Schreinal and Amel Gramuller; digital image, ( : accessed 7 March 2010); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 348.
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22 Responses to Saving SSDI: it’s up to us

  1. Christine M. says:

    As far as the “it’s too hard” argument, let me say: it’s nothing, compared to trying to tear down your brick walls! It’s actually one of the easiest genealogical things you can do.

  2. Lois Mackin says:

    Judy, what a wonderful summary of the reasons the genealogical community needs to take action now! Perhaps the local, ethnic, and state societies are reluctant to step up because they are concerned about their 501(C)3 status.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Lois, there can be NO concern about a society’s 501(c)(3) status for informing its members of the existence of an issue and suggesting that they educate themselves on its implications. Each of them can let RPAC take the lead in calling for specific action — all the societies need to do is tell their members about RPAC’s website!

  3. Gale Gorman says:

    Whoever set up the protest made it unbelievably complicated. I tried to log on and sign this a month or so ago and it was never clear to me what I was asking for.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I know it’s not easy (and that’s not the fault of RPAC but the site itself). But it’s surely easier than trying to find the parents or death record on somebody without the SSDI to use, no?

  4. billie c. arbuckle says:

    I want the SSDI returned as it helps me find those relatives who have died in the last 70+ years. I do not always know where they died, other relatives are gone and this information is beneficial to my genealogical research. I just want to connect all my lines.

    Thank you

  5. Teresa says:

    I still don’t understand why signing a petition that seems to call for more governmental controls over information will help genealogists. I won’t sign something I don’t understand, nor will I sign a petition that seems to call for more interference in information access. Why can’t we have a straightforward petition to save the SSDI access?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      This doesn’t call for more control over information. It tells the IRS to use the records to make sure people don’t steal the account numbers of the deceased to commit tax fraud. Preventing tax fraud is the reason supporters of this legislation say the SSDI should be closed. What we’re saying here is: there’s another better way.

  6. Kathleen Nielson says:

    As a genealogist, I use the SSDI daily to help identify ancestors and would be lost without its availability. Please do not take this valuable resource from those of us who spend our time linking families together!

  7. Bill Dillon says:

    As a genealogist, I use to use the Social Security Death Index frequently in the course of my research. I would like to have continued access to that database.

    Thank you

  8. Why all of a sudden they realized this? Before I started genealogy I was surprised to learn my dad’s social securty was available on line. But since doing genealogy it is a valuable asset to us. Some times deaths aren’t listed
    in U.S. Death records but they are listed in the SSDI. Social Security charges enough for a application of a deceased person. There must another way to block criminals from using these records illegal.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There ARE other ways. That’s the point of the petition: if government used the records to ensure that nobody was misusing the numbers of deceased persons rather than closing the records, we’d all be better off.

  9. Robert J. Cota says:

    As a genealogist I use the Social Security Death Index often when doing research. I think it would be a shame for the Government to stop researchers from using this database.

    Thank You

  10. Etta Tederman says:

    I support any means to keep the records open for use for future generations
    and also for the present folks.

  11. Karen Hubbard says:

    Please keep the SSDI open

  12. This is important. I wish you luck.
    Sherry Alpert

  13. Gaines L Smith says:

    I use SSDI quite often in my family research.I would like to see it remain available to the public for this purpose.Thanks

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