Getting involved on the SSDI

A simple two-step plan

Reader Bill Williams responded almost immediately to yesterday’s blog post about yet another bill being introduced to limit, and eventually end, public access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

SSDI.plan“And what is the thing that is appropriate to do with our congressman?” he asks. “I may not have magic wand, but there is email and the magical device called a phone. I would like to help on my end.”

Good for you, Bill. We’re all going to need to get involved in this fight… and we need to do so wisely. Here’s a simple two-step plan.

1. Learn about the issues

The first step is to make sure we understand the issues involved in the SSDI fight. We have to have our facts straight and not sink access to one type of record in order to save access to another. It might sound easy to argue “it’s birth certificates, not Social Security numbers, that cause problems!” Right. And you know what would happen next, right? Right. We’d lose even more access to birth certificates.

So… don’t wing it! There are a lot of good resources out there to really understand the issues involved in records access, from organizations like the Records Preservation & Access Committee (a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) and the Massachusetts Genealogical Council. We can all start with these:

From the Records Preservation & Access Committee:

• “SSDI Talking Points 2013” (a Word .docx format document), PDF available here

• “RPAC Brochure The Case For Open Public Records May 2013

• Video: “Got Records? Threats to Genealogy Records Access,” featuring RPAC member Jan Meisels Allen, a good overview of RPAC and the issues confronting access to the SSDI and other records.

From the Massachusetts Genealogical Council:

• “White Paper: Framing a Discussion on Vital Records Access

• “How to Promote Open Access

And if you want to read through everything The Legal Genealogist has written on this subject since January 2012, this link will take you to those older posts. In particular, posts that may help include:

SSDI hearing: “no silver bullet”, 21 March 2012

SSDI: The art of the possible, 4 April 2012

Fraud prevention firm: keep SSDI public, 25 April 2012

SSDI still at risk, 9 May 2012

2. Teach our Congress member the facts

Once we’re sure we understand the ins and outs of the issue, the next step is to communicate what we know to our own individual member of Congress.

The simple truth is, members of Congress respond best to the people who are in a position to vote in their districts. Yes, we’ll all need to contact members of key committees when the anti-SSDI bills start coming up for hearings and action later this year, but right now we can all take time to educate our own representative.

The bottom line here is that nobody can get the ear of my Congressman here in the 7th District of New Jersey better than I can. And nobody can get the ear of your Congressman in your district in your state better than you can. Why? Because nobody else can look that member of Congress in the eye the way we can and say, simply and flatly, “Look, pal, I’m a genealogist and I vote. In your district.” We can all pick up the phone. We can all write letters. We can all let our own representatives know — we’re genealogists and we vote.

We can all find out who our representative is by simply entering a zip code into the Find Your Representative box at the House of Representatives website. And then, either one by one or joining with other genealogists and our local genealogical societies, we need to teach them the facts.

Members of Congress are home in the summers and on weekends. They are accessible at town meetings and local gatherings. We need to make appointments. Meet with them. At a minimum, send letters and emails. Educate them — teach them — about genealogy, genealogists and records access.

Bottom line: this fight is for all of us. And all of us can join in.

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13 Responses to Getting involved on the SSDI

  1. Is there a Twitter hashtag being used for SSDI records access, Judy?

  2. Lisa Marker says:

    Thank you for the guidance! I just read yesterday’s entry, and want to do something. Reading this, I feel empowered to do something that might very well make a difference!

  3. Barbara Busacca says:

    I would have no problem with Congress restricting public access to the SSDI for 10 years after a person’s death. Private access only to a direct family member to deal with an estate, etc. This would allow the families to clear out their loved ones’ estate matters. Other vital records are restricted for a certain number of years, such a births, marriages, deaths. But, the government has to do their due diligence and then find a way to flag the records so that if someone attempted to use them, they could be caught in short order. It was never intended to be used as it is today. Why can’t they come up with a way to not reveal the number, but use some other identifier so that genealogists would know they had the correct record?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Ten years is a very long time — and too long for the folks who do thing like work with the military to repatriate the remains of service members or work with coroners to locate next of kin. But yes, absolutely, government needs to do its job.

  4. Ben says:

    I like the idea of meeting one’s member of Congress ASAP, but let’s say I’m not able to do that. Do you think it’s more effective to contact the congressional offices now or wait until there is action on the bill? I suspect e-mails and calls go to low-level staffers, and I wonder if they would mostly ignore a message about a bill that’s not even out of committee yet.

  5. Emily says:

    IMHO, there are a number of valid reasons for wanting to verify that someone is deceased without staying in contact with that person’s close friends and family. E.g., one might want to know that an abusive ex-spouse is deceased. One might want to know that a regular recipient of your Christmas cards is deceased. A Catholic might want to know that an ex-spouse is deceased so that the person can re-marry in the Church. I think the SSDI should be kept open.

  6. Just wrote a letter to my congressman and included a link to ID Analytics’ blog and study. Thanks, Judy.

  7. This is a good action plan, Judy. I hope we all will follow it. I have learned the death dates of hundreds of ancestors/relatives from the SSDI. I’m saving your post.

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