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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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