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Monday, Dec 22, 2014

New limits on access to records aren’t as bad as predicted

BY SHARON TATE MOODY
Tribune correspondent

Published:

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Fears that access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and records of original applications for Social Security numbers (SS-5) would be closed to genealogists have haunted us for the past few years.

The fears have become a reality, but the situation isn’t as bad as some dreaded it would be.

When the president signed the budget bill into law on Dec. 26, it limited access to these two sets of records for three calendar years after an individual’s death.

Proponents of the new limitations argued it would save $60 billion by preventing identity theft and the filing of false tax returns. This apparently doesn’t fool anyone except those legislators who voted to limit access to the death index.

The law has two effective dates: It immediately restricted access to SS-5 records for anyone who died in the past three years. As of March 26, deaths within the past three years will not be added to the death index.

The death index is available online through several sources. Genealogists hope the providers of these records will not remove those that are currently online and only will stop adding additional records until after the three-year limitation is met.

A death index entry provides key information for researchers, including the deceased’s Social Security number, his last residence before death, a date of death and a date of birth.

The SS-5 is another treasure because generally it is handwritten by the ancestor himself. It, too, gives the Social Security number and date of birth. The real prize in this document, however, is that it names the full names of the applicant’s parents, including the mother’s maiden name.

This new law should have little impact on family historians who are more interested in earlier records. It probably will affect the work of forensic genealogists, but preparations are being made to seek exemptions for this specialized field of highly trained researchers who work in legal fields.

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The Board for Certification of Genealogists is issuing a revised Genealogy Standards Manual. This manual isn’t just for those who intend to seek certification.

“Accuracy is fundamental to genealogical research,” Thomas W. Jones writes in his introductory remarks in the new publication. “Without it a family’s history would be fiction. This manual presents the standards family historians use to obtain valid results. These standards apply to all genealogical research, whether shared privately or published.”

Those interested will get a price break, from $14.95 to $11.95, if they order before Jan. 27. Researchers can order the book at www.bcgcertification.org/catalog/index.html.

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I don’t normally recommend modern-day fiction novels, but I can’t resist suggesting that family historians will love John Grisham’s new “Sycamore Row.” I purchased the book because I love trial stories. I had no idea it would focus on an inheritance issue. The story, although entertaining, also illustrates the probate system, which is of such value to genealogists.

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If you’re still pondering attending the 2014 National Genealogical Society conference (this year in Richmond), check out the program content at http://tinyurl.com/lxrd4a9.

Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogical methodology questions and event announcements to her at stmoody0720@mac.com. She regrets she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching individuals. Past Heritage Hunting columns are available online at tbo.com, search words “Sharon Tate Moody.

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