RPAC at FGS San Antonio — Updated

With thanks to Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair

The Times They Are A-Changing, T219, 1:15 p.m.

The Records Preservation and Access Committee presents “The Times They Are A-Changing” on Thursday afternoon beginning at 1:15 p.m. in Room 207B.  Panelists Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair, Fred Moss, Counsel for FGS, and Jan Meisels Allen, Chair, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee will present an update on the several important state, federal, and international record access issues including the following:

  • Learn how the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act closed access to the Social Security Death Index for three years after each individual’s death unless certified by the Department of Commerce, and how RPAC is responding to the closure;
  • The 2011 Revision of the Model Vital Statistics Act has been introduced in several states, which if passed, embargos access to birth records for 125 years, marriage and divorce records for 100 years, and death records for 75 years.  What can you do in your state to preserve your access to Vital Records?
  • The European Union has new Data Privacy Regulations under consideration which include the “right to be forgotten.”
  • The genealogical community (sponsored by FGS, NGS, and IAJGS) has initiated a Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights. More than 3,500 have already signed the Declaration at the major conferences this year or online. Stop by the RPAC booth #604, sign the Declaration, and receive an “I signed the Declaration” sticker. Genealogists care about access to records and we vote.

The slides are now posted as the last item on the RPAC Blog Publications page at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/publications/ .

UPDATED 21 September 2014

With thanks to Teri E. Flack, the Texas RPAC State Liaison (and 2014 FGS Conference Co-Chair) we can also share her related presentation on “Effective Advocacy”:               effective advocacy-FGS 2014-final (2)

Audio recordings of both presentations are available at www.fleetwoodonsite.com

23765 = Effective Advocacy

23781 = RPAC Session – The Times They are A-Changin’

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BillionGraves and The Federation of Genealogical Societies partner to image all cemetery markers for War of 1812 Participants

Press Release:  War of 1812 Grave Markers with Billion Graves – 1 July 2014

BillionGraves and The Federation of Genealogical Societies partner to image all cemetery markers for War of 1812 Participants

The Federation of Genealogical Societies also launches a major fundraising campaign for the Preserve the Pensions Project to honor the memory of these veterans in the month of July

• Effort will include national War of 1812 cemeteries
• Includes persons with individual markers in local and private cemeteries
• July is a great month to remember the participants of the
“Second Revolution” as well as the American Revolution
• The Federation seeks to raise an average of $1,812 each day of July!

AUSTIN, TX – 1 JULY 2014 The Federation of Genealogical Societies and cemetery website BillionGraves announced today a joint project to image all of the gravestone markers for participants of the War of 1812. “The images from these markers, coupled with the Federation’s current project to raise the funds to digitize the 7.2 million images of the pensions for those who participated in the War of 1812 are a natural fit,” said D. Joshua Taylor, President of FGS.

Hudson Gunn, President of BillionGraves said, “This July our focus is to see that the nation’s military headstones are documented and preserved for future generations. Headstones from early American history are quickly deteriorating, making it only a matter of time before they are lost forever. We are very pleased to have the Federation lend its help to spread this message for the War of 1812 veterans.” It is estimated that as many as 350,000 men may have served in the war. Although it is impossible to know how many may have cemetery markers, there could be as many as 50,000-80,000 markers for these veterans.

BillionGraves and The Federation of Genealogical Societies are asking anyone with knowledge of a cemetery marker for a War of 1812 veteran to upload the image of the marker to the BillionGraves website (www.billiongraves.com) using their free mobile application during the month of July to honor and remember the service of those who served in the “Second Revolution.”

If you upload an image for a War of 1812 veteran during the month of July or anytime thereafter, please let us know on Facebook or Twitter by using the hashtag #1812today and/or #warof1812 and/or #billiongraves. The Federation will also be posting the progress toward the fundraising goal of $1,812 per day on Facebook and Twitter, so check often and pass the word!

The efforts from these two organizations will provide a very valuable asset for researchers and historians researching 1812 veterans. With the Federation raising awareness of the project to digitize the War of 1812 pension records during the month of July and BillionGraves making the cemetery markers of War of 1812 veterans immediately searchable, it should be an exciting month for all genealogists and historians – everyone wins!

Those interested in preserving this valuable piece of America’s documented history can make a single contribution or become a monthly contributor of the Preserve the Pensions project. For more information, go to http://www.preservethepensions.org/ .

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Genealogists Initiate a Declaration of Rights

With thanks to Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair

Richmond, 10 May 2014: Jordan Jones, President of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), a sponsoring member of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), announced the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights before a crowd of more than 2,500 genealogists attending the Opening Session of the NGS 2014 Family History Conference in Richmond, Virginia on 7 May 2014.

The Declaration of Rights is a statement advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. The Declaration affirms America’s long history of open public records, which has been threatened the last few years over concerns about identity theft and privacy. The Records Preservation and Access Committee has worked with state and federal legislators as well as local public officials for more than twenty years in support of legislation and regulations that achieve a balance between access and privacy. The Declaration of Rights has been approved by the board of directors of the three sponsoring organizations: The National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).

Jan Alpert


Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair signing the Genealogists Declaration of Rights.  You can too!

During the NGS 2014 Family History Conference this week, genealogists from almost all fifty states have signed the Declaration of Rights. Over the next few months, the Declaration will travel to the 34th IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Salt Lake City, Utah, 27 July–1 August 2014 and the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in San Antonio, Texas, 27–30 August 2014. The Declaration will also be available for signature at http://bit.ly/gen-declaration  by genealogists not attending one of the conferences. . . .

To see the full press release:  Press Release RPAC Declaration of Rights Ver4 (3)

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Commerce Certification Program — Request for Information & Public Hearing


Lessons from the Public Hearing of 4 March 2014

I was privileged to participate in the public meeting Monday, March 4, 2014, in person with representatives of other vitally interested stakeholders, along with 111 remote participants via the World Wide Web.  My testimony on that day relied heavily upon our analysis of an earlier version of what was to become Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act reflected in the RPAC Feedback on the Tax Administration Reform Discussion Draft submitted to the Senate Finance Committee on January 17, 2014 and made a part of the administrative record of this process as the last item posted at http://www.ntis.gov/pdf/rfi-comments.docx.  Additional comments were also provided by several individual genealogists and genealogical organizations and providers.

As reflected in the transcript at http://www.ntis.gov/products/dmf-transcript2014.aspx my initial remarks challenge the premise upon which Section 203 is based, namely that limiting access to the Death Master File was a necessary measure to thwart the filing of fraudulent tax returns by thieves claiming the identities of recently deceased children.  I asserted that even if thieves had acquired the SSNs of deceased persons from the DMF, if they then tried to take out a mortgage or bank loan, buy a car, open a credit card or charge account, or acquire telephone service at their apartment, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN REJECTED.  All of these potential creditors would have used the DMF themselves to verify that the SSNs did not belong to a person already authoritatively reported to be deceased.  In 2011, if the thieves were using the DMF, the IRS clearly WAS NOT (but we argue should have been!)  According to the testimony of the then acting IRS Commissioner before the Senate Finance Committee on the 16th of April 2013, for Tax Year 2012 the IRS had implemented filters that should have improved their ability to intercept fraudulent tax returns before they were processed for payment.  http://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=62739085-5056-a032-5281-4500bf4d4fb3

The vulnerability to the filing of fraudulent tax returns by identity theft rests at the IRS.  It is not the result of making the “burned” SSNs of deceased persons publicly available in the DMF.  The authors of this proposal should not claim to be effectively protecting us from identity theft by restricting access to this resource.  IRS vulnerabilities have recently been getting more attention:  http://www.grassley.senate.gov/issues/upload/Grassley-to-IRS-Return-Review-Program-4-21-14.pdf

After all who had signed up to speak had done so, the last hour of the public hearing was devoted to having the attendees respond to questions posed by the NTIS representatives hosting the event.  Among the topics addressed:  http://www.ntis.gov/pdf/2014dmf-transcript.pdf

  1. Alternatives to the DMF pp.45-58
    1. With all its flaws, DMF best resource currently available.
    2. Ms. Yohe of the College of Thoracic Surgeons at  p.52 lists as criteria: definition, timeliness, costs
    3. My comments at pp. 53-56
    4. Alarm that DMF being incrementally dismantled.
    5. Pleas for a more comprehensive DMF p.64
  2. Addressed distinctions between “use” and “disclosure”  pp.58-59
  3. Third party/subscriber access pp.75-79

Colleagues are invited to review my extemporaneous responses to the questions posed by the NTIS representatives hosting the public hearing and offer any suggestions by email to  access@fgs.org on how they might be improved.

Much more to come

UPDATED LINKS TO ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMENTS:  http://www.ntis.gov/products/ssa-dmf/#  Scroll down to paragraph entitled “Previous Requests for Comments.”


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First Review of the New Limited Access Death Master File

With thanks to Dee Dee King, the first genealogist I know of to be Certified for access to the new Limited Access Death Master File (DMF):

“Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy has published a special edition of its newsletter Forensic Genealogy News.  This edition contains an article “Demystifying the DMF.”  This addresses a brief history of the Death Master File, the recent controversy surrounding it, my experience in applying to be certified for the new Limited Access Death Master File, and what I discovered once access was gained and I actually started using the new DMF.

“Some myths have been debunked and new information about the DMF is discussed that is not currently available elsewhere.  Please feel free to share the link to the newsletter with others in the genealogical community.  The article is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without advance permission.  A source citation is included for those who wish to quote the article.

“Go to the Resources page

and click the link for Vol 4 #3 Special DMF Edition.”


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RPAC & NAPHSIS at NGS Conference

National Genealogical Society Luncheon

Patricia W. Potrzebowski                                                                     

Patricia W. Potrzebowski

Vital Statistics Registrars and Genealogists: 

We Need to Talk!


S431, Saturday, 10 May 2014, at 12:15 p.m.

Patricia W. Potrzebowski, PhD, Executive Director of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information, will be the featured speaker at the National Genealogical Society luncheon. The title of her talk is “Vital Statistics Registrars and Genealogists: We Need to Talk!” NGS has selected this topic to emphasis the importance of access to vital records for genealogists. Ms. Potrzeboski’s talk will cover the following key points:

• What do state registrars of vital records and genealogists have in common?

• How can state registrars and genealogists work together more effectively to achieve mutual goals?

• Why privacy, confidentiality, and security of vital records matter to all of us.

Patricia W. Potrzebowski, Ph.D. has been the Executive Director of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems since January, 2011.  Information about NAPHSIS can be found at http://www.naphsis.org.

Previously, Trish served as the Director, Bureau of Health Statistics and Research at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, where she worked for more than 35 years.

While there, Trish established the first designated State Center for Health Statistics in the nation, implemented an award winning statewide cancer incidence registry and immunization registry, and directed the state’s vital statistics system.  In 2001 she launched the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) program with funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to provide clinical, biomedical, and health services research grants each year to universities, hospitals, and other research organizations located in Pennsylvania.

Trish earned her Ph.D. in human genetics from the Department of Biostatistics of the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh. She is a former President of NAPHSIS and received the Halbert L. Dunn Award in 1991 for her contributions to national and state health statistics systems.  Trish chaired the Panel to Evaluate the U.S. Standard Certificates that created the 2003 revised certificates, and was also a member of the 2011 Model Law Revision Work Group.

UPDATE:  The PowerPoint slides from her presentation have been authorized for  posting to this Blog by NAPHSIS as of 15 March 2017:  NGS family history presentation 5-6-2014

Luncheon tickets can be purchased for $32.00 at http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/event-registration/ through 22 April 2014. Register now before the luncheon sells out.

Also mark your conference schedule to attend the Records Preservation and Access Committee session, Thursday, 8 May 2014, 4:00 p.m., “RPAC: Access to Vital Records is Under Attack! How Can You Help?”

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Connecticut — New Threat to Genealogists: Senate Bill 414 — Updated

With thanks to Dr. Robert L. Rafford, RPAC State Liaison for Connecticut:

SB414-Year2014_002 (2)

“Please forward this e-mail on to any genealogical or historical group or individual who might be affected by this legislation:


Senate Bill 414 poses an immediate threat to genealogists and comes before the Public Health Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) tomorrow, Friday, March 14, at 10:30 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. I urge everyone to join me there at the hearing and, if you can, present testimony in person. If you cannot be there, you can still submit testimony which will become a part of the permanent record by sending your testimony to PHC.Testimony@cga.ct.gov. It need not be fancy – just let all members know that this is an outrageous assault on the rights of American citizens known as genealogists. Please also contact the members of the Public Health Committee; the membership list can be found at http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/MemberList.asp?comm_code=PH. Please also contact your local legislators. Tell them that you want them not to give a pass to this shocking and probably illegal proposal.


Here are the facts:


The current statute states that genealogists have access to “all vital records in the custody of any registrar of vital statistics, including certificates, ledgers, record books, card files, indexes and database printouts,  “during all normal business hours.” The proposed legislation would delete “during all normal business hours” and would add this sentence:


A registrar of vital statistics may grant a genealogist immediate access to such records or may require a genealogist to schedule an appointment to access such records, at the registrar’s discretion. A registrar requiring an appointment for access to such records shall schedule such appointment as soon as reasonably practicable.”


This legislation is wrong for these reasons:

1)    It would gut the existing provision regarding “normal business hours” access; that right was emphasized in the revised 1996 legislation (I was one of its authors) because registrars were unfairly treating genealogists as if our requests were “frivolous,” whereas the business of others was “serious.” It simply meant that genealogists were not second-class citizens and should be served on a first-come-first-served basis like everyone else.


2)    It would demand that all genealogists contact a town hall first because we would never know whether an appointment is necessary before research. If you have ever attempted to telephone a vital record office of a city in Connecticut, you know that this would make research a nightmare.


3)    It would allow all registrars the power to put off for days, weeks or longer any researcher wishing to legally access the public (death. marriage, land, and all other) records of our government until they deem it is “reasonably practicable.” While Connecticut spends millions of dollars trying to attract the tourist trade to our state, this would heartily discourage them from coming here, staying in hotels, eating in our restaurants, going to our attractions and researching in our libraries and especially town halls, as they do now for weeks at a time.


4)    The most egregious part of this legislation is that it would single out a particular class of American citizens, genealogists, whether acting from an avocation or conducting a business, for adverse treatment. This is legally impermissible. Others who regularly make records requests of registrars are attorneys, funeral directors, title searchers, real estate agents, heads of municipalities, soccer moms, veterans, medical researchers, officials from state and federal agencies and departments, police departments, adoption agencies, statisticians, newspaper reporters, authors, biographers and other members of the general public. Not one of these groups would be adversely affected by this legislation – just genealogists.


Tell them that, as a genealogist, you do not want to lose your status as American citizens simply because your reason for making legal requests may be different from that of others, nor can your requests be treated as inferior to those of other citizens. In this country, all must be treated equally under the law.


The bill is ostensibly from the Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Jewell Mullen (see her at http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?a=3115&q=473414). Visit her page and send her a complaining message too. She was probably importuned by a small handful of registrars, but we don’t know; because this is a short session of the legislature, bills are not introduced by individual legislators, so tracking the origin of this proposal is most difficult.


More information about the bill and the names of all legislators can be found at http://www.cga.ct.gov. You should become as familiar with this site as possible (this may become a yearly event!). It is possible to track the progress on this legislation by clicking “bill tracking” at the upper right corner; then, when a change is made, you will receive an e-mail letting you know of the change. To find the wording of this bill, simply type in “414” in the box at the top labeled “Number,” then click on “Raised Bill” and a pdf copy of the bill should pop up.


Thank you so much for your help with this crisis. Your individual support is absolutely essential to defeating this threat.

UPDATED 28 Mar 2014:

RPAC Member Barbara Matthews has shared the following report from Tom Howard:

“Dear Friends in Genealogy:

The note just received from 6th District and Co-Chairman of the Public Health Committee Senator Gerratana’ s office has confirmed that SB 414 has failed to get out of the committee to the floor of the State Senate and House because of the outpouring of letters, phone calls and e mails received and testimony given at the public hearing on the bill.

We feel confident that the bill is dead and will stay dead for this session. We will remain vigilant that the matter will not appear as amendments to other bills. We ask that you thank senators and representatives for any help they have given us while asking them to continue to watch for any matters affecting genealogists.

Robert Rafford, Nora Galvin and I thank you again for your help in getting the message out.


Tom Howard

Genealogical Coalition 2014

Steering Committee

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Commerce Certification Program — We’ve only just begun! Updated

The Bipartisan Budget Act included provisions limiting immediate access to the SSA Death Master File to all but those certified under a program to be developed by the Department of Commerce.

Commerce intends to follow a robust notice and comment process in the development of the Certification Program.   Expect an announcement of a Request for Information (RFI) to be published shortly in the Federal Register and on the project web page at:  http://www.ntis.gov/products/ssa-dmf.aspx  .  It is also likely that some form of a public hearing will follow.

Updated 2 March:  On the 26th of February the anticipated Request for Information became  available on the NTIS site above with the official publication in the Federal Register to follow.  DMF NOTICE (2)

The RFI also announces a public meeting at which members of the public may provide comments on the establishment of the certification program for access to the DMF in person on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm Eastern time at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Madison Building West, 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA 22341.

RPAC representatives are planning to participate in this public hearing.  Attendance of others (and the conduct of the hearing itself) may be influenced by a forecasted winter storm.  While we do not want to discourage others from attending this public hearing, concern for safety should be a major factor in your decision to do so.  If you anticipate that you will be able to attend, please email access@fgs.org and provide your contact information so that we may know of your availability and interest.

RPAC and component organizations are planning to provide comments on the RFI within the specified 15 days from the Federal Register publication date.  If published as promised on 3 March, that would be 5pm Eastern on Tuesday, 18 March.  Other individuals and organizational members of the genealogical community (especially those for whom a three year delay before having access to the DMF/SSDI would be problematic) are strongly encouraged to comment on the RFI as well.

After analyzing the comments in response to this RFI we understand that a proposed draft of the certification program contemplated by the Bipartisan Budget Act will be published  to be followed by what we hope will be a further robust notice and comment process.

Stay tuned.



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Senate Finance Committee — Tax Administration Discussion Drafts

RPAC and IAJGS  responded to the Senate Finance Committee invitation to provide input on Reforms to Administration of Tax Laws issued November 20, 2013 found at:  http://www.finance.senate.gov/newsroom/chairman/release/?id=a4f8205c-d286-4a41-a61d-753d1abd23d3  Of particular interest to the genealogical community are those provisions that would attempt to address tax fraud by identity theft by limiting access to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

RPAC Feedback to SFC Discussion Draft 20 Jan 2013 Final2

And with thanks to Michael S. Ramage, J.D., CG

Exhibit A 2014 forensic genealogists

IAJGS Comments for Senate Finance Committee final c (2)

We continue to urge immediate access for all genealogists but acknowledge that a three year delay before display of SSNs in the Death Master File/SSDI, if otherwise needed, would be manageable for most of us.  We list categories of genealogists for whom a three year delay would be problematic and who should be certified for immediate access.


We offer four main points:

(1)   We are anxious to support the effort to implement the provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act requiring the Department of Commerce to develop a Certification Program governing access to the Death Master File. Genealogists who fit the (a-f) categories listed on pages 2-3 should be accommodated for quick certification. The genealogical community is a vitally interested stakeholder in this process.


(2)   As existing policy regarding public access to the Death Master File is reviewed, we urge that input from professional genealogists be sought.  The members of the Records Preservation and Access Committee stand ready to assist in arranging for that input to both the Executive and Legislative branches. We can best be reached at access@fgs.org .


(3)   Our strongest message is that steps already taken by the IRS and genealogical entities to protect SSNs listed in the SSDI may have already intercepted this particular form of identity theft without waiting for any additional legislation.


(4)   The SSNs of living people will remain vulnerable as long as the IRS mandate is to rush payments of tax refunds before information returns can be compared with the submitted return to assure its validity.



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Death Master File (SSDI) Comes Out of Obscurity!

Roughly two years ago the parents of recently deceased children began finding that the IRS was rejecting  their legitimate tax returns because the identities of their children had previously been used by thieves to claim fraudulent refunds.  Prior to those events, it is unlikely that these parents (or most legislators) had even heard of the Social Security Death Index (aka the Death Master File) nor the role it should play in preventing such predations.

The inclusion of provisions that might limit access to the DMF in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement recently adopted by the Congress, has encouraged the press to begin to try to explain what it is and how it functions for good and ill.

a.  “Death Master File reform breathes life into U.S. budget deal


b. Newsweek Article with a Zombie theme


c.  The American Thinker article by Ken Ryesky


d.  Commerce Department DMF Web Site


Please take advantage of (and seek out) every opportunity to share with your elected representatives the message “WHEN USED, the DMF should prevent fraud, not cause it ! ! ! !”

Congressional State and District Work Periods scheduled in January might be a good time to schedule a visit with your Senators and Representatives in their local offices.


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