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The Value of Open Public Records
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MGC's NERGC Panel on Open Records: Citizens Can Make a Difference
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How many deaths before the SSDI gets updated again?
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Recent blog posts
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The Value of Open Public Records Sponsored by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and the Boston Public Library 6-7:30 pm Monday November 9, 2015 Commonwealth Salon, Boston Public Library, Copley Square The program is free, registration is not required. Attendees are encouraged to express their opinions and concerns in this open forum for discussion. Sharon Sergeant, MGC Vice President, will moderate a multidisciplinary panel of experts and attendees to discuss how open public records benefit our society and citizens in practical applications today. Massachusetts was an early adopter of open public records:From the Body of Liberties, Approved by the Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court in 1639 and published in 1641. We will discuss how open public records benefit our society and citizens, ensuring that all laws and regulations are followed to protect civil rights, inheritance and property rights, historical and medical research advancement, records preservation and access as well as the repatriation...
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  Please join us at our Panel on Open Records, to be held at 1:45 PM on Saturday, April 18th, in session S-324, at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Citizens can make an impact on our laws and regulations at several points in the legislative process: By working to submit bills that meet our needs and interests. By commenting on those bills as they go through the process of hearings and readings (votes). By continuing to be involved as legislation is implemented through regulation. Our panelists have insight on how citizens stay involved in government activities involving their interests. Please welcome Judy, Helen, and Teresa, all fresh from the trenches of advocating for access. The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, is a genealogist with a law degree. She writes, teaches and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical topics, ranging from using...
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  On 26 December 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the 2013 Ryan-Murray Budget Compromise Bill. Paul Ryan and Patty Murray chaired the joint Senate-House committee that came to the budget agreement. Congress is mandated to pass budgets that balance, which means that every new cost in the budget must be offset by a tax, fee, or savings. Section 203 of the budget bill describes a savings that is an offset to other costs. We discussed the ramifications of Section 203 last December. The National Technical Information Systems (NTIS) is the government division that sells the underlying database that the big genealogy websites put up as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). As a result of the 2013 budget bill, NTIS had to enact two different levels of SSDI access. One level was for genealogists who could no longer access death information until the end of the third calendar...
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At the National Genealogical Society's Conference in Richmond, Virginia last week, the Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC) announced the Genealogists' Declaration of Rights: 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. RPAC 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). To read the full press release click here: Press Release RPAC Declaration of Rights Ver4 (3). Now is the time to speak...
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  Members of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council board braved the elements in December to present the first of two talks introducing genealogy to State House staffers. By all accounts it was a great success and we are happy to announce the second talk in the series. Please join us! Learning about Family History Tuesday, March 18, 12:00pm – 1:30pm State Library, Massachusetts State House, Room 442 Bring your lunch and listen to Sharon Sergeant, Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt,CG, and Mary Ellen Grogan talk about the resources and techniques used to discover the story of your family. This is a follow-up to the talk on genealogy given on December 11. We will be discussing different aspects of research, but you will be able to follow the talk even if you weren’t able to attend in December. Sharon will be talking about various records and how one set of records will lead to...
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Boston vaccination drive in 1902.[1] The Massachusetts Genealogical Council sent me to Phoenix, Arizona, last summer[2] to attend the national conference of the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, an organization involving the vital statistics registrars in the 50 states, cities of Washington, DC, and New York, NY, and five U.S. territories. I was to learn what concerns registrars, what drives them, and what we could do to support the registrar here in Massachusetts. Little did I know that this would lead me to a Supreme Court case, coercive vaccinations, a founder of NEHGS, and the state vital record database. Only a fraction of the conference attendees were registrars. The majority of attendees were public health statisticians, working for agencies such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, similar agencies in other states and in Arizona’s counties, the Indian Health Service, the Veterans Administration hospitals, the U.S....
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  The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is the public face of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF), opened to the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The SSDI is only 60% as large as its parent, the DMF. Different federal agencies have access to one or the other in the course of performing their duties. For example, the IRS has full access to the DMF but Homeland Security and the Justice Department are only permitted to see the reduced SSDI.[1] One of the biggest causes of the difference in size between the two files is the November 2011 redaction from the SSDI by the Social Security Administration of 4.5 million deaths, 2.5 million of them in Florida, a red-hot zone for consumer identity theft.[2] Genealogy websites providing access to the SSDI also redact some information from the file. The subscription websites voluntarily stopped including social...
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The Civil Records Committee wants you to know about upcoming changes to the information genealogists will be able to access in the Social Security Death Index. These changes are part of the revenue-generating provisions in the bipartisan budget compromise bill that is currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress. The bill passed the House of Representatives last night. It will be heard in the Senate soon. The changes to the SSDI will take place 90 days after the budget bill passes and is signed into law. The revenue-generating provision mandates that any death reported to the Social Security Administration be withheld from the Social Security Death Index until the end of the calendar year following the third anniversary. This means that a death that takes place, let's say, July 4, 2014, will not appear in the SSDI until January 1, 2018. We and others have blogged about the upcoming changes. You...
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Here at MGC, we’ve been watching the U.S. government confront the massive issue of fraudulent payments. The IRS has been hemorrhaging money by issuing refunds to people without checking to see if the tax returns are truthful. The scope of this problem is staggering. See our post, “The Bottom Line on Tax Fraud? $5 Billion per Year,” from August 5th, 2012. Of that $5 billion, $415 million in potentially fraudulent returns were issued to dead people. As the Washington Post showed in its November 3rd, 2012, infographic, the IRS receives a full list of the nation’s dead from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. The IRS simply wasn’t bothering to check tax returns against the DMF before they issued refunds. The U.S. Congress has been watching this situation and has called administrators in for questioning. Over the past two years, the IRS has made some progress in halting fraudulent...
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  Massachusetts Genealogical Council  Annual Meeting and Seminar  Save the date! July 26, 2014   Holiday Inn Conference Center, Mansfield, MA Conveniently located near the intersection of I-95 and I-495   Click here to see the three tracks of talks.   And click here to read all about our speakers!   Enjoy a continental breakfast, and plated luncheon with your choice of chicken or four-cheese lasagna meal with dessert, themed table topics, and more!    Early registration for MGC members at only $60 begins in February.  Non-member early registration: $70. Late registration $80.   Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for vendor news, additional program features and prizes! Check hashtag #MGC2014 for updates.  ...
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Tuesday, December 17th 12:00-1:30pm Massachusetts State House, Room 442 The Massachusetts State Library, located at the Massachusetts State House, holds a monthly Brown Bag Lunch. The attendees tend to be from the Massachusetts Legislature and other offices in the State House, probably more aides and administrative staff than legislators.  The Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) will present "Learning About Your Family History" at a Brown Bag Lunch on December 17th. MGC was founded in 1980 and is the umbrella organization representing Massachusetts genealogists, historical societies, and individuals concerned about records preservation and free and unfettered access to civil records. MGC serves as the records access watchdog and provides a reality check for the Massachusetts legislature regarding access issues. Thanks in large part to efforts by MGC, Massachusets is one of very few states where the public is still able to access all vital records. MGC President Mary Ellen Grogan says, "We want...
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healthpedigree
When you visit your doctor do you have to fill out a lengthy family health history questionnaire? Physicians use these to diagnose and treat us because it helps them assess our risk factors for certain diseases. You can blow your doctor away by completing a family health pedigree and bringing it to your next appointment! But what if you don't know your family members' exact cause of death or ages at death? Sometimes this information does not get passed down in families because it is too sad, or just too long ago. And frequently you'll hear a cause of death as "old age" or "broken heart." So what can you do if you want more exact details? If you are lucky enough to live in Massachusetts you can pay a visit to the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics at Columbia Point in Dorchester, right off Route 93. Massachusetts death records up...
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FGS 2013 Pres. Citation to MGC-smaller
Every year, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) holds a large national genealogical conference. The highlight of the conference for MGC this year was being awarded a Presidential Citation from D. Joshua Taylor, President of FGS, in recognition of our outstanding work in ensuring records access for genealogists! When our FGS delegate was called to the front of the huge hall to accept the award in front of all of her peers she was quite tickled and very proud. More than 1,500 genealogists gathered this year in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to learn, share, network and stock up on reading material! FGS members include genealogical societies, libraries, family societies, archives and companies, and all share the goal of studying the history of families. Regular ol' genealogists attended the conference in abundance and were not disappointed. MGC had a presence in the Exhibit Hall in the area known as Society Showcase, a small, village-like...
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  Jan Meisels Allen discusses PRAMC activities.Photograph by Barbara Mathews.   Early in August Boston had the honor of hosting the annual convention of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. The Park Plaza was abuzz for a full week of presentations, an exhibit hall, and cultural events. Many MGC officers and members attended. I was there on Monday for a presentation of IAJGS's Public Records Access and Monitoring Committee (PRAMC) given in conjuction with the Records Access and Preservation Committee here in the U.S.. Jan Meisels Allan, Kenneth Ryesky, and Janet Alpert presented the well-attended Monday session. There was a lot of material to cover. PRAMC looks at records access issues internationally. The European Union is considering a General Data Protection Plan. Among the types of data considered for protection are the materials that genealogists commonly access. People would be required to opt-in to having their information accessed in the...
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  Did you know about Ancestry's Guest Account or NEHGS's Free Account? Two of the biggest paid subscription sites for New England genealogy include free-access materials on their websites. In addition, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has an entirely free site at FamilySearch.org. Many people on budgets have been accessing any or all of these sites at libraries and Family History Centers. I just thought it would be nice to go over what you can access from home. Here's a little more information on these free or guest services.   New England Historic Genealogical Society's AmericanAncestors.org Here are the databases that are free at the New England Historic Genealogy Society's website: Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 Social Security Death Index NEHGS Library Catalog  Irish Immigrant Advertisements, 1831-1920 Index to Revolutionary War Pensioners New York Wills, 1626-1836 Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Gloucester, MA: Burials  Ware, MA...
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  On April 16, 2013, tweetmyjobs.com published a help wanted notice for a Registrar of Vital Records and Statistics Administrator VIII for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was a day shift job with a salary range from $48,478.04 to $118,278.12 per year at a facility at 150 Mt. Vernon Street, Dorchester. Yes, the job at the top of the Department of Vital Records and Statistics was vacant. Early in June our previous registrar, Stan Nyberg, was awarded a lifetime membership in the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems to recognize his retirement. Quoting from the posting, here are the job requirements: 1. Seven - ten years of managerial experience, at least three - five years of which is in health care administration, public health, public administration or business operations.2. Masters or doctoral level education in a relevant discipline, i.e., Public Health, Public Administration, Health Care Administration or Business...
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  FamilySearch.org, the free access website managed by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, recently opened an image base containing 5.776 million Massachusetts deeds. They are arranged by county and within each county by book. The image base includes the grantor and grantee indexes as well as the deed volumes themselves. With this image base, we can now experience deed research much as we would standing in the registrar of deeds office ourselves. We can look up something in the index and then pull the correct volume to find the deed. To make these images accessible, FamilySearch provides a description on the FamilySearch Wiki, which you can view here. The landing page within FamilySearch for the land record images is here. This information has hit the genealogy community by storm. Following so quickly on the heels of accessible images for Massachusetts vital records, it is exciting....
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    During the first day of the National Genealogy Society's 2013 conference, three events focused on records access. Harold Henderson, CG, the luncheon speaker for the Association of Professional Genealogists discussed "It's Not Just the SSDI: How We Can Advocate for Genealogy While Still Practicing It." He painted a bleak picture, noting that we often are on the defensive in protecting records access. We need to "keep the toothpaste in the tube" by showing an interest broader than our personal families. Just as it's too hard to put toothpaste back in a tube, it is also too hard to get access to records that have already been closed to the public. Harold advised us to be involved in all levels of government action, from legislating bills to developing regulations. Melinde Lutz Sanborn, CG, FASG, past vice president of MGC and current president of the American Society of Genealogists, titled her...
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Emergency Room Entrance
  Richard McCoy was a member of the records access panel sponsored by MGC at NERGC 2013. His information on medical records and issues of confidentiality and errors struck chords with everyone. Rich has sent us a list of stories on this topic to share. Thank you, Rich!  Jordan Robertson, "How Medical Identity Theft Can Give You a Headache that Will Last for Years," Bloomburg Business News, posted 8 Nov 2012; http://go.bloomberg.com/tech-blog/2012-11-08-how-medical-identity-theft-can-give-you-a-decade-of-headaches/ : viewed 23 April 2013. Angelo Young, "Your Hospital Records Might Not Be As Safe from an Identity Theft As You Think," International Business Times, posted 10 February 2012; http://www.ibtimes.com/your-hospital-records-might-not-be-safe-identity-thief-you-think-1074552 : viewed 23 April 2013. David Schultz, "As Patients' Records Go Digital, Theft and Hacking Problems Grow," Kaiser Health News, posted 3 June 2012; http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2012/June/04/electronic-health-records-theft-hacking.aspx : viewed 23 April 2013. Federal Trade Commission, "Medical Identity Theft," Consumer Information; http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0171-medical-identity-theft : viewed 23 April 2013.   Photograph Courtesy of Microsoft...
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MGC took on several responsibilities at the 2013 New England Regional Genealogical Conference last week in Manchester, New Hampshire. We ran a discussion on Open Records, we sponsored a luncheon, we put on a special interest group, and we had a booth in the exhibit hall. Records Access Panel We had looked forward to having Thomas MacEntee as our panel discussion moderator. From Chicago, Thomas led a discussion on records access at an annual meeting of the Association of Professional Genealogists. We adopted his format which included skits to make it more interesting for the audience. Alas, there were torrential rains in Chicago and the flooding there together with airline computer problems nixed his attendance at NERGC completely. With Thomas's inspired format, we began to panic. Micheal Leclerc, Genealogist and blogger at Mocavo.com, came to our rescue. He was willing to take on the improvisation as well as moderate a discussion...
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MGC Civil Records Co-Director Mary Ellen Grogan is our watchdog for bills in the Massachusetts legislature on Beacon Hill. She summarizes the situation here. The Massachusetts Genealogical Council monitors legislative and administrative activities of governmental agencies which affect genealogists and family history researchers. We sponsor and support legislation designed to expand the resources and accessibility of research services; and, where appropriate, we oppose laws and regulations which limit or close access to records. In the last ten years, significant efforts have been made on both state and federal levels to close records that have been traditionally used by genealogists. The impetus behind these efforts is not completely clear, but arguments center on issues of privacy. In most cases, closure of records to genealogists is not the result of actual legislation but of local regulations and the interpretation of these issues by records custodians. HIPAA, the Patriot Act, and identity theft have...
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After two days of sponsored activities, Saturday gives MGC officers and directors a chance to spend time in the exhibit hall booth and to attend lectures. The exhibit hall is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. MGC is in booth 101. As you walk in the main entrance, we are in the first aisle of booths. The booth is filled with take-aways. Don't miss information about our upcoming Annual Meeting and Seminar on July 20th in Worcester. The seminar features the dynamic speaker Judy Russell, CG, CGL. Friday needs a bit of recapping. Laura Prescott did a fantastic job as our luncheon speaker yesterday. She delighted us with stories of records access from Massachusetts and from throughout the U.S. She gave us many ideas for approaching the "gatekeepers" of repositories and government offices. She closed by rallying us to work for access and preservation. MGC also hosted a Special Interest Group...
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Lunch, sponsored by MGC, features Laura Prescott Laura's lunch topic is "Jousting with the Gatekeepers."  Lunch requires pre-registration. If I don't run, soon, I'll be late myself... Special Interest Group: "Records Access Denied?" Tonight NERGC features the Special Interest Groups, or SIGs. They are designed to be information get-togetheres around interesting topics. They start at 7:00 and end at 9:00. (The end time of 10 is a typo in today's program.) Our SIG will be on the 12th floor of the conference hotel, in the Governor's Suite. We will have a wonderful nighttime view of Manchester and surrounding towns. Come by just for the view if you want. Our informal program plan is to have a mini-workshop. We'll have our laptops there. Tell us what state your are from and we'll figure out how to use the internet to find out if your legislature is considering bills that might limit your...
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MGC's Access to Records for Genealogists -- 3:15-4:15 pm, in the Stark Room. It's not just your average panel discussion! Today's MGC Open Records Access discussion will include some fun as well. The Massachusetts Genealogical Council is sponsoring "Access to Records for Genealogists" from 3:15 to 4:15 in the Stark room. You don't want to miss this one. Thomas MacEntee will be our emcee and moderator. After a brief panel discussion about issues, we will move into an improvisational skit. Come get a few laughs while you learn about the sense and complete nonsense of SSDI closure to prevent tax fraud. Thomas MacEntee, Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt, Richard McCoy (vital records registrar of Vermont), Sharon E Sergeant and Barbara Mathews will acting the parts of a U.S. Congressional staff person, a newspaper reporter, a police detective, a victim of identity theft, and a genealogy society leader. Who gets which role????? Come and...
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Multiple state governments
  In the U.S., there are 57 varieties of vital statistics: the fifty states, five territories, Washington, DC, and New York City keep vital statistics in their own systems. The federal government requires reporting to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and to the Social Security Administration, to name just two. To do this, all 57 entities and the federal government must agree on how to transmit information. There are two ways in which these groups work together. The 57 recording entities are involved in the non-governmental National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS). From its side, DHHS has evolved the Model Act and Regulations, a set of suggestions about how individual states can enact law and develop regulations about how to implement that law. The states are not required to implement the Model Act and...
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Genealogical societies in Oklahoma and Georgia are asking for our support now. If you are concerned about records access in these states, please consider supporting the efforts of genealogists in them to keep records available. In Oklahoma, a law enacted in 2011 limited access to all vital records to those people named in them. The regulations caught up to the law recently with serious repercussions, particularly for death records. If you have been denied a death record from Oklahoma in the last two years, please send a description of your experience to this email address: news@okgensoc.org. In Georgia, there continues to be serious concern about the ability of the Georgia State Archives to remain open to researchers. Right now the state legislature is considering two bills. One would move management of the archives from the Secretary of State’s office to the University of Georgia System. The other, put forward by the...
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Nora Galvin is the president and government relations liaison of the Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council, and president of the Connecticut Ancestry Society. Nora serves as a great example today, showing us how genealogists can speak up on behalf of keeping access to public records free. Today she is presenting a statement to the Connecticut General Assembly's Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections regarding proposed House Bill 5421. I am grateful to Nora for giving me permission to publish her address here.   My name is Nora Galvin. I am a professional genealogist and president of the Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council, Inc. I make my living by researching the history of Connecticut families in the state's rich record collections.   Three organizations have asked me to represent them here today: the Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council, Connecticut Ancestry Society and the Connecticut Society of Genealogists. I unofficially represent the other 13 genealogy societies that are also incorporated...
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Fraud against United States government agencies is rampant. It is impossible to obtain an exact figure, because not all agencies are measuring the extent to which they are losing money, but estimates of over $100 billion/year in improper payments are common.  We are all aware of and horrified by this. It's unfair, unscrupulous, and worsening our already faltering economy. And we agree that IT MUST STOP. Yet all too often these days it seems that efforts to stop this trend are led by individual legislators who propose bills of only small scope. When we see a congressman propose a bill, it seems to be either because he knows of the problem and wants to fix it, or has a constituent who was the indirect victim of such a fraud. It seems easy enough to propose, is a hot-button issue and seems like a great way to attract votes. But most of...
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The U.S. House of Representatives in session, www.house.gov.

Every indication so far is that this year will again see efforts to close the SSDI in two ways: first by legislation to close it for three years to all but fraud investigators; second by legislation to make the Freedom of Information Act inapplicable to the Social Security Administration (it was by FOIA that the SSDI was opened two decades ago). Either method would work against genealogists.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Sam Johnson (R TX 3) was reappointed chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. The announcement can be read at http://samjohnson.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=316913.

At this time, at least one bill has been filed using text that would close the SSDI for two to three years. Rep. Richard Nugent (R FL 11) filed this bill, known as H.R.295. You can use the Library of Congress THOMAS portal to find the bill’s text and to track its passage at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas. Select “bill number” and type in HR295. The resulting page will provide many access points: to the bill text, to the current committee assignments, etc.

Rep. Mike Capuano (D MA 7) is planning to submit a similar bill. His office has been approached by immigration and tax people in government to submit a bill covering their issues. We were able to contact his Issues Director Kate Auspitz in order to pass on information showing that the core issue is inter-agency communication rather than access to the social security numbers of dead people. We made a case for genealogical access during the critical three-year waiting period for compassionate reasons.

While Congressman Capuano sees merit in our arguments, we will need to make those arguments again at the committee hearings in order to have change happen. We explained that such testimony had been purposefully cut off last year. His office pointed out that he is in the political minority in the House and not able to force a committee chair to permit our testimony. We need to keep our community ready to submit testimony and to be able to articulate the issues when the time comes. So how do we learn that?

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You heard it from us first! The Fall issue of the MGC Newsletter is hot off the presses! We have a date and speaker announcment for next year's MGC Annual Meeting and Seminar. You can follow this link to read it: http://bit.ly/TQ2EXa.  If you are a member and require a paper copy, please send an email to info@massgencoucil.com....
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