Friday, December 30, 2011

12 Goals for 2012

I was reluctant to make a list of resolutions, and have leaned more to a list of goals. While I have tried resolutions before, I've decided that resolutions are more than likely going to be broken. It also seems that resolutions are things that need "fixed".

I don't think my genealogy needs fixed, tweaked, yes, but fixed? Nope. I have made a list of goals, some of which are pretty simple things for me to dabble in while others are going to require some brain power and quality time researching. Some of my goals are specific projects that I'd like to finish and put on the research shelf for the next phase.

Any suggestions for furthering my goals would be appreciated as I'm not opposed to advice.
  1. Finalize my obituary audit for Sheridan County, Wyoming
    1. I have been auditing the obituaries of the various branches in my family that are in Sheridan County. I maintain a spreadsheet in which I list the newspaper in which the obituary was published, date, page, and column number.
      1. To finish this goal, I need to organize the obituaries in a solitary file with the spreadsheet file. I also need to print the obituaries with the publishing information printed at the bottom of the page and organize them in a binder, with an index.
  2. Master using the Cloud.
    1. I have recently started using Dropbox and SugarSync for my genealogy files. I am looking forward to developing a greater mastery of both of these tools. When I am at the Sheridan Fulmer Library, I prefer to go with a pencil, notepad and a flash drive (with Rootsmagic installed), just in case.
    2. I also use Google Docs quite a bit to accomplish much of my research at the library. I recently discovered that Microsoft has its own online version of Word in line with what Google does with its word processing and data management programs.
  3. Redefine my workflow
    1. This is one of my pitfalls. I have a lot of "irons in the fire" with research and being a stay at home dad. My biggest challenges are what I think of as the "Goldfish factor". Goldfish supposedly have an attention span of only three seconds. While I do not have an attention problem, maintaining focus on specific projects and not being distracted by things I find while I am working on a particular project is a problem.
      1. Part of the solution will be setting up a secondary monitor for our desktop. I loathe having switch between tabs and/or windows. Also, it will help if I am looking at a record that I am trying to enter data from into a word processing document or spreadsheet. I'm awaiting a splitter cable in the mail for this to happen.
  4. Work more with Photoshop
    1. I have an older version of Photoshop that I would like to start using on both pictures I have personally taken and those from my genealogy collection.
    2. I recently purchased a couple of books for working with older pictures which I hope to utilize in 2012.
  5.  Newspaper article audit for Sheridan, Wyoming to 1922
    1. The Wyoming State Archives has Sheridan newspapers scanned and searchable to 1922 on the Wyoming Newspaper Project site. This project is in a similar vein as the obituary audit, including a spreadsheet, printing, filing and indexing the articles in a binder for easy access.
  6. Kinship affiliations in the Lower Tongue River Community
    1. This is actually a project that I have been spending a great deal of time on, much to my delight. The Tongue River area in northern Sheridan County, Wyoming, is a watershed for my genealogy research. Having read Dr. Carolyn Earle Billingsley's book, Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier, I hope to document the unique kinship neighborhood the Tongue River area families formed in the early 1900s.
    2. The initial phase of this project has been creating a chart documenting the homesteaders and marriages which connect other homesteaders.
      1. The next step with the chart will be to incorporate different elements to reflect the dates of the homesteads and marriages. I am hoping to use some color for a more vibrant presentation as well. 
  7. Keep a journal
    1. I have always enjoyed reading and writing and even fancied myself as a writer in college. The more I have gotten into genealogy, the more I realize how much has been lost by people not writing about each other. Given the various devices and distractions of modern life, I have found it difficult to sit long enough to do anything, let alone write. While my wife and I wait for our boys to fall asleep in their beds, I usually think about the things I should be putting down on paper...unless of course I fall asleep in the process.
  8. Be more creative
    1. While I enjoy the facts and research aspect of genealogy, I'm looking to expand the creative presentation side of things a bit. I have a small trove of old family pictures, letters, etc. that I would like to scan and use in some artistic ways.
  9. Spend more time in the basement
    1. I have a room in the basement that is all mine, full of research, filing cabinets, Jimmy Hoffa and everything I wanted to know about my family history but have forgotten. I have a bunch of things that need to be organized in my space...just need to book some time.
  10. Conduct onsite research at Tongue River locations
    1. After a day trip with my mom, aunt, sister and my boys to some of the old homesteads this past summer, I'm hoping to spend more time in the area. Finding some inspiration from, I'm hoping to take some of the old pictures from family collections and locate where they were taken. Some of this goal coincides with the creative goals for the year.
    2. I also have a metal detector now and am hoping to revisit the site of an old rural school (I have permission in advance from the landowner) and see what I might be able to find.
  11.  Education
    1. Continued genealogy education is always something I strive for and in 2012, I'd like to consume as much information as I can. I recently purchased Colleen Fitzpatrick's, The Dead Horse Investigation on and am looking forward to that for additional photography research info. I also plan on pouring over Elizabeth Shown Mills' new webpage to learn from a genealogy master.
  12. Community involvement
    1. While I have indexed for in the past, I'm looking this year to help a bit more locally at the Sheridan County Museum. I'm scheduled to meet with the director next week to start as a volunteer for scanning pictures.
 So there it is: 12 goals, 12 months, 366 days to accomplish all of it. Maybe the leap year will make the difference in getting all of it accomplished.

Happy New Year's to everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The stolen identity of Ava Pilcher, or how the SSDI is being scapegoated

Facts. Truth. Provenance. Objectivity. We, as genealogists and researchers all desire these things. Yet, we are constantly at risk of losing access to records, oftentimes, because of our antithesis, misinformation.

The rise of genealogy and macrohistory in general have created pockets of resistance to genealogists, which threaten the history of the average person. Much of this resistance, in my opinion, is fear mongering. For members of Congress to claim the Social Security Death Index as a considerable weakness in keeping social security numbers out of the hands of criminals is based on two things: emotions and misinformation.

Much has been made about the Social Security Death Index and recent events regarding the future access to it by genealogists. The Internet is rife with the same few stories of identity theft and what appear to be articles lacking reliable facts that specifically prove the SSDI is a problem with identity theft. Implying the SSDI is at fault and proving it are two wholly unique positions.

One only needs to search the Internet for queries about stolen SSNs to realize that there are more instances of people taking advantage of their jobs and selling stolen SSNs or hacking computer systems and retrieving such information, than of the SSDI being abused. In fact, I have yet to see any data from government or private entities that specifically refers to the SSDI being abused or used in inappropriate ways. There is a distinct difference in facts and suppositions, and this is a case where the people pursuing the SSDI are severely misguided.

A concern with the SSDI is that people are guided by their heartstrings. I don't intend to come across as callous or being unsympathetic, but when a story makes the news about a criminal using the social security number of a recently passed child, it particular, it doesn't mean that a genealogical source was compromised. In genealogy we talk a lot about pedigrees and provenance. These cases all need to be looked at in that regards--who was in a position to take advantage of the situation from the time the child was ill to the death of said child.

I suspect more often than not, that someone who handled the paperwork along the way is responsible. In my queries regarding such stories, all I can find are articles where the implication is that the SSDI is the culprit. None of the stories I have found are well researched as they take members of Congress as being the end all authority on these matters, nor do they address what past research by Javelin Strategy & Research has shown: that a considerable amount of identity theft is committed by persons close to the victim. In findings published in the 2009 Identity Theft Survey Report, Javelin reported that 43 percent of identity theft cases were committed by people known by the victim. That means that 2 out of 5 cases of identity theft are committed by friends, family or acquaintances. Does that mean we need to legislate families and "friends"?

Let's ponder this for a moment:

So, if I were to tell you that your biggest threat of having your identity stolen is someone close to you, what would you do? Legislate? Would you propose congressional legislation mandating all family and alleged friends no longer interact with you or have access to you because of the potential risk of them betraying you? Would you take 40 percent of the people you know and remove them from your life because the statistics indicate they are potential Brutuses and Judases? I suspect that most people would keep these people within their circle of friends and family because the inherent value of being surrounded by people whose company we enjoy, regardless of the risk. Remember, Brutus and Judas were close associates of the people they betrayed. I focus on this because the biggest risk in the 2009 report by Javelin is people we know and associate with. Not strangers, but omeone we may have a connection with--a blood relative, a high school friend, a neighbor, a social acquaintance.

We have a greater risk of being betrayed by people we know than any other source, yet Congress seems to focus on the smaller and implied risk that the SSDI poses.

The SSDI is not Judas or Brutus. It is a tool that is being scapegoated by politicians. In an article published by the Scripps Howard News Service in November of this year, a story was written about an incident involving a young girl who died in 2010. The father filed his income tax to have it rejected by the IRS as his daughter had been claimed as an independent of someone else. The story can be found here. While this is a tragic story, we must deal with the facts and examine what the article says versus what is implied. Emotions often cloud facts, especially in these matters.

As a parent of two young boys, I can appreciate the severity of this situation and disclose this for not wanting to seem unsympathetic. I would be furious if this happened to my family, as Mr. Pilcher has every right to be. As a genealogist, I am concerned that the truth is implied here and the access to a tremendous research tool is being targeted incorrectly, or at least until all the facts are on the table.

I have take lines, as best I can without removing the contextual information, and snipped these for analysis below:
“We were able to go on a website and found all her information there. The Death Master File is where they (crooks) got that information,” Pilcher said.
This statement, combined with the paragraph at the bottom doesn't make for a fact. While Mr. Pilcher may have found the information on the Death Master File, it doesn't rule out other possibilities.
The Social Security Administration, as part of an investigation by Scripps Howard, acknowledged in June that it accidentally lists about 14,000 living Americans each year in the death database.
 The article continues on to say:
There is little grieving parents can do to protect themselves if thieves decide to take their dead child’s name, birthdate and Social Security numbers. Identity crooks need only file for a tax refund before the family can.
Really? I think there is a way to prove that the Internal Revenue Service bears the brunt of fault in this case. To claim a deceased child on one's tax returns, the IRS requires a SSN, or if a SSN is not available, "a copy of the child's birth certificate, death certificate, or hospital records instead". This information is located under the "Social Secuity Numbers for Dependents" section on this page, maintained by the IRS. This means that the theft of the child's identity could also have been committed by someone who handled the paperwork or was close to the family.
Criminals have found the perfect loophole,” said Joanna Crane, former manager of the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Program. “It doesn’t give the IRS time to detect that something is wrong. By the time they do, the money is already out the door.” [Emphasis added]
 This statement should be sounding alarms. So the IRS has some role in allowing identity theft to occur? The information published in this article implies the SSDI was where the information was gathered by the person(s) responsible.

The article closes with:
Pilcher, the Maryland dad, wants policy changes — and justice. Although federal authorities refuse to provide any details about who claimed Ava on their tax return — the IRS says it cannot divulge private information about anyone’s tax filings — Pilcher vowed to find the culprit.
“I don’t care how long it takes,” he said. “I’m going to find out who did it!” [Emphasis in bold added]
So, the IRS is capable of helping Mr. Pilcher save the identity of his daughter and they even have the paperwork that shows who stole her identity. Heck, they even paid that person money.

After examining the article, I'm starting to wonder if maybe the IRS is more responsible for the incidences of fraud than the SSDI could ever be. The IRS has all the resources to locate the responsible party, determine the process used to steal the identity and shed light on the real facts behind this story. The story highlights two things: a tragedy that has been highjacked by emotions and a bureaucracy that seems a bit callous to say the least. While I understand the IRS is limited by laws put in place for protection, these same laws are inhibiting justice and logic.

The facts in this article are that Ava Pilcher died in 2010 and that she was claimed by another party as a dependent on their tax return. Her father, Matthew Pilcher had his 2010 tax return rejected because Ava had been falsely claimed by another party. The IRS has the record of the culpable party and cannot divulge such information.

What is implied is that because Mr. Pilcher found Ava's social security number on the SSDI, it is at fault. He makes that as his claim, but cannot properly prove that position because of the IRS being unable to share who claimed Ava on their tax return. The tax return claiming Ava Pilcher would shed light on how the information was gathered based on the identity of the responsible party. Mr. Pilcher implies the SSDI is where the information was gathered but cannot prove this as fact.

The point in all of this is that the known facts of this case are a few and not very good ones at that. Also, the IRS is in a seemingly good position to find the responsible party, possibly absolving the SSDI of blame and punishing the criminals that perpetrated this act.

This does not preclude the possibility the SSDI was used in this case. It does show that we cannot tell one way or the other the culpability of the SSDI because of the lack of information. A lack of information does not indicate guilt or innocence, more that there is a need for further facts for the objective analysis that we, as a genealogical community, routinely hold ourselves to, and must demand of Congress.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wyoming Newspaper Project Reaches Milestone

The Wyoming Newspaper Project has released a report regarding the considerable undertaking in microfilming newspapers at the state archives.
On December 15th, the Wyoming Newspaper Project reached a milestone--the last reel from the last drive was loaded.  That drive had 44 supplemental microfilm reels, and over 21,000 new pages.  The Wyoming Newspaper Project now has 791,764 full pages loaded.  Much of the new content fills in gaps in coverage, but there are many new titles as well.  Unfortunately, for many of the new titles, only a handful of issues survived to be microfilmed and added to this project.

The Wyoming Newspaper Project now has all of the newspaper microfilm reels for 1849-1922 that the Wyoming State Archives has in their collection.  We are aware that there are gaps in coverage and newspaper titles that are not included in the project.  We are building a list of newspaper titles and years that we know about through researchers like you, to be on the look out for to see if we can add them to the collection.  We have partnered with the Library of Congress to scan and microfilm the Wyoming newspapers that are in their collection, so look for those in the coming months.

Also, if you find anything amiss—a page that is mislabeled, search highlights not working, trouble getting a search to work or a page to print—feel free to contact Erin Kinney.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Occupy Genealogy and Identity Theft Statistics

Most genealogists are aware of the slippery slope the SSDI is on and I have joined the Occupy Genealogy movement started by Thomas MacEntree and Skip Murray this past week to aid in any way I can. I debated in high school and a bit in college, so this brings back a lot of warm memories.

In 2008, the Association of Professional Genealogists published a position paper regarding open records. The paper cited statistics from Javelin Strategy & Research, a research group that works for financial industry. Some of the statistics in the report, originally published in Javelin's 2006 Identity Fraud Survey Report, are quite dated.

The 2008 APG paper, citing the 2006 Javelin report, indicated that identity theft was the result of:
  • 30% was the result of lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards
  • 15% was the result of friends, acquaintances, relatives or in-home employees
  • 15% was the result of corrupt business employees
In 2009, Javelin report shows the following statistics with some changes:
  • 43% was the result of lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards (up 13%)
  • 19% was the result of theft while conducting a transaction (n/a in 2006 report)
  • 13% was the result of theft of personal information by someone known to the victim, such as a relative, acquaintance or employee (-2%)
  • 11% data breaches (n/a in 2006 report)
  • 3% stolen paper mail (n/a in 2006 report)
  • 11% other data theft during online activities (n/a in 2006 report)
  • 1% other (n/a in 2006 report)
I'm unsure why this adds up to 101%; maybe it is the result of rounding up. Note that the numbers indicate that perpetrators of identity theft are using mostly conventional methods in committing fraud.

The 2009 report also states:

In 2008, online access, such as using virus-afflicted computers at home or at work, accounted for only 11 percent of the total fraud. Combined with the increased speed of misuse, this trend points to more attacks of opportunity, when a fraudster takes advantage of personal information to which they suddenly have access, such as a lost wallet or watching someone enter their ATM PIN.

Just a few of the numbers I have located so far. Stay tuned.

Late Night Genealogies, my foray into blogging

Late Night Genealogies, a blog for the weary-eyed, head scratching genealogist.

In other words, me.

I've decided that I would like to start a blog. This is nothing new as I signed up on Blogger a couple of years ago, but have been reluctant to find my genealogy blogger's voice. I have also waited in the metaphorical library stacks to develop some assurance that I have something to offer the genealogical community

I'm not sure of that, yet.

What I do know is this: I have a passion for dead people. Alright, so that sounds a bit borderline creepy. What I should say is that I am drawn to boxes of old documents, cemeteries and library stacks. I enjoy spending time in rooms with no windows and lots of paper records. I'm at my best with a camera, a laptop and a mission. I'm what James Bond wants to be, a researcher on the go and filled with a gleam in his eye.

Maybe it's a bit over the top. I don't envision myself as a Bond-like character in a cheesy B-movie, in some distant, snow-laden compound armed with the latest tech gadgets. However, I am your average researcher, armed with a multitude of tools to seek out my ancestors and to interrogate them as best I can.

I am a genealogist and I am now a blogger.