Family History Episode 3 – Working Backward and the SSDI

Family History PodcastTune in Tuesday: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast

Published October 15, 2013

by Lisa Louise Cooke

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 3: Working Backward and the SSDI

In our first segment in this episode my guest is Miriam Robbins Midkiff, a well-known genealogy blogger and teacher. She shares her best research tips, what motivates her to delve into her family history and how that discovery has enriched her life.

Then in our second segment we answer the question, “Why do we work backwards in genealogy?” and then fire up the Internet and go after your first genealogical record. Below, find current links to the record sources I talk about in the show. Also, when I recently checked, the Social Security Death Index was no longer free at WorldVitalRecords as I mention in the podcast and some of the site features I mention may have changed. I’ve given you links below to more options for searching, including plenty of FREE options!

Working Backward

When it comes to tracing your family history, there are standard methods that will help you build a solid family tree. Starting with yourself and working backwards is a cornerstone of genealogical research. It will be tempting to start with a great grandparent that you just got some juicy information on after interviewing Aunt Martha, but resist the temptation to start with that great grandparent, and go back to the beginning – and that’s YOU!

There’s a very good reason why working backward is so effective. Let’s say you have filled in info on yourself, and then recorded everything about your parents and now it’s time to work on one of your grandfathers and all you have is the date he died and the date he was born. If you are lucky enough to have his birth date and birthplace and you get his birth certificate it will tell you who his parents were, but it can’t predict his future can it? Where he went to school, where he lived over the years, etc. Documents can only tell you what has occurred in the past, not what will occur in that person’s future.

But if you get his death certificate it will give you key information at the end of his life that can lead you to the various events throughout his life. If you don’t have his birthdate and birthplace, you’ll probably find it on the death certificate. It will also likely name his parents and his spouse. A birth record can’t tell you who he will marry, but a death record can tell you who he did marry. You can start to see how starting at the end of someone’s life and working backwards will be the most efficient and accurate way to research.

Records are like the bread crumb trail of your family tree! If you don’t work systematically backwards, it will be very easy to miss a crucial piece of evidence, and you might end up relying on guesswork and end up building a false history on it. Believe me you don’t want to invest time in a tree that you’re going to have to chop down and replant!

So now that you understand and are committed to following this cornerstone concept of systematically starting with yourself and working backwards, it’s time to fire up the Internet and put it into practice by finding your first record. What type of record will we be looking for? A death record of course!

Is one of your parents deceased? If so, you’re going to start with them. If they are still living, and you’ve got their information entered into your genealogy database choose one of their parents, your grandparents, who is deceased – or if you’re lucky enough to be starting at a young age you may have to go back to a deceased great grandparent! (And good for you for starting now while you’re young!)

The SSDI

Chances are the person that you’ve chosen, for this example let’s say it’s your grandfather, he most likely had a social security card. And there is a wonderful free database online in the United States called the Social Security Death Index, what is commonly referred to as the SSDI, that you can use to find that grandparent.

In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, and consequently more than thirty million Americans were registered by 1937. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains over 89 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and they are publicly available online.

Most of the information included in the index dates from 1962, although some data is from as early as 1937. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Many of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

The SSDI does not have a death record for everyone; and occasionally you may find an error here and there if something was reported inaccurately, but overall it’s a terrific resource! As with all records it provides clues that you should try to verify through an additional record source.

There are many websites that feature this database, as seen in the UPDATED links below. This database is free at most sites, even sites that charge for access to other data.

On the Search page, enter your grandparent’s given name which is their first name, the family name which is their last name or surname, the place of their death – this could just be the state – and the year they died, and click the Search button. Hopefully you will get back a result that includes your grandparent.

Now remember you’re looking at an index, not an original record or primary source. We talked about sources in Episode 2. A primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event by an authoritative source, usually someone with direct personal knowledge of the event that’s being documented, like a death certificate is completed at the time of death by the attending physician. These are the best and usually most accurate types of sources you can find. And that’s what we want!

The really key information in this search result is the county information. In order to get an original death certificate which would be your primary source you have to know which county they died in. You may already know that for your grandparent, but keep this in mind because the further back we go, the more crucial it will be to know the county involved since that’s where death certificates are recorded.

By any chance did your grandparent not show up in the results even though you know they worked after 1937 when the Social Security got rolling, and you know they have passed away? Don’t fret – We have other ways to try and find the info!

This brings us to what I think is a really important concept to keep in mind whenever you’re researching your family on the Internet. Each search is conducted at a specific moment in time. Running an SSDI search or a Google search tomorrow might give you results different than the one you ran today. The Internet is being updated second by second, and the SSDI has been updated several times over the years.

In the case of the SSDI database, you can’t be absolutely sure that the website you are using to search the SSDI has the most current version available. Look in the database description on the site to see how recently it was updated.

Here’s a perfect example of that: When I searched for my grandfather on my dad’s side from the Family Tree Legends website, I got no results. Now I KNOW he died in 1971 and I KNOW he worked his entire life so he had to have been registered with Social Security. Then I went to Ancestry.com and searched for him in their SSDI database and he popped right up.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother shows up on all three websites I’ve mentioned. In most cases, you’ll find who you’re looking for, but occasionally, like with my grandfather, you may have to dig in your heels and try the SSDI on a couple of different websites to find who them. Never give up, never surrender. That’s my motto!

And of course, each website offers just a little different variation on the terms that you can search on.

So just in case you have a stubborn ancestor who eludes your first SSDI search, try finding them  at several of the SSDI databases. If you do have luck on World Vital Records, be sure and click the More Details link next to your search results because it includes some fun extras like a link called Historical Events next to their birth year and death year that will take you to a list of important historical events that were happening those particular years. It’s kind of fun to see what was going on in the world when your grandparent was born.

You’ll also find a link called Neighbors which will take you to a listing of folks who lived in the same county as your ancestor and died in within a year or two of them.

But most helpful is that your research results on World Vital Records will include a listing of nearby cemeteries which are good possibilities for where your ancestor may have been buried. (Again, just clues to hopefully send you in the right direction.) But as I said, the death certificate is going to be your best and primary source and almost always includes the name and address of the cemetery where the person was buried.

Here are a few more search tips if you don’t find your ancestor right away:

1. Make sure that you tried alternate spellings for their name. You never know how it might have been typed into the SSDI database.

2. Many SSDI indexes allow you to use wildcards in your search. So for example you could type in “Pat*” which would pull up any name that has the first three letters as PAT such as Patrick, Patricia, etc.

3. Try using less information in your search. Maybe one of the details you’ve been including is different in the SSDI database. For example it may ask for state and you enter California because that’s where grandpa died, when they were looking for Oklahoma because that’s where he first applied for his social security card. By leaving off the state you’ll get more results. Or leave off the birth year because even though you know it’s correct, it may have been recorded incorrectly in the SSDI and therefore it’s preventing your ancestor from appearing in the search results.

4. Leave out the middle name because middle names are not usually included in the database. However, if you don’t have luck with their given name, try searching the middle name as their given name. In the case of my grandfather his given name was Robert but he went by the initial J.B. But in the SSDI his name is spelled out as JAY BEE! Go figure!

5. Remember that married women will most likely be listed under their married surname, not their maiden name. But if you strike out with the married name, go ahead and give the maiden a try. She may have applied for her card when single, and never bothered to update the Administration’s records. Or if she was married more than once, check all her married names for the same reason.

6. Don’t include the zip code if there is a search field for it because zip codes did not appear in earlier records.

While most folks will appear in the SSDI, there are those who just won’t. But knowing where information is not located can be as important down the road in your research as knowing where it IS located, so I recommend making a note in your database that you did search the SSDI with no result. This will save you from duplicating the effort down the road because you forgot that you looked there. I admit it, in the past I’ve managed to check out books I’ve already looked through and order a record or two that I already had. Lesson learned!

So here’s your assignment for this week: Go through your genealogy database and do a Social Security Death Index search on every deceased person who was living after 1937. Hopefully you will be able to fill in several more blanks in your genealogy database and family tree!

Up next: Episode 4: Genealogy Conferences and Vital Records

Lisa Louise Cooke Coming to Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2016

Lisa Louise Cooke will be a featured keynote presenter at the Ontario Genealogical Society conference 2016, June 3-5 in Toronto, Canada. 

The biggest genealogical event in Canada is coming–and Lisa Louise Cooke will be there! Members of all 34 branches and special interest groups of the Ontario Genealogical Society and other family historians from across North America and around the world will meet in Toronto from June 3-5, 2016 for inspiring lectures, workshops, displays, and other learning opportunities.

Here’s why people are excited about the Ontario conference:

As an internationally-renowned genealogy technology innovator, Lisa will deliver a plenary lecture relating to the conference’s theme, “On the Cutting Edge.” This Saturday morning keynote will be “Future Technology and Genealogy: 5 Strategies You Need.” The audience will be treated to a vision of genealogy research as technology speeds ahead into the future. Lisa will teach five key strategies to employ right now that will make the ride easier–and the results more exciting–than ever.

The Scoop

WHAT: Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2016
WHEN: June 3-5, 2016
WHERE:  International Plaza Hotel, 655 Dixon Road, Toronto
REGISTER: Click here for full conference information

Attend Lisa’s Sessions

  • “Using Google to Enhance Your Genealogy Research,” a workshop outlining a “Google Search Methodology for Genealogy.” The  workshop features a variety of free Google tools that can help solve genealogical challenges. You’ll also discover advanced Google search strategies you may not be using but are “must-haves” for high-quality Google search results. You will walk away with a proven Google search methodology, and powerful tips and tricks you can use right away.
  • “How to Create and Leverage Your Own YouTube Channel for Genealogy.” Don’t let the video revolution pass you by! YouTube Mobile receives more than 100 million views a day and is the #2 search engine on the planet. It’s becoming the first place many people turn to for answers, including fellow genealogists. Video content on your own website can also drive more traffic to your site. This presentation shares Lisa’s tips and tricks for creating a robust YouTube channel that will power-boost your genealogical efforts.

Visit Lisa in the Exhibit HallLisa Louise Cooke signing books

Lisa will be in the exhibit hall at her booth (next to Shop the Hound) signing books, and answering questions. Lisa’s daughter Lacey will be there helping you at the booth. She will have special discounts and a money-saving conference bundle just for this conference.

You won’t want to miss the exhibit hall this year. OGS Conference 2016 will feature a spacious 10,000-square-foot Expo Hall, just steps away from the lecture rooms. There will be displays from genealogical and historical organizations, and commercial exhibitors. You’ll also have an opportunity to check in with all the various branches of OGS and see their specific publications.

About the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2016

The entire conference offers something for everyone, and with its convenient location in Toronto, is an easy over-the-border jaunt for many U.S. residents, too. Thursday’s preconference activities include a boot camp for librarians and a session on business skills for genealogists. Friday’s events include off-site tours (World War I history or genetics interest) and workshops including Lisa’s. Saturday’s calendar leads with Lisa’s keynote and then explodes into 24 concurrent sessions and other exciting sponsored events.

Registration

This quick link will take you right to online registration. There are full and partial registration options.

Can’t Make It to the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2016? Don’t Fret!

How to use Google for GenealogyWish you could catch Lisa’s Google search methodology workshop? Don’t worry–it’s fully described in her book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. This 2nd edition was completed revised and updated for 2015, with thorough, step-by-step instructions on Google search techniques and new chapters on searching for common surnames, Google Scholar and Google Patents (yes, you can use these for genealogy!). Screenshots and detailed explanations will lead you through Google Alerts, Gmail, Google Books, Google Translate, YouTube and Google Earth (multiple chapters on THIS powerful 3D map).

How to Use Google Chrome to Identify Old Photos for Genealogy

Learn how to use Google Chrome to identify old photos for genealogy and family history with this quick and easy-to-follow YouTube video!

How to Use Google Chrome to Identify Old Photos and Images for Genealogy and Family History

How to Use Google Chrome to Identify Old Photos for Genealogy and Family History

Take 4 & 1/2 minutes to watch this video from our Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. Your family history will be glad you did!

Like I said, there is more than one web-browser out there. Maybe you are a fan of Firefox or Internet Explorer, but I want you to head on over to Google Chrome to see this really slick feature.

Why Google Chrome Image Search Works

Google Chrome can do a lot of amazing tech things. By learning how to use Google Images, you may be able to finally identify some of those old pictures you have stuffed around the house! This technique works especially well for identifying locations, maps, and high profile buildings. Why does this work? Google has a stellar process for surfing the web (they call it “crawling”) and indexing everything it finds. This effort builds an incredible wealth of information, including information on all of the photos and images it comes across. Google Chrome, Google’s web-browser, can use this data to quickly match your image to other images Google has crawled on the web. Not only can it find the image, but it can bring along with it any other information (such as details about the image) that is attached to the image. And that can all mean big answers for you!

Take It Further: Identify Original Locations of Images and Photos

In my video, I share with you how I used Google Chrome to identify an old family postcard. In this blog post today, I want to share another tip for using Google Chrome to identify old photos. It never fails.

If you’re like me, you get pretty excited as you make family history discoveries. You might find yourself saving documents and pictures to your computer without accurately sourcing from whence they came. Six months later you find yourself wondering, “Where in the world did that image come from?”

Google Chrome can help. Just use the step-by-step instructions found in the video to upload the image to Google Images, and click the Search by Image button. Voila! Google finds the match and you uncover the website where the image came from! This saves valuable time (and I think we can all use more of that) and provides the information you need to properly cite your image source.

Sharing is Caring

Thanks for watching and reading, friends. Did you share this tech-tip video with your genie buddies? I hope you did. For more tech-tips and savvy tricks, be sure to subscribe to our Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel.

More Free Tech Tip Videos
genealogy videos on YouTube

Free Google E-Books for Genealogy and Family History

Mobile Genealogy Tips and Tricks

Create Captivating Family History Videos

 

How To Pronounce Names: Google Translate and Name Pronunciation Tools

Check out these 3 free online tools that help with how to pronounce names.translate and pronounce

Recently, I heard from a Genealogy Gems listener in The Netherlands, who shared research tips for those starting to trace Dutch ancestors. I wanted to mention his email on my free Genealogy Gems podcast, but I didn’t know how to pronounce his name, Niek.

There have been other times I wished I knew how to pronounce names of ancestors or distant cousins, or other foreign words.

I received more than one email regarding the way I mispronounced Regina, Saskatchewan on my Genealogy Gems podcast. I pronounced it with a long “e” sound (like Rageena) when in reality it is pronounced with a long “i” sound (as in Reg-eye-na). I appreciated the correction. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could check how to say something before you say it?

Here are 3 free online tools that can help. They’re each a little different. I’m giving you all three so you can run the name through more than one site to be even more confident you’re getting the right pronunciation.

1. Google Translate

Google Translate is a powerful, free tool I use for quick translation look-ups. Google Translate now has an audio tool for some languages that will pronounce the words you enter. Look for the speaker icon in the bottom left corner of the translate box and click it:

Google Translate how to pronounce Niek

Google Translate is an awesome free tool for other reasons, too.

As we research our family history it often leads us to records and reference books in foreign languages. The Google Translate app on your phone comes in very handy in such times.

You can translate short bit of text in real time. Here’s an example of a page from a German reference book:

German reference book

In order to translate this page, I tapped the Camera icon in the app and then held my camera over the page. The image is sent via an internet connection to Google. Text recognition occurs and the text is translated. Here’s what the real-time translation looks like in the Google Translate app:

German reference book translated

The translation may not be perfect, but it is much better than not being able to read the page at all. 

You can also use the Scan feature to take a photograph of a page or document. This can often give you a better translation because the image is more stable. To do this, tap Scan in the bottom menu. Hold your phone over the page, and then tap the circle button. This is what the initial scan looks like:

Google Translate Scan image 1

Tap the Select All button if you want all the text to be translated. The other option is that you can swipe your finger over just the words that you want translated. As you can see in the image, each word has been individually found by Google providing you with precise selection control You can also tap the Clear button if you want to start over and take the image again. In the image below I have selected a portion of the text on the screen:

The translation is almost instantaneous, and it appears in the blue line at the top. Tap the right arrow on the blue line to see the full translation:

Google Translate Scan image 3

The Google Translate app is continually being improved, and is worth a try if you haven’t used it recently. The most recent updates included better translation quality and support for more languages.

If you would like to learn more about how to use Google Translate, check out chapter 13 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Click here to read about one of its qualities that actually got a gasp out of the audience when I mentioned it in a lecture.

2. Forvo

Forvo describes itself as “the largest pronunciation guide in the world, the place where you´ll find millions of words pronounced in their original languages.” It’s like a pronunciation wiki.

A quick search for “Niek” gave me the result shown here. I clicked on “Pronunciation by MissAppeltaart” to hear how that contributor (who is from The Netherlands) said that name.

By the way, you can contribute your own pronunciations by clicking on “Pronounce” to see a list of words that are waiting to be recorded.

3. Pronounce Names

Pronounce Names is a website that gives you visual cues for pronouncing a name. This can be helpful for those who aren’t sure they heard an audio pronunciation correctly. This is what it looks like when you ask for a name pronunciation for Niek:niek at pronounce names

Being a visual learner myself, I particularly appreciate this site! I think I would have remembered the correct pronunciation of Regina had I seen it in a format like this.

Now if I could just get the telephone solicitors to use the tools. Maybe then they will stop calling and asking “is Mrs. Cookie there?”

More Free Online Tools–These are Gems!Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online

I’m always on the look up for free online tools that solve problems. Whether you are trying to find genealogy records, solve geographical questions, or you want to identify a face in a photographs, there are tools out there that just may do the trick. Here are three more articles that provides answers to challenges like these.

 

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