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

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 236

My how time flies and it’s flying further and further way from when our ancestors’ got their photographs taken, which can make the task of identifying and dating them harder and harder. Don’t fret my friend because I have the coolest free tech tool for you that can help you zero in on the date of your photos.

David Lowe a Specialist in the Photography Collection of the New York Public Library will be joining me today to tell you all about it.

In this episode we’re also going to be talking about some important genealogical records that you may be missing at Ancestry.com. I wrote about How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry in the Genealogy Gems newsletter which linked over to my article on our website, but this is so important that we need to talk about here together.

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
December 2019
Download the episode mp3

The Mailbox

Genealogy Gems Podcast mailbox image

From Kristine:

In my newspaper research (at) newspaper.com I came across election results that included, of course, all towns, townships, and the county covered by the newspaper.

Though the election results were not of interest to me in my research, I was pleased to see residential information that can help me confirm my ancestors’ in records that include their address or town.

Boundaries moved over the years, so my family may not have moved but their location may have been reassigned which gives me pause as I locate them in records.

In this particular case, the last location I had for them was not listed BUT the new location was detailed under the new name.

Using “Election results” search I found more information in my research area. Hoping this information will help other genealogists like me.

Your podcasts and other offers are the best I’ve found and worthy of my genealogy budget.  I’m happily retired and have time to soak it all in. I’m using your Research Plan to manage my findings!

From Mark:

I am the de facto family historian for my huge Italian family. 

We had our 62nd annual family reunion last July and as I have explained to family members who is a 3rd cousin and who is a 2nd cousin once removed I am flummoxed as to why they have left ambiguity in family relationships. 

Why are 2nd cousins’ parents and 2nd cousins’ children both referred to as “once removed”? 

Why isn’t there a distinction, such as “2nd cousin once ascended” and “2nd cousin once descended” so the vertical moves through the tree can be distinguished? 

I am a data scientist so I don’t like ambiguity!

From Lisa:

Including ascending and descending indeed can be done when explaining relationships. Read more at:

The Relationships and Cousins page at the Weinel Genealogy website:

http://www.weinel.com/family/relations.html

Wikipedia conversation thread on Cousins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ACousin%2FArchive_4?redirect=no

From Audrey in Texas:

I am new to podcasts and love listening to your podcasts. 

I started a new job over 2 months ago and your podcasts keep me sane. 

First of all, driving from Austin to San Antonio Texas is a tough drive and I am now doing it weekly.  I was struggling to fit in any genealogy with my new job so I turned to podcasts to keep me in the genealogy loop. I have listened to many different podcasts and yours is my favorite.  I learn something new every week and actually quite entertaining!  It really helps pass the drive timely quickly.  Thank you!

Email Lisa Louise Cooke:

If there’s something you’d like to hear on the podcast, or if you have a question or a comment like Kristine, Mark and Audrey did, drop me a line here or leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021.

 

GEM: Storyworth

My favorite part about the holidays is reconnecting with family. I love swapping stories and reliving moments together. But, keeping these memories alive can be hard. That’s why I’m giving my family the most meaningful gift this year – StoryWorth.

StoryWorth is an online service that helps you engage with your loved ones, no matter where they live, and help them tell the story of their lives through unique and thought-provoking questions about their memories and personal thoughts.

The way it works is that : Every week StoryWorth emails your family member different story prompts – questions you’ve never thought to ask. Like, “What have been some of your life’s greatest surprises?” and “What’s one of the riskiest things you’ve ever done?”

After one year, StoryWorth will compile every answered question and photo you choose to include into a beautiful keepsake book that’s shipped for free. That way it’s not just a one-time conversation, but a book that you can refer to again and again as a vital part of your family’s history.

You never know what family history StoryWorth will uncover, not just about your loved one and family, and sometimes even yourself!

Preserve and pass on memories with StoryWorth, the most meaningful gift for your family.

Sign up today by going to StoryWorth.com/GEMS. You’ll get $20 off your first purchase!

GEM: The New York Public Library

Interviewee: David Lowe, Specialist II from our Photography Collection 
New York Public Library Photographers’ Identities Catalog: http://pic.nypl.org/

NYPL_New York Public Library Photography Collection

Do have old family photos that you’re trying to identify? Hopefully they have the photographer’s imprint on them, which might include their name and even their location. And if they do, then you can research that photographer to try and find out when they were in business, and therefore, narrow down the time frame when the photo was taken.

In this gem we’re going to take a look at a website that can help you research those photographers. It’s called the Photographers’ Identities Catalog, also known as PIC, and it’s hosted by the New York Public Library.

It’s an experimental interface to a collection of biographical data about photographers, studios, manufacturers, and others involved in the production of photographic images.

David Lowe, Photography Specialist at the New York Public Library, is the driving force behind this project and I’ve invited him to the podcast to help us tap into this terrific resource.

What are the origins of this database?

The information has been culled from trusted biographical dictionaries, catalogs and databases, and from extensive original research by NYPL Photography Collection staff.

The function of the database is two-fold:

  • To assist with the genealogical research of the photographers
  • Strive to capture the history of photography

What time frame does the database cover? 

The emphasis is on 19th to mid-20th century photographers, and is international in scope.

How we can use PIC to find the photographers we’re researching?

The database includes over 130,000 names, and leans toward showing broader search results. 

Start here at the New York Public Library’s Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC) database website:

NYPL Photographer's Identifies Catalog PIC website

NYPL Photographer’s Identifies Catalog PIC website

Enter the photographer’s name in the search box. You may way to start broad by just entering the surname, depending on how common it is.

NYPL Photographers' Identities Catalog PIC how to search

Searching for photographers at PIC

Use the filters on the left side of the website to narrow your search. You can also click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner to reveal a search box where you can enter a location. 

If you find an error or would like to contribute information to the database, click the Feedback button in the bottom right hand corner. 

Here’s an example of a search I ran for Minnesota photographer, C. J. Ostrom:

searching for a photographer in the NYPL Photographers' Identities Catalog PIC

Searching for a photographer in the NYPL Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC)

Why are there so many photographers listed on a tiny island off the west coast of Africa?

That’s not actually an island, and there’s not actually anyone there. That point is located at the coordinates 0’ latitude & 0’ longitude, and we use it to map information when we don’t know a location (in the cartography world, it’s often called “Null Island”). If, for instance, we know someone was born in 1872, but we don’t know where, we put the point on Null Island. You can help us evacuate the island by finding locations we’re missing!

Lisa’s Search Tip:

One of the ways I research photographers is by searching the US Federal census. In 1880 for example you can specifically search by occupation and location. Enter “photographer” in the occupation field and enter a location if known. For the entire United States that results in about 9100 photographers in 1880.

How to search the 1880 census for photographers

How to search the 1880 census for photographers. Results: 9,116!

 

How to search the 1880 census for photographers

Searching for photographers in Minnesota in the 1880 US Federal Census.

Can users submit corrections or new information that you don’t have?

NYPL welcomes your contributions. Use the feedback link in the bottom right of the map on the website or email pic@nypl.org.

It is helpful if you include the Record ID number to identify the photographer in question. That ID can be found after the Name, Nationality and Dates of the constituent.

How to contribute photographer information to NYPL's PIC database

How to contribute photographer information to NYPL’s PIC database

Can we download the data?

Yes! The data is available for download from this GitHub repository. You can browse an alphabetical list of all constituents. You can also export the first 1000 search results from the map interface.

GEM: How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry
The Better Browsing Checklist

Read the full article here with all of the step-by-step instructions covered in this episode:

better browsing ancestry checklist

Profile America: Bill of Rights Day

Saturday, December 14th. 

Tomorrow is Bill of Rights Day, in honor of the day when the first ten amendments to the Constitution took effect in 1791.

The Bill of Rights added specific freedoms and government limitations to the three-year old Constitution. Among them are enshrined freedom of religion, speech, the press, the right to peaceably assemble and bear arms. Also the right to petition the government and be secure in property.

When the Bill of Rights was passed, America’s population of about 4 million in the then-14 states had available about 100 newspapers exercising the First Amendment freedom contained in the Bill of Rights.

Today’s population is around 330-million, and chooses from nearly 7,500 newspaper publishers nationwide.

You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at www.census.gov.

Bill of Rights Pg1of1 AC

Transcription of the 1789 Joint Resolution of Congress Proposing 12 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Source: National Archives. Learn more at Founding Documents. 

Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Article the first… After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Article the second… No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Article the third… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Article the fourth… A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Article the fifth… No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article the sixth… The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Article the seventh… No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Article the eighth… In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Article the ninth… In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Article the tenth… Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Article the eleventh… The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article the twelfth… The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

ATTEST,

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives
John Adams, Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate
John Beckley, Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Sam. A Otis Secretary of the Senate

Sources:

See Lisa in Person:

Genealogy Roots
We’re bringing Genealogy Roots to St. George, Utah which is a gorgeous location and just a few hours drive from Las Vegas.
Learn more here. 

Genealogy Roots in St. George, UT 2020

 

Rootstech 2020 speaker

 

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app. 

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU