Earlier this week, Randy Seaver wrote a post called “Are You Prepared to Research Without the SSDI?” about mining SSDI data, in case we lose access to this valuable resource. I thought this was a great idea, so I’ve spent several hours this week working the SSDI database and it has been time well spent.
I started by creating a report in RootsMagic that shows the surname, given name, Social Security fact, birth date, and death date. I used this same report format with several different iterations of search strings.
First, I wanted to review the information I already had, so I searched for people where the Social Security fact “exists” and “is true.” I then checked to make sure I was entering the information consistently for this fact – I wasn’t, so I made a few corrections. I also checked all my existing SSDI citations to make sure they were up to snuff. I’ve gone back and forth in years past regarding whether or not I would publish SSN numbers on Tonia’s Roots, so some records displayed the SSN, some citations included it, and some did not. I settled on a best practice this week, which is to put the SSN number in my RootsMagic database, but to make the SSN fact “private,” so that it doesn’t get published here. I’ve also stripped the number out of the citations and replaced it with “[privately held.]”
After reviewing my existing data, it was time to move on to new research. I went back to my SSDI Mining report and searched on:
- Social Security exists “is false,”
- Color Code is blue (my direct lines are color coded blue), and
- Death date is after 1930
This search returned 15 people and I found SSDI entries for five of them. I already had exact birth and death dates for all these people, so the key piece of information I was looking for was the Social Security number. I may want to order SS-5s for these folks and I will need the SSN in order to get the lower price. SS-5s are $27 each if the SSN is provided and $29 otherwise. $2 may not seem like a big difference, but this is such an expensive record that every little bit helps.
After I finished with the direct lines, I expanded my search to collateral lines. The criteria for my third search were:
- Social Security exists “is false,”
- Color Code is not blue, and
- Death date is after 1960
I picked 1960 as the death year because I knew this would be a much longer list and I wanted to limit it to those most likely to have an SSDI entry. This search returned 132 names and I found SSDI entries for 64 of them. I also got a lot of new information. For many of these people I did not have exact birth or death dates, only estimates. I also got the locations of their last residences, which may be useful for future research. I also found married names for several of the women.
I’m now working a fourth search list:
- Social Security exists “is false;”
- Color code is not blue, and
- Birth date is after 1870
This list includes a lot of people that I don’t have any death dates for, so it is much longer than the previous list. It also includes a lot of people who likely died too early to have an SSDI entry, but I won’t know until I look.
The good thing about this “SSDI Mining” is that it’s easy and doesn’t take a lot of mental energy. This is something I can easily do after working all day. I used my RootsMagic reports as checklists, with three checkboxes for each name. If I found the record, I added the data to RootsMagic, entered the search on my research log, then clipped the SSDI page to Evernote (Evernote is perfect for this, by the way. Two clicks and the record is saved. I don’t even have to rename the clip.) If I didn’t find an entry, then I just added it to my research log and moved on to the next name.
We need to take advantage of the SSDI while we have it. Even if we don’t lose access, then this is work that does not have to be repeated.