While researching my previous post about MyHeritage’s new integration with 23andMe, I came across a new study being done by 23andMe on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBD) and its related diseases – Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease (two very common diseases, particularly among Ashkenazi Jews). The study is being sponsored by drug company Pfizer, and it seeking 10,000 participants.
To join the study you must have been diagnosed with either UC or Crohn’s by a doctor, live in the US, have access to the Internet, and be at least six years old (from 6 to 17 you must have parental consent). If you qualify, they send you a saliva collection kit with a return envelope, and you must send back a saliva sample and fill out some online surveys related to your condition.
There’s actually one more qualification for the study, or rather a disqualification – if you are already a customer of 23andMe, you cannot participate in this study. If you are already a customer you can fill out some surveys, but it’s not clear if your DNA data will be included in the study.
Interestingly, both Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are significantly more common among Ashkenazi Jews than the general population. This probably means that Jewish participants in this study will outnumber their percentage of the general population. It also might mean that if you have the genetic markers that predispose you to these diseases, joining this study might connect you to a large number of potential relatives, since the group is self-selecting, and if the genetic markers are familial, then you’re more likely to find genetic relatives than on average when there are 10,000 other people with the same condition as you.
So what do you get for joining the study, besides knowledge that you are helping further scientific research that might one day benefit you personally?
Well, for one you get lifetime access to 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service. For the moment that only deals with genetic genealogy, not the health information that 23andMe previously offered (and still offers to customers who signed up before the ban), but that might return in the future. However, if you’re reading this post, chances are you are interested in genealogy, and if you have one of the very common diseases they are researching, and have not yet signed up for 23andMe, this will save you a $99 sign up fee for their service.
The only thing different about the account on 23andMe you receive compared to a regular 23andMe customer who would sign up at the same time, is that it seems you cannot participate in the customer forums. The other difference is of course that you know your DNA is being contributed to a specific study on a disease you have.
So if you have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, and have not yet signed up for 23andMe, this is a good opportunity to further science and to get access to 23andMe for free. Go check out the 23andMe IBD Study page for further information.
Recently I came across an interesting web site, called Mapire, which displays historical maps of the Hapsburg Empire. The maps currently correspond to three military surveys carried out in the time periods 1763-1787, 1806-1869, and 1869-1887. These periods cover different geopolitical periods, when the areas under control were variously called the Hapsburg Empire, the Austrian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The military maps were created at a scale of 1:28,800. What’s really neat about the maps on Mapire, is that they are all synced to current digital maps, so when you zoom in on one of the military maps, it shows on the left side of the window, while the current digital map is shown on the right. An example, for the town of Kańczuga:
Cadastral Maps, another kind of state-created map, were created at a scale of 1:2,880, or ten times the resolution. This site does not yet have Cadastral Maps, although some Cadastral Maps for the Galicia region can be found in the Gesher Galicia Map Room.
Recently I was asked about ordering a copy of an ancestor’s Social Security application. The application, called an SS-5 Form, is usually used for genealogy to get the names of the applicant’s parents. If you don’t know the birth date of a relative, it can also be used for that purpose, although that information is available in the public SSDI databases (and parents names are not).
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database of deaths recorded by the Social Security Administration. It’s official name is actually the Death Master File (DMF). When published online for genealogy purposes it is referred to as the SSDI. According to FamilySearch, the SSDI includes an increasing percentage of recorded deaths as time goes on from 1962 (when the index started):
The index includes about 50 percent of deceased persons from 1962 to 1971 and about 85 percent of the deceased persons from 1972 to 2005. It also includes a few deaths from 1937 to 1961.
That said, the database itself shows something a bit different. If you search for all deaths in the database from 1937 to 1961, there are 740,152 results. That’s a bit more than ‘a few’. What’s going on here? Even weirder, if you search for records before 1937 (when SS started) there are also records (a bit over 2500). Something is obviously wrong with these records. Keep these imperfections in mind when using the data. If you’re wondering why the percentage increases, it’s because not every working person was registered in the early days of the system. As time went on, more people participated in social security, and thus more people are also recorded in the SSDI.
So assuming your relative is among those recorded in the SSDI, how do you find their record, and assuming you find it, how do you get the record? One thing first…
Restrictions on Usage
You might have read that congress has criticized the online publication of social security numbers and accused online companies that do so of making identity theft easier. I have argued in the past that in fact that is backwards, but putting that aside, some online services have put restrictions on access to SSDI data, such as not showing anyone who died in the past 10 years, etc. Recently a law was passed making it impossible to order SS-5 Forms for anyone who died in the previous 3 years. The law also effects the publication of new deaths to the SSDI, but won’t kick in until March (see this article at the Legal Genealogist for more information on that).
Whether 3 or 10 years, however, that doesn’t affect genealogists at all due to another government policy change. Back in 2011, the Social Security administration changed the access rules, where before you could order a complete SS-5 form for any deceased person born more than 70 years ago, they increased it to anyone born more than 100 years ago. Additionally, if the death of the application cannot be proved, then full records are not available for 120 years after the applicant’s birth.
So it’s currently January 8, 2014. That means if the person is known to be dead (i.e. you have a death certificate, or their death is recorded in the SSDI) then they need to have been born before January 8, 1914 if you’re going to be able to get a full record that shows the applicant’s parent’s names. If they don’t show up in the SSDI and you don’t have a record of their death (but you do have a social security number), then they have to have been born before January 8, 1894 if you want to get the applicant’s parents names.
Don’t Order Records That Won’t Help
Keep in mind one important thing. If the person was born more recently than 100 years ago, you can still order a copy of the SS-5. The Social Security Administration will happily take your money and send you a copy of the record, however, they will block out the names of the parents in the copy they send you (making the record mostly useless for genealogical purposes).
Searching the SSDI
To find a person’s social security number (and at the same time confirm that they are deceased according the Social Security Administration) you can search the SSDI on several sites. One good site is FamilySearch’s SSDI search page. Another public search page is Mocavo’s SSDI Search page. I will say that I believe FamilySearch’s to be the most up-to-date database, and they also post what date the database was updated – as of today it was updated with data up to November 30, 2013 – less than two months ago. Indeed my grandfather who passed away in September is listed in the FamilySearch database, but not in the Mocavo one.
So let’s say the relative you’re researching was born more than a hundred years ago. You find their Social Security number, either through the SSDI or through other means. How do you order a record? Well that’s actually easy. You just go to the Request for Deceased Individual’s Social Security Record page, pay your $27 and order the record.
Interestingly for two dollars more you can order the record even without the Social Security number. This is odd because searching for the record without the number would seem much more difficult and more costly than $2.
A Final Thought on the Restrictions
As I mentioned, my grandfather passed away in September. If I wanted to order his SS-5 form, according to the 2011 regulations I wouldn’t be able to order his un-redacted SS-5 form until he would have been 100, which in his case is not too far away – he was 98 – so July 2015. However, because of the new law recently passed, I can’t order the SS-5 at all until 3 years have passed, so September 2016. An extra year and a bit. In general, however, the restriction is likely to be on the 100-year regulation.
Everyone now needs to wait 3 years on ordering an SS-5 now, but if a relative passed away at the age of 80, you’d have to wait 20 years before you could get the un-redacted SS-5 form with the name of the relative’s parents on it. If your relative died before 2011 and you had ordered the records before the regulatory change then, you could have ordered the same SS-5 Form immediately, and received it un-redacted (since the relative was over 70).