It is easy to get excited about a new database when it contains over 40 million names of deceased individuals as the “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007″ recently released on Ancestry.com does.
But when the new wears off (or maybe before the new wears off) it’s time to give some thought to analyzing the information it contains. “Good” genealogical research requires that we not simply swallow each piece of data from each source whole. We need to contemplate several items when using information from this source:
- the probable informant–in most cases, this likely was the Social Security number holder, but there are bound to be exceptions. The database entry does not indicate who the informant is.
- the informant’s probable first hand knowledge. What information did the informant know because they experienced it and what did they know because they were told it? Would there be any reason the informant might lie about any information? This needs to be considered for each item in the entry, not just generalized for the entire record. It is very possible that someone was accurate about all but one small piece of information on the record.
- database transcription and truncation issues–some handwriting was difficult to read (SS-5 forms were often completed by hand) and in some cases locations have been abbreviated or truncated in an atypical way either at the original point of computerization or somewhere else in the data migration process.
The image in this post is from the entry in “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007″ for Ida Loeria Neill (my grandmother Ida Laura [Trautvetter] Neill). The “type of claim” is “original SSN” which makes me think that the information came from her original application for a number. I’m not certain as the documentation on Ancestry.com regarding this database is somewhat vague. All of the information is consistent with what Grandma gave in other records about herself (and it’s all correct except for her place of birth–what she provided to the SSA is what she believed). The 13 August 1994 entry for her name is probably from some record in her Social Security Administration file that was submitted after her death in 1994 as I know she was collecting Social Security benefits at her death.
Think about the potential accuracy of what is in the “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007″ for your relative of interest. Don’t assume that it is correct.