Closing Death Records — The Logical Flaw

From an article by Fred Moss in the Records Preservation and Access Committee Blog:

“One of the misperceptions with which we have repeatedly had to wrestle in recent years has been that ALL Personally Identifiable Information (PII) by default must be safeguarded. For many legislators in recent years, it is almost a reflexive belief that the best or only way to fight identify thieves is to close the records that thieves might have used. At this level of thinking, rarely do current decision-makers distinguish between the active PII of the living from records of deceased individuals. It is this flawed logic that was given as the rationale for the provisions of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 limiting access to and the content of the SSA’s Death Master File.

“May I suggest that death changes many things!”

I would suggest that all genealogists, all legislators, and all public employees should read the full article at


I wonder what the thought is on publication of obituaries in newspapers or online? Many obituaries do not appear in newspapers because of the expense, but most funeral homes now have websites and do publish there. I learned when my father died in 1984 in Texas at least that the dead do not have rights. The death certificate had errors on it (not made by the family) and when we tried to have it corrected the county clerk said it didn’t matter since he was dead. It did matter to his family though! Many “genealogy” cousins that I work with die and the only way I find out about it is the lack of correspondence, and the SSA file.


    Yes, I was a bit surprised to that someone had transcribed, verbatim, the full text of my aunt’s obituary from the local paper in the small town where she lived onto Find-a-Grave, including the full names and home towns of all her surviving children and grandchildren. She only died a year or two ago, so this is all current information about people who are clearly alive and kicking. It’s one thing to have that info in the local paper in a small town where everybody already knows everybody anyway, but an entirely different matter for someone to take it and put it up on a well-known international website for a global audience to see without attempting to contact the family to make sure they had no objections. (It certainly made me uncomfortable to see it.)


G, as respects posting obits on Find A Grave, you could probably find the same information by just Googling the persons name. Let me tell you what should make you uncomfortable…… I just Googled my own name and it brought up my father’s obit from 2013 on the funeral home web page, my current address, all of my past addresses, my husband’s name and his past addresses, info on my high school and college and membership affiliations; all on the 1st page of the search. How’s that for information on “people who are clearly alive and kicking”?


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