25 November 2010

Errors: Not only on historical records

Family history researchers tend to think that only old historical records demonstrate errors in dates.

Our recent move to New Mexico showed that quite contemporary records also reflect errors.

What do you do first when you move to a new place in the US? Driving licenses need to be changed, so the Department of Motor Vehicles is usually a first stop. Each state has its own policies of what documents are required for this process.

Off we went and were told we needed various forms of ID to prove age and residency. Residency wasn't a problem (car insurance, utility bills, etc. took care of that). Proof of age didn't seem a problem; there were passports, other licenses, and other docs. However, one requirement was an original social security card.

I don't know about you, but I haven't seen mine in decades. I know the number, of course, but no one has asked to see the physical card for a very long time. Same for my husband.

OK, not a problem - or so we thought. We drove up to the just-opened Social Security office in our area, and waited to speak to a very nice woman to obtain a duplicate card.

My husband, a naturalized citizen for more than three decades, was told that his social security number was off by a day - not a month, not a year, just one day - in comparison to the rest of his documents. Although his US passport - and subsequent documents - was based his citizenship and naturalization documents, in turn based on official translations, the SSA couldn't do anything about it.

However, they suggested we go down to the USCIS office to see how they could help, which we did. A very helpful woman there provided his A and Certificate numbers and advised us to go back to the SSA office so they could look at the same database she was looking at. She couldn't change the birth date but confirmed that his passport birth date was the correct one and the SSA date was off.

Off we went again to the SSA office, where another very nice man asked for my husband's birth certificate, which we produced - in Farsi (his shenasnameh, as he was born in Iran). "Wow!," said the guy. "I haven't seen one of those before!" But you need to get it translated, he added. Of course, they couldn't accept my husband's translation of his own document.

The next step involved a bit of calling around to find someone in the local Persian community who could provide a translation. That was accomplished and the translation is ready. We'll pick it up Friday morning and go back to the SSA on Monday morning. If that's in order, my husband will receive his new duplicate SSA card in about a week, and can then go to the DMV for his new license.

The adage of checking documents against multiple sources holds. The wrong date on one document, even though every other document shows the correct date, can really hold things up.

We must say, however, that every official with whom we came into contact was very friendly, very helpful, and it was a pleasant - albeit slightly frustrating - experience.

The good news is that we discovered a great Chinese restaurant near the SSA office. We've eaten there on each of our SSA visits, so look forward to another visit on Monday.

Meanwhile, I'm the designated taxi driver!

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