Where has all the vital data gone?

It happens to everyone. Sometime in your late 20’s or mid 30’s all your friends start to disappear. They get married, have children, start families, move away from home, and ultimately join the stream of meaningless updates on your Facebook feed. Seeing them once a week turns into seeing them only during the holidays turns into wondering, “whatever happened to them?”

people in a parkThis conversation occurred in our office recently and the topic naturally shifted to the data that gets generated by these life events (yes, we’re data nerds – it’s hard to have a conversation without it veering back to data. You’ll regret inviting us to parties).

Every life event will generate data. The major life events are marriage, divorce, birth, and death. There are also minor life events that generate data: things like moving house, buying a car, or attending college. In this article we’ll talk about the major life events and explore where the data is collected and how it becomes available to data companies like Martin Data. So let’s get started!


Marriage and Divorce Data

Marriage and Divorce filings are generally kept with a state or county probate court. It’s public information, yes, but it’s not easily available. In many cases it must be requested in person, with a special release form, or it must be paid for. It used to be that large databases of marriage and divorce records would be available from folks like LexisNexis or even from the states themselves. But due to privacy laws in the last 10+ years, we see less and less of this data.

Instead, we’re now seeing inferred marriage and divorce data coming from marketing services companies. They track who lives in a house, their ages, and their genders (this is called “householding”). From there, it’s simple for them to identify who is married and when a separation has occurred. The downside of this kind of data is that there’s no registration or filing number attached to it – but that’s not important to everyone.

Some of these marketing service companies are also able to track your movements online. If they see you shopping for wedding dresses, rings, and cakes… well, you can put the pieces together. These are called “lifestyle change indicators.” While these indicators are not hard data, they suffice quite well for advertisers, marketers, and even investigators.


Birth Data

Birth records are an interesting animal. In most cases, data companies are forbidden from keeping or furnishing data on minors – there are plenty of state, federal, and local laws forbidding it. Birth information, like marriage and divorce data, is public and is therefore housed by the state or county probate courts. And much like marriage and divorce data, requesting these records from the courts often requires a release form or payment.

On top of this, one must bear in mind that the data generated at least 18 years ago. Record keeping 18 years ago is never as good as it is today – so these records tend to be scattered and not always digital.

For investigators, researchers, and genealogy enthusiasts, sources like Ancestry.com (and in many cases, old churches) can be a good source of historical data.


Deceased Data

On the flip side, deceased data is often very easy to find. Like birth, marriage, and divorce data, the official certificates are kept with the courthouses in many states and counties. They require payment and sometimes release consent. However, unlike marriage, divorce, and birth records, deceased data can be sourced from several other places.

The Social Security Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology maintain a list of individuals who were receiving Social Security assistance and who were reported deceased by their family after their death. The file is known as the DMF or Death Master File. The list used to be available with relative ease but in recent years, NTIS has only released a “limited access” version of the file which restricts who can buy it. The reason for this move was that identity thieves would often use the information of the recently deceased to commit fraud before the financial institutions had updated their own records with the DMF.

Obituaries are another good source of deceased information. Most obituaries list a date of birth, a date of death, and even a list of survivors and children. As natural language processing and AI becomes better and better, extracting information out of obituary records becomes trivial.

Next time we’ll talk about some of the minor life changes and how that data is generated and collected.

The authors of the information presented on this page are not attorneys nor are they affiliated with attorneys. The information presented on this page does not constitute legal advice. Before acting on any of the information obtained from this page or any others on this website, please consult your own legal counsel.
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