United States Social Security Administration Records

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Social Security Death Index (SSDI)[edit | edit source]

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

The Social Security Administration updates the Death Index monthly. However, every site does not update their database every month. Therefore, what you find at one site may not be available at another site.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) Introduction[edit | edit source]

The "Social Security Death Index" is a database created from the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. This is an index of deceased individuals whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration. It has been kept since 1962, when operations were computerized. The index includes a few deaths from 1937 to 1961, about 50 percent of deceased persons from 1962 to 1971, and about 85 percent of deceased persons from 1972 to 2005.

Married women are usually listed in this index under their married name. Last names longer than 12 letters are shortened to 12 characters. The death place listed is not necessarily the place of death, it is the last place of residence that the Social Security Administration has on file. When two geographical divisions are given they represent County/State as opposed to City/State. For example Jefferson,Texas refers to the county of Jefferson not the City of Jefferson. If a town name of last residence is not listed, it may be found by use of the Zip code. The death date, residence at time of death, Social Security number, and state of issue are usually reliable information since the information comes directly from the Social Security Administration’s master file. However, realize that errors may have occurred when the information was originally entered. Information listed for the name and birth date was provided by an informant and may be inaccurate.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) was created in 1936 and began issuing Social Security numbers to track the earnings that workers reported for retirement benefits. In 1961, the Internal Revenue Service began using Social Security numbers to identify taxpayers. The SSA provides an extract from its file for distribution through the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service. Because this extracted file deals with deceased persons, the information is considered to be in the public domain. Several organizations have purchased this file and posted it to their websites.

The purpose of this index was twofold: to protect the benefits to beneficiaries of pension funds, insurance benefits, and assist Federal, State and Local governments and others responsible for verifying deceased person(s) in support of fulfillment of benefits to their beneficiaries; and to identify and prevent identity fraud, and identify persons who are deceased. In 2014 Federal legislation changed the rules for access to the Social Security Death Master File. Records for the most recent 3 years are not available. This collection was last updated in 2016.

The follow is a disclaimer from National Technical Information Service.

"The products advertised on this website contain the complete and official Social Security Administration (SSA) database extract, as well as updates to the full file of persons reported to SSA as being deceased. SSA authorizes the use of this database as a death verification tool, but notes that the Death Master File (DMF) may contain inaccuracies. Thus, SSA cannot guarantee the accuracy of the DMF. Therefore, the absence of a particular person on this file is not proof that the individual is alive. Further, in rare instances it is possible for the records of a person who is not deceased to be included erroneously in the DMF."

For additional information about the index please visit the National Technical Information Service's page Limited Access Death Master File.

More information[edit | edit source]

SSDI Contents[edit | edit source]

The SSDI typically has the following information on the individuals:

  • Name
  • Social security number
  • State issued
  • Birth date
  • Death date
  • Last residence
  • Lump sum payment

Why some individuals are not in the SSDI[edit | edit source]

  • Unemployed: Those that never worked may not have had a social security number. It wasn't until 1987 that assigning a social security at birth was instituted as an option for parents. In 1971, it was required for all US citizens to have a social security number if they wanted to receive any income from employment.
  • Self-employed: Those that were self-employed did not qualify for a social security number. This included farmers, many doctors, attorneys and other self-employed professionals.
  • Railroad employees: The Railroad Act provided those employed in the railroad industry with benefits and did not need social security.
  • Married women: Women are found in the index by their legal name. If they were married, they would be listed under their married name, not maiden name.
  • Deaths were not recorded:
  • From 1937 to 1961: very few deaths were recorded.
  • From 1962-1971, about 50 percent of deceased persons can be found in the SSDI.
  • From 1972 to 2005, about 85 percent of deceased persons can be found in the SSDI.

Social Security Applications and Claims Index[edit | edit source]

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

This databsae contains information given to the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process. It contains about 49 million people. Some records may include unusual abbreviations or truncated entries for county and other names or punctuation errors in the data.

Claims and Applications Contents[edit | edit source]

The database typically has the following information on the individuals:

  • Applicant's full name
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Date and place of birth
  • Citizenship
  • Sex
  • Father's name
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Race/ethnic description (optional)

Additionally you might find changes made to the applicant's record, including name changes or information on claims that were recorded.

SS-5 Application[edit | edit source]

After you find your ancestor in the Social Security Death Index and the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, you may want to order a copy of their SS-5 Application. The current fee is USD $21 per record when the Social Security Number is known, and USD $21 when the number is unknown or incorrect. You are charged the fee even if the SSA is unable to locate any information on the person. It may take up to six months to receive a report, so please be patient.

The SS-5 application is important to a family history researcher because of the detail it provides. The SS-5 application contains the following information:

  • Applicant's full name
  • Age at last birthday
  • Date and place of birth
  • Father and mother's full name (including the mother's maiden name)
  • Gender
  • Date signed and applicant's signature

For information on ordering a copy of an SS-5, see the Social Security Administration website.
The pdf for ordering a deceased individual's Social Security Application by mail is available here.
Helpful information (current as of November 2020) for ordering the application online is available here.