Social Security Death Index FAQS

How can I correct errors in the SSDI?
Why can't I find the person I'm looking for?
Who is listed in the SSDI?
Where does the SSDI come from?
What information does the SSDI contain?
What do each of the fields in the database mean?
What do the numbers in a Social Security number mean?
What other information is available from the Social Security Administration?
How can I get a copy of the original records?

Taken from: Porter, Pamela Boyer. 1999. "Social Security Sleuthing" Conference in the States Program Richmond VA: National Genealogical Society.

How can I correct errors in the SSDI?

If an individual claims that SSA has incorrectly listed someone as deceased (or has incorrect dates/data on the Death Master File (the database from which the Social Security Death Index is generated), the individual should contact their local social security office (with proof) to have the error corrected. That local social security office will:

  1. Make the correction to the main file at SSA and give the individual a verification document of SSA's current records, or
  2. If the local social security office already has the correct information on the Death Master File (probably corrected sometime prior), give the individual a verification document of SSA's records.

Why can't I find the person I'm looking for?

It could be that the person you're looking for does not meet the criteria for inclusion in the database. The index does not include living people. It is not an index to all deceased individuals who have held Social Security Numbers. It is not a database of all deceased individuals who have received Social Security Benefits, or whose families have received survivor benefits. The SSDI contains basic information about persons with Social Security numbers whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration. See the above section on who is included in the SSDI. (Porter 1999)

If the individual you seek does meet the criteria for inclusion but does not appear in the index, here are some things you might try

  • Try searching by possible alternate name spellings or Soundex searching.
  • Change dates around (e.g. instead of searching for 5 Oct 1954 [10/5/54], search for 10 May 1954 [5/10/54])
  • Change years around (e.g. 1984 becomes 1948)
  • Use all other possible spellings of the name (and perhaps some that aren't so likely). When searching for a name like O'Hare, or other names with punctuation in them, enter the name without the punctuation (e.g. OHare). If you are looking for someone using a first name but don't find what you're looking for, try searching with just an initial. There are also rare instances of what appear to be middle initials included in the last name field, so you may want to try this in that field as well.
  • Switch last name and first name around
  • Try searching for a middle name as a first name
  • Even if you know a piece of information, try omitting it (e.g. if you know first and last name and death date, try leaving off the first name).

If none of these yield fruit, it is possible that the SSDI has erroneously omitted your ancestor. If this is the case, see the FAQ about correcting errors in the SSDI.

Who is listed in the SSDI?

This database is an index to basic information about persons with Social Security numbers whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration. The death may have been reported by a survivor requesting benefits. It may have been reported in order to stop Social Security Benefits to the deceased. Funeral homes often report deaths to the SSA as a service to family members. Beginning in 1962, the SSA began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits. About 98% percent of the people in the SSDI died after 1962, but a few death dates go back as far as 1937. Because legal Aliens in the U.S. can obtain a Social Security card, their names may appear in the SSDI if their deaths were reported. Some 400,000 railroad retirees are also included in the SSDI.

The Social Security Death Index is not an index to all deceased individuals who have held Social Security Numbers. It is not a database of all deceased individuals who have received Social Security Benefits, or whose families have received survivor benefits. (Porter 1999)

Where does the SSDI come from?

The following timeline offers a brief history of the SSDI:

    14 Aug 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law.

    1936-1937 Approximately 30 million U.S. residents apply for and receive Social Security numbers.

    1 Jan 1937 Workers begin acquiring credits toward old-age insurance benefits, and payroll tax (FICA) withholding begins.

    1947 Application for Social Security number no longer includes employer information.

    1962 Electronic requests for benefits become commonly used, resulting in what is known as the Social Security Death Index.

    1963 Issuance of Social Security numbers beginning with 700-728 to railroad employees was discontinued.

    1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare into law. Many citizens over age 65 receive Social Security cards for the first time.

    1967 Department of Defense begins using Social Security numbers instead of military service numbers to identify Armed Forces personnel.

    1972 SSA is required by law to issue Social Security numbers to any legally admitted alien upon entry, and to obtain evidence of age and citizenship or alien status and identity.

    1972 SSA begins assigning Social Security numbers and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, and the area number assigned is based on the mailing address zip code from the application.

    1989 SSA program enables parents to automatically obtain a Social Security number for a newborn infant when the birth is registered with the state.

    (Porter 1999)

What information does the SSDI contain?

The SSDI contains the following information fields:

  • Social Security number,
  • Surname,
  • Given Name,
  • Date of Death,
  • Date of Birth,
  • Last Known Residence
  • Location of Last Benefit
  • Date and Place of Issuance

The Social Security number is often a piece of information genealogists don't have. This number can enable you to order the individual's Social Security application or claims file, leading to a discovery of a birth place, a maiden name, or parents’ names. Finding a birth and death date and Social Security number can help in a request for a death certificate or obituary. The SSDI can provide clues to the person's residence when he or she first received a Social Security card, or to a possible last residence. It can provide a clue about where the lump-sum distribution beneficiary lived. SSDI searches can help fill in the gaps on collateral lines, especially for somewhat unusual surnames. (Porter 1999)

What do each of the fields in the database mean?

Last Name:
Up to 128 characters.
(mckay, 'smith or smyth', larsen, ...)
When searching for a name like O'Hare, or other names with punctuation in them, enter the name without the punctuation (e.g. OHare).

First Name:
Up to 128 characters.
(randall, 'david or dave', martin, ...)
The SSA does not normally include middle name/initial information in the data, but there are many instances where such information was actually included. For example, there are many instances of "J Jones" included in the file. Most of them are initial "J" only, but some include other names as well.

SSN:
Social Security Number
(###-##-####)
See the section on the meaning of the Social Security number.

State Issued:
Name of the State that issued the SSN.
In most cases, the first three numbers of the SSN are unique to a state (i.e. they are only used for that state). For example, the number 232-xx-xxxx was used in West Virginia and in North Carolina. In this case, there will be a note that indicates that only the numerical series "232-30-xxxx" was used in North Carolina and any other number except 30 was used for West Virginia.

Birth Information:

    Birth Date:
    The date of birth
    (01-31)
    Birth Month:
    The month of birth
    Select the name of the month from the list.
    Birth Year:
    The year of birth (4 digits)
    Note that the index contains dates of birth as early as (or perhaps earlier than) 1800. Because the system was created in 1932, it would be wise to suspect that birth dates earlier than 1850 or so were in error.
    The index also includes birth dates for several individuals who have not been born yet (62 are listed as being born after 1995) indicating the need to search combinations of years that an operator may have mistyped (e.g. you may want to search in 1986 for someone who you think died in 1968).

 

Death Information

    Death Date:
    The date of death
    (01-31)
    Note that before 1988, the date of death was seldom recorded (i.e. only the Month and Year were recorded). Only 25% of the records have death date information and all but 34,000 of those are after 1988. This makes any death date before 1988 suspect.
    Death Month:
    The month of death
    Death Year:
    The year of death (4 digits)
    Note that more than 1,000 entries are listed with a death before 1932 (the inception of the Social Security system) making these entries suspect.
    Just over 1,000,000 entries are listed with a death date before 1963. This means that the vast majority of deaths listed are deaths after 1963.

 

Last Residence Location

    The Last Residence is the place where the person was last known to be living when the benefit was applied for.
    While 77% of the records contain Last Residence information, a total of 19% do not contain any Last Residence information.
    City, County, State
    While we believe that the majority of this information is correct, there have been reports of incorrect cities being associated with various zip codes. Also, since ZIP codes are subject to change over time, please be sure to verify city names with other sources before relying heavily upon them in further research efforts.
    Here is another place you can go to look up ZIP codes and cross reference them to names of neighboring cities/towns: http://www.usps.gov/ncsc/lookups/lookup_ctystzip.html

Last Benefit Information

    City:
    The city/town of either the Last Residence or the Lump Sum Payment.
    County:
    The county of either the Last Residence or the Lump Sum Payment.
    State:
    The state of either the Last Residence or the Lump Sum Payment.

What do the numbers in a Social Security number mean?

A nine-digit Social Security number is composed of three parts: the area number, the group number, and the serial number.

The Area Number: The first three digits in a Social Security number comprise the area number. Before 1972, this number identified the state in which the applicant's original Social Security card was issued. Since 1972, all Social Security numbers have been assigned and issued from one office in Baltimore, and the area number identifies the mailing address zip code of the applicant. An applicant's mailing address, either before or after 1972 may not be the same as the residence. The area number is merely an indicator that an applicant resided in or used an address in a particular state at the time the Social Security card was originally issued. A list of area numbers and corresponding states is available on the SSA’s Internet web site at http://www.ssa.gov/.

The Group Number: The middle two digits of a Social Security number range from 01 to 99, but they are not issued in consecutive order. The SSA Internet site contains a frequently updated list of the latest Group numbers issued within each area.

The Serial Number: The last four digits of a Social Security number run serially from 0001 through 9999. (Porter 1999)

What other information is available from the Social Security Administration?

The Social Security Administration has a microfilmed copy of every individual's original Social Security application (known as the SS-5), as well as claims files. These documents contain additional information not available in the SSDI such as birth place, maiden name, and parents’ names. (Porter 1999)

More specifically, The application form (SS-5) contains the following information:

  • Full name
  • Full name at birth (including maiden name)
  • Present mailing address
  • Age at last birthday
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth (city, county, state)
  • Father's full name "regardless of whether living or dead"
  • Mother's full name, including maiden name, "regardless of whether living or dead"
  • Sex and race
  • Ever applied for SS number/Railroad Retirement before? Yes/No
  • Current employer's name and address
  • Date signed
  • Applicant's signature

How can I get a copy of the original records?

The Social Security Administration makes copies of the original Social Security application form (the SS-5) available to third parties who request information on a deceased individual.

A standard letter to the Social Security Administration is available with the search results on the Ancestry.com Social Security Death Index. To generate the letter simply click on the "write letter" link available with all search results in Ancestry's SSDI. This letter may be printed and mailed to the Social Security Administration to request a copy of your ancestor's SS-5 form. The Social Security Administration charges $27.00 for each individual copy ($16 for an abbreviated NUMIDENT form as opposed to the SS-5 itself).

Note:
Note: Not everyone who has, or has had, a Social Security card will appear on the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Many enrolled persons are not listed either because their death was not reported to the SSA or they are still living. If you haven't found your deceased ancestor on the SSDI, but he or she was likely enrolled with the Social Security system, it may still be possible to get a photocopy of his or her original SS-5.

To request this information, you will need to send the name and Social Security number of the person you're researching. You might be able to locate the person's Social Security number in the following places:

  • personal papers
  • death certificate
  • funeral home records
  • records held by financial institutions
  • voter registration rolls at county courthouse
  • former employers of the individual

If those sources don't produce the number, you may request a "SSN search" with the Social Security Administration. To request this service you must send $29 and provide the following information: full name, state of birth, and date of birth to:

    Social Security Administration
    OEO FOIA Workgroup
    300 N. Green Street
    P.O. Box 33022
    Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022

Providing names of parents are also helpful, especially with common surnames. Be sure also to provide proof of death, as the records of living individuals are not publicly available.