Social Security Death Records

The Social Security Administration's Death Index (SSDI) can be a boon to beginning genealogists because the SSDI is a source for a Social Security number, as well as other information. The Social Security number can be valuable when seeking other documents. It is essential for ordering copies of original death records, a Social Security application, and more.

The Social Security Administration was created by an act of law in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal program. The act laid out a retirement system for many Americans, although not all. It also created a new governmental agency to manage the program-- the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Social Security Administration began computerizing records in 1962. This made it possible to produce an index of the deceased who had Social Security numbers. Because SSA's death information was not automated before 1962, persons who died before then are rarely listed in the SSDI. Although some online Web sites advertise that their databases contain information about deaths "as early as 1937," that claim may be a bit misleading.

Initially, the Social Security Administration recorded only the deaths of individuals who had been receiving Social Security retirement benefits. Those who died before reaching retirement age were not listed, nor were those who had different retirement systems, such as railroad workers, school teachers, and other municipal, state, and federal employees. In the 1970s the railroad and many other retirement systems were merged into the Social Security system. Deaths of those retirees then began appearing in the SSDI.

After the late 1980s, all deaths in the U.S. were reported to the Social Security Administration and recorded in the SSDI. Deaths of children and non-retired adults are listed there for the 1990s, but not for earlier years.

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, even if the deaths occurred overseas.

The online SSDI databases contain 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 Death Index can be accessed at no charge on a number of Web sites, including:

Ancestry.com: http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/main.htm

FamilySearch: http://www.familysearch.org/

New England Historic Genealogical Society (this database is updated frequently with the latest data, unlike some other online sites that only update their databases once every two or three years) http://www.newenglandancestors.org/research/database/ss/default.asp

RootsWeb: http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi

Stephen P. Morse provides an easy way to search any of the online indexes at Searching the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) in One Step

It is important to keep in mind that the SSDI is only an index -- an abbreviated listing. The Social Security Administration holds additional information that can be valuable.

From 1936 on, anyone who applied for a Social Security Card completed an application (Form SS-5) that the SSA keeps on file. This 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

The items marked with an asterisk are not available in the online SSDI database.

The SS-5 form is much more valuable to the genealogist than the limited information shown in the online death index. The Social Security Administration makes copies of the SS-5 available to anyone who requests information on a deceased individual. A photocopy of the SS-5 form can be obtained by writing to the Social Security Administration. The SSA charges a $27.00 search fee for each individual SS-5 copy when the Social Security Number is known ($16 for an abbreviated NUMIDENT form, but most genealogists will prefer the SS-5 itself). If the Social Security Number is not known, the search fee is $29.00.

A standard form (SSA-711) is available, but not required, when requesting a copy of the deceased's SS-5. You can "copy-and-paste" the following sample letter into a word processor, then change all the information shown inside the curly braces { }:

Social Security Administration
Office of Earnings Operations
FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290

Re: Freedom of Information Act Request

Dear Freedom of Information Officer,

I am writing this request under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552. I hereby request a copy of the SS-5, Application for Social Security Card for the following individual:

{first name} {last name}

{Social Security Number as obtained from the online SSDI}

Birth: {Date of birth}

Death: {Date of death}

This individual is deceased, having been listed in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. I am requesting a copy of this person's original SS-5 form. I understand the fee for this service is $27.00. Included is a check for $27.00 made out to the Social Security Administration to cover any administrative costs required by this request.

Please respond to my request upon receipt of this initial correspondence. Thank you for your attention and assistance.

Sincerely,

{Your name}

{Your full address}

Daytime Phone Number: {Your telephone number}

To obtain the SS-5 forms for more than one person, it is suggested that you write separate letters and separate checks, and mail them in separate envelopes. It may require several months for the response to your letter(s).

If you cannot find a person in the SSDI, the Social Security Administration may still be able to help. If one requests an "SSN search," The SSA will try to find the person's Social Security number, even for deaths before 1962. To request this service, you must send $29 and provide the person’s 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 is also helpful, especially with common surnames. One must also provide proof of death, as the records of living individuals are not publicly available.

Social Security Numbers

The Social security number is divided into three sets of digits. The 3 digits in the first group indicate the state or territory in which the number was originally issued. The second group of 2 numbers is used to define the people within the state. The third group of 4 digits is simply issued in numerical sequence.

The following list shows the area indicated by first 3 digits:

001-003 New Hampshire
004-007 Maine
008-009 Vermont
010-034 Massachusetts
035-039 Rhode Island
040-049 Connecticut
050-134 New York
135-158 New Jersey
159-211 Pennsylvania
212-220 Maryland
221-222 Delaware
223-231 Virginia
232-236 West Virginia
237-246 North Carolina
247-251 South Carolina
252-260 Georgia
261-267 Florida
268-302 Ohio
303-317 Indiana
318-361 Illinois
362-386 Michigan
387-399 Wisconsin
400-407 Kentucky
408-415 Tennessee
416-424 Alabama
425-428 Mississippi
429-432 Arkansas
433-439 Louisiana
440-448 Oklahoma
449-467 Texas
468-477 Minnesota
478-485 Iowa
486-500 Missouri
501-502 North Dakota
503-504 South Dakota
505-508 Nebraska
509-515 Kansas
516-519 Idaho
520 Wyoming
521-524 Colorado
525 New Mexico (also 585 below)
526-527 Arizona
528-529 Utah
530 Nevada
531-539 Washington
540-544 Oregon
545-573 California
574 Alaska
575-576 Hawaii
577-579 District of Columbia
580 U.S. Virgin Islands
581-585 Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa
585 New Mexico (some 585 numbers)
586-699 Unassigned
700-729 Railroad Retirement Board
730-899 Unassigned

 

A few Social Security Numbers beginning with a 9 have been issued, but these are very rare.

For more information about obtaining information from the Social Security Administration, see http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/147/related/1, or http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/150.