Using the Social Security Death Index
Social Security Death Master File: A Much Misunderstood
summer of 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into
law. Since that time, over 370 million Social Security cards have been
issued to the citizens and residents of the United States. The
present-day Social Security Administration (SSA) is now larger than
perhaps even Roosevelt envisioned.
Origin of the Social Security Death Master File
Over the last sixty years the SSA has increased both in terms of size
and benefits offered and has dealt with resources and funds numbering in
the trillions of dollars.
To assist in keeping track of individuals, the
government assigns a numerical identification to each person involved in
the program. Though it was originally intended for use within the Social
Security Administration only, its value as a unique identifier has
promoted its application in other areas of society, such as drivers'
license ID numbers, state and federal tax programs, motor vehicle
registration, military ID (starting with Vietnam era), etc.
As a by-product of this vast recordkeeping system, the
SSA developed a file of those individuals in the program reported as
deceased. This file is the Social Security Death Master File. Its
present version contains over 50 million entries, which ranks it as one
of the largest computer indexes with genealogical application, and
certainly one of the most valuable for twentieth century research.
Titles Often Add to Confusion
Myths have also arisen concerning the time span, content, and
completeness of the file. Some of the titles given to commercial
products containing the database are in themselves misleading. Calling
the data a Social Security Death Benefits Index, for example, tries to
communicate the idea that the index does not include the deaths of all
Americans, as does the more generic title Social Security Death Index.
However, even this term is misleading since an individual may be
included in the database with
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Misconceptions About Using The Social Security Death Index
The use of the Social Security Death Master File is
not without its problems. Because updated data is produced by the
Social Security Administration on a quarterly basis, and perhaps because
the database is provided to the public through private and commercial
entities, there is more misunderstanding about this particular
genealogical index than any other sold commercially. This
misunderstanding has resulted in a number of misconceptions about the
Social Security Death Master File. Here are a few of the most
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Security Death Index FAQ
The SSDI can be confusing at first glance. Find
answers to your questions like:
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?
For answers to these questions, check the
to Obtain a Copy of Someone's SS-5 Form
The SS-5 form is what your deceased ancestor filled out when they
applied for Social Security. It can be helpful to the genealogy
researcher to obtain this form and the information it contains.
Click Here to access information from the Social Security
Administration on the Freedom of Information Act and how to obtain
social security records from the Social Security Administration.
Print out the request for the SS-5 FORM