The Amazing Dr. Morse and the Social Security Death Index

The Social Security Death Index is one of the easiest to access sources of basic vital statistics for the millions of people whose deaths have been reported to the U.S. Social Security Administration. Birth years for the people listed range from about 1875 to last year. The SSDI itself is just an index but the listing may include name, birth date, death date, and last known residence.

While many online genealogy databases offer access to the SSDI, I prefer to use Stephen Morse’s One Step SSDI Search. Like all of Dr. Morse’s search pages, this one allows easy, flexible searching. If you haven’t tried Stephen Morse’s One Step Searches, you really should. They help you search online databases in ways you didn’t even know you could.

Start searching the SSDI by inputting the minimum information into the search form to avoid an overly restrictive search that might miss your target person. If the surname is not a very common one, try entering just that. If you get too many results, add a little more detail like part of the first name or the birth or death year. If you are lucky enough to know the individual’s social security number, search for just that first.

If you don’t find the person you are looking for, don’t give up right away. Try alternate spellings of the last name. In the One Step search form, try the  “Sounds Like” options.

Once you find the right person, you you will have to decide what to do next. If you were looking for a particular bit of data like the birth or death date, hopefully you now have it and your quest is done. If you want even more information about this person, consider ordering a copy of the original SS-5 form which is the application for a social security number.

In 2011, the policies for releasing an individuals SS-5 changed making it harder to obtain. The SSDI itself is no longer considered proof of death. To get a copy of an SS-5, you must include some other proof of death or evidence that the person was born over 120 years ago. To avoid having the parents name blacked out on what you get back, you must also include proof of their deaths or that they were born more than 120 years ago.

Here is the statement from the Social Security Administration’s current policy: “under our current policy, we do not release the parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless the parents’ are proven deceased, have a birth date more than 120 years ago, or the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age.”

If you can meet these requirements, use online form SSA-711 to make your request under the Freedom of Information Act. The cost is currently $27 if you know the social security number or $29 if you don’t.

The process to obtain an SS-5 is much more tedious now than it once was but the information on the application might be invaluable to a genealogist. While the questions vary over the time the form has been used, they typically include birth place, birth date, maiden name for women, parents’ names, employers name and address, and address of the applicant.

  • Jo Henn says:

    I really liked this one too and had never heard of Stephen Morse's One-Step searches. I look forward to exploring them. I put this post in this week's NoteWorthy Reads too:

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