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Social Security Death Index to be Updated Weekly

Posted by Chad Milliner on March 4, 2010 in Ancestry.com Site, Content

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) was one of Ancestry.com’s very first databases. We’ve been adding names to this collection since 1996, and in that time we have listed more than 86 million names in the collection.  In fact, we were the first to provide family historians online access to the SSDI, so we realize the importance of this collection. This is why we will now be updating the SSDI every week to add the names of those whose deaths were recently reported to the Social Security Administration.

The SSDI contains only deaths that were reported to the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board.  So it is possible that Granny is not included.  But before concluding that Granny was not, make sure to search the SSDI in several ways. Here are some tips for your search:

  • Search with the surname by which she was known at the time of her death.
  • If that does not bring up the record, try other surnames that she may have used at various times. 
  • If you know the year in which she died, try searching by given name, year of death, and year of birth, without including a surname. 
  • Try searching with initials (many SSDI records do not include the full given name). 
  • Try using a middle name instead of the first given name. 
  • Try variant forms of names – for Sarah also try Sally; for Mary also try Molly and Polly. 
  • Try switching the month and day (for 5 February also check 2 May).

If you have a record that lists the Social Security Number, that can be searched on without needing to enter information in any of the other search boxes.  We recently increased the ability to use truncation in searches so try entering just the first few letters of the name and then using an asterisk.

Exactly what each SSDI record contains depends on what information the Social Security Administration provides.  Some SSDI records provide the exact date of death while others list only the month and year.  In no case do SSDI records list where death occurred because the Social Security Administration does not provide that information.  What is commonly thought to be the place of death is instead the last place of residence that was known to the Social Security Administration.  This locality might be where the death occurred, but you will need to find other records, such as the person’s state-issued death certificate, to know for sure.

So, if you haven’t already tried searching our SSDI collection – try it today. And keep in mind that this collection will be updated weekly, so it’s worth checking back regularly to see if Granny was included.

17 comments

Comments
1 LynnMarch 4, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Thank you! Great suggestions for alternate ways to identify the death record. Please keep up these great suggestions and create similiar blog entries for other indexes and records. In many searches I have identified wonderful and exciting new information, but I have a few key individuals that I have had challenges finding additional and desired facts/specifics.

2 Jerry BryanMarch 4, 2010 at 10:48 pm

The SSDI is a great resource, and it’s one of several of the ancestry.com resources that I use the most (except for the census, of course). However, despite my ongoing efforts to use New Search as much as possible, the SSDI is one of the databases where I usually find myself forced into using Old Search.

The basic problem with New Search and the SSDI is the search template, and in particular the way the date is specified in the New Search template for the SSDI. That is, the New Search template for the SSDI only support a year, and does not support a month or day. Or if the New Search template for the SSDI supports a month and day, I can’t figure out how to make it work.

I note the following suggestion for dealing with difficult SSDI searches in Chad Milliner’s blog posting: “Try switching the month and day (for 5 February also check 2 May).” How do you do that when you can’t specify anything but the year? I also note the following suggestion in the Search Tips for the SSDI search page itself: “Change dates around (e.g. instead of searching for 5 Oct 1954 [10/5/54], search for 10 May 1954 [5/10/54])” How do you do that when you can’t specify anything but the year?

There are other problems with the New Search template for the SSDI as well – the lack of separate fields for the city, county, and zip; and the lack of a field for state issued. On the city/county thing, there are cities in multiple counties, and counties with multiple cities, and it’s much cleaner in Old Search to specify a county without a city or a city without a county than with New Search. I don’t know how to search for a zip code in New Search at all. But the real biggie is the problem with the New Search template date fields.

3 Andy HatchettMarch 4, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Jerry,

When it comes to the SSDI I’ve found it easiest to not mess with old search or NewSearch. I go to the SSDI itself and use the Advanced search where you can specity
the month, day, and year of both birth and death.
Original issuing state of SS card.
Last Residence
Zip.
State,
County
City

I usually enter as much as I know or can guess and then back out certain things if nothing found. It works pretty well.

4 Sue EvingerMarch 5, 2010 at 9:48 am

I can not find my sister in the SS Deaths. I finally found her SS# (from her death certificate) and tried searching that way also, but it does not show her at all. Is there a reason for this? Why wouldn’t it put a name with the SS# when I looked it up?? Thank you for your help.
Josie Kathryn Lary Rubin
30 Oct 1936 Oklahoma
12 Nov 1982 Arizona
SS# 441-36-4652

5 Chad MillinerMarch 5, 2010 at 10:47 am

Sue, occasionally death certificates incorrectly list Social Security numbers. Typos happen even on “official” records. The other possibility is that her death was never reported to the Social Security Administration.

What I recommend is that you request from the Social Security Administration a copy of the SS-5 form that your sister (or your parents, if your sister was a child at the time) completed. You do not need to supply your sister’s Social Security number when ordering the form (although doing so gives you a slight discount).

The SS-5 form is the application for a Social Security number. Traditionally, a person applied for a Social Security number at the time that he or she began to work. The form asked for exactly when and where each person was born, the names of his or her parents, and often lists where the person was working at the time of the application. The SS-5 will also list the Social Security number that was assigned, so you can thus determine whether the death certificate accurately lists your sister’s number. Anyone can request the SS-5 form of anyone else who is deceased.

The fastest way to order an SS-5 is via the Social Security Administration’s online system, with a credit card. However, if a person is not in the SSDI, the Social Security Administration will need proof of death before they will fill the order, so for obtaining the SS-5 of your sister, I recommend that you mail in the paper form with a copy of the death certificate.

6 Carol A. H.March 5, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I have a similar problem as Sue #4, so I was glad to read the answer from Chad #5. Thanks.

7 LynnMarch 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm

THANK YOU CHAD!!! Please continue to provide such great tips as well as let us know if there is a reference sources with similiar insights/tips.

Based upon your above entry, I ordered copies of two Social Security applications — I had the SS #s but wanted to validate I accurately identified the parents of my 2nd great grandfather and another to identify the parents of my husband’s great grandfather… so exciting … two lines of the family tree that I had challenges researching and two key peices of information that will ideally be uncovered by the Social Security application form.

8 Chad MillinerMarch 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Carol, you did not say when the person you are looking for died, but if that death occured before approximately 1962 that would likely explain why he or she cannot be found in the SSDI. The Social Security Administration began using computers in about 1962 to keep track of deaths. Before then, they used paper methods for that and so about 98% of the entries in the SSDI are for the years after 1961.

However, the Social Security Administration does have SS-5 forms for everyone who ever received a Social Security number. Thus, the SS-5 can be ordered regardless of whether the death took place before or after 1962. The Social Security Administration began issuing numbers in 1936 so you will not find SS-5 forms for people who died before then. Also, many people alive in 1936 never applied for a Social Security number because they did not qualify for one reason or another. For example, initially, the self-employed were not part of the Social Security program.

9 Chad MillinerMarch 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Lynn asked if I knew of a good reference source for tips and tricks. The genealogical reference book I like the best is The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, which is now in its third edition. This book was one of the very first books published by Ancestry.com, way back in 1984, back when Ancestry.com was not yet a dot com. I have loved this book since 1986, when, as a then newbie genealogist I found the book invaluable in learning how to use the various types of genealogical records. This was of course many years before I became employed by Ancestry.com.

There are also a wealth of free tips and “how-to” articles at Ancestry.com’s Article Archives, which is part of our online Learning Center. I just typed the words “Social Security” into the search box on the Article Archives page and found links to several articles about the SSDI that records experts have written over the years, including one from 2003 that supplies some further details about the SSDI.

10 Carol A. H.March 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Chad:

The SS # of the deceased person I’m researching is 573-20-8850. It came from a California death index. I don’t have a copy of the death certificate. Her name was Harriet Mangs in that record. I think her maiden name was Kisto. I’m trying to prove her parents were William Kisto and Agnes –?–.

Harriet/Elizabeth Kisto or Elizabeth/Harriet Kisto was born 16 Jan 1919 in Pennsylvania, and died 14 Mar 1970 in San Francisco ( ? city or county), California. She married Albert Edwin Mangs. I’m doing some research for another person, free of charge.

I’m aware of the change in record keeping for the Social Security Administration. They had the wrong name attached to my SS# in their records. I had a terrible time talking on the phone trying to get them to help me get it changed to my correct name before I went on SS. I won’t forget that incident. Garbage in, garbage out, on computers!

11 Richard H.March 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Regarding the SS-5. Social Security charges $27 for a copy of the orignal application for SSN (with SSN provided) and $16 for a computer extract of this application. ($2 more each if SSN is not provided.) What is the difference, if any, between the computer extract and the copy of the original application?

12 LynnMarch 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

#11 Richard
A computer extract would likely not contain all information that is on the original document ( i.e. you may gain additional insights from a copy of the original.) Additionally, there could be errors in the extract due to transcription errors.

13 Jerry BryanMarch 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

Re: Andy #3. I don’t understand your comment about “going to the SSDI itself”. I think that’s was what I am doing. I don’t really search the SSDI from the main ancestry.com home page or from the main ancestry.com search page. I go straight to the SSDI page.

But even on the SSDI page, there is a New Search template and there is an Old Search template. The templates are very different. The template you are describing sounds like the Old Search template for the SSDI. (I dearly wish sometimes that we as users could post screen shots to the blog. It would make things so much easier to understand.)

So I wonder if you could clarify. Are you actually using the Old Search template for the SSDI, or is there a way to specify month/day/year for the New Search template for the SSDI that I don’t understand?

14 Andy HatchettMarch 7, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Jerry,

I search the SSDI from the Rootsweb side.

On the Rootsweb Home Page there is a link to the SSDI-click that.

When the search screen comes up click the advance search box close to the submit button.

Use the screen that comes up that includes m/d/y/, zip, last benefit, etc.

15 Carol A. H.March 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm

For what it is worth, here is the site addy from RootsWeb with the advanced search. This one offers you all kinds of options in your search:

http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi

I think this is the one Andy uses.

16 Jerry BryanMarch 7, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Andy #14 and Carol #15: thanks for the update. I do use the SSDI from the rootsweb side occasionally, but usually I’m already in ancestry.com and just use Old Search from there (even though I try to use New Search as much as I can for other things). It’s just crazy that the New Search support for the SSDI is so deficient as compared to Old Search and as compared to the rootsweb side. And it’s even crazier that the ancestry.com suggestions for searching the SSDI don’t even work from New Search.

17 Richard H.March 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm

#12 Lynn. I do understand that a computer extract would ‘likely’ not contain all the information in the original SS-5 record. I was hoping someone could share what those differences, if any, actually are.

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