The Social Security Death Index and Genealogy
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a wonderful resource to locate the genealogical information of your ancestors. This enormous database holds records for over 77 million people. In 1935, the United States passed the Social Security Act, which would provide federal assistance to the elderly, the unemployed and widows. The deaths recorded in the SSDI are those reported by relatives to either request survivor benefits or to stop benefits to the deceased. While you may find records of deaths as far back as 1937, the majority of the database’s records are comprised of deaths reported after 1962. While individuals in the SSDI are mostly American, you may be able to find some records of immigrants who may have obtained a Social Security number and whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
What genealogical information can the SSDI tell me?
The SSDI is an excellent resource to finding genealogical information for those who have died after 1962 and provide you with a starting off point to further your research in other areas. The SSDI will not only tell you the deceased’s social security number, given name and surname, but also their date of birth and death, their last place of residence, the location of the last benefit payment and the date and place of issuance.
Once you have a hold of your relative’s Social Security number, you can order their Social Security application form or their claims file for a small fee. This new trail may yield another plethora of genealogical information. When your relatives first applied for their Social Security number, it was a requirement to provide data about their birth, their family and employment. This forced many who applied for a Social Security number around 1937 that did not have documented births to obtain delayed birth certificates. Remember to track these down as well!
Why can’t I find my relative?
If you are having trouble locating your relative, you may try the following:
- Check all possible spellings of the name
- Try using the middle name as a first name
- Change the dates and years around
Keep in mind the SSDI does not hold the records for all deceased individuals even if they had a Social Security number. You will only find people included whose deaths have been reported to the SSA by a relative. Also, if your relative died before 1962, then it is likely they may not be in the database. Note, just because an individual is not in the database does not mean the person is still living. Their death was simply not reported to the SSA.
Once you obtain copies of your relative’s files, don’t forget to update their profiles on Geni!