SSNs of death records

Started by David Evan Berkowitz on Saturday, January 15, 2011


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1/15/2011 at 9:30 AM

Death records tend to come with social security numbers. Based on that, is there any more information that can be gleaned about a departed ancestor?

1/15/2011 at 11:40 AM

In theory, yes, but in practice, not a whole lot.

There is a specific structure that SSNs follow, but:

- The structure has changed frequently over the years;

- It's designed to tell you where the number was assigned, not where the holder was born or even spent most of their life living;

- There are rare cases where people have held legally two SSNs (I believe that still continues); and,

- Prior to the 1970s, if a surviving spouse continued to collect an SSA pension from their deceased spouse, the deceased spouse's SSN was sometimes inaccurately applied to records now used for the surviving spouse. (This was a big problem and one of the main reasons genealogical websites usually say to tread cautiously when relying on SSNs, especially with railroad worker families.)

There's a breakdown of how SSNs have historically been assigned at As you can see, they note that there isn't a lot of concrete information on how SSNs were used before the 1970s.

Also, here's what the SSA itself has to say about using SSNs in genealogical research (from

"Q9: What information is available from Social Security records to help in genealogical research?

A: You might want to start by checking out the Social Security Death Index which is available online from a variety of commercial services (usually the search is free). The Death Index contains a listing of persons who had a Social Security number, who are deceased, and whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration. (The information in the Death Index for people who died prior to 1962 is sketchy since SSA's death information was not automated before that date. Death information for persons who died before 1962 is generally only in the Death Index if the death was actually reported to SSA after 1962, even though the death occurred prior to that year.)

If you find a person in the Death Index you will learn the date of birth and Social Security Number for that person. (The Social Security Death Index is not published by SSA for public use, but is made available by commercial entities using information from SSA records. We do not offer support of these commercial products nor can we answer questions about the material in the Death Index.)

Other records potentially available from SSA include the Application for a Social Security Number (form SS-5). To obtain any information from SSA you will need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request."

1/15/2011 at 1:39 PM

There is a coding in the number for issuing state and probably a list / database on line that gives you the translation. Of course the issuing state may not correlate with the birth or death state, but it's a clue as to residences.

The most useful part of the SSDI is accurate date of death.

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