Saturday, June 02, 2007

SSDI Social Security Death Index

Search for ancestors by name

The SSDI [Social Security Death Index] lists the last place that payments were made. Can I assume that it is not necessarily the place of death?

William Hartt's (SS# 072-09-6022) last residence is shown as Mount Prospect, Illinois, died April 1944. The County cannot locate a death record, nor is his notice found in the Chicago newspaper. If he died in Wisconsin or Florida would the SSDI listing be the same?

DearHERB in Philadelphia,
Basically, yes, though in your case, “last benefit” is listed as “none specified”. Really it means the last legal residence known to the Social Security Administration, but this could clearly not be the place of death.

Those who are not yet familiar with the SSDI will benefit from an expanded discussion of the use of the online index. This is searchable by name at a variety of places on the web including, and Do not worry, as it is not necessary to know your ancestor’s Social Security Number to find him in the SSDI. Merely search for an ancestor by his name at time of death, using alternate spelling if you don’t find him on the first try.

The SSDI is not a comprehensive all-US database of deaths. It is compiled from deaths reported to the Social Security Administration, except for some early reported deaths that were “thrown out” before folks objected to the loss of information. Expect to find a few deaths in the SSDI occurring as early as 1965, with the majority beginning in 1965 to the present.

Genealogists use the Social Security Death Index to find US citizen ancestors whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration roughly between the late 1960s and the present.

Let’s compare the screens to make that determination:

FamilySearch’s SSDI offering
Appears to be current -- The database at is clearly labeled with the most recent date that names were added. Here it is only the 2nd of June, and the results of the search for your ancestor’s entry in the SSDI states “This data is only accurate as of 1 May 2007.” Since May 2007 month end reporting of deaths to the Social Security Administration would only be in process, I think this means FamilySearch’s database is about as fresh as one can get. However the lack of additional resources makes the exclusive use of this SSDI questionable.

Screen shot of SSDI entry at for William Hart’s SSDI offering

The cut-off date isn’t readily
– The results screen doesn’t list that date. However if you click “learn more” at the bottom of the Ancestry results page for William Hartt, the additional information explains the database viewed today is “current as of February 2007.”

Great source citation - (at point "a" below) Ancestry does provide great source citation information which can readily be copied & pasted to your ancestor’s notes in your genealogy management program. “Source Citation: Number: 072-09-6022; Issue State: New York; Issue Date: Before 1951.”

Screen shot of SSDI entry at for William Hart

Links to help you understand the database – (at point "b" above) Ancestry is interested in explaining the scope of the database, and how to effectively search it. See:

SSDI FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) provides a link to a nifty letter generating page, (at point "c" above) that can be printed and sent via snail mail to the Social Security Administration when requesting a copy of the original SS-5. This automatically inserts your ancestor’s name, and other SSDI info into a form letter, which you merely need to sign, seal and mail. This page also explains why you want a copy of your ancestor’s SS-5, and shows an example of SS-5 card. describes the SS-5 and how to obtain one for your ancestor.’s SSDI offering
The SSDI date of last update is unclear. The results list explains last updated 05-12-2007 (circled below). Perhaps one is to construe that the date is in US format, meaning 12 May 2007 and not the 5th of December 2007, with a typo for the year? It is unusual that a genealogy site would not make the date very clear, since a variety of researchers from our global community will look at the page. Maybe the RW programmers are not genealogists who know that a date must be clearly written as 12 May 2007 to eliminate all questions about the true date.

RootsWeb SSDI results includes an option to generate a letter of request for the SS5. The BEST thing about RootsWeb’s offering is the ability to add “post-em” notes to an entry for an ancestor. This increases the likelihood of making a cousin connection in the future.

Screen shot of RootsWeb's SSDI listing for William Hartt.


1. Using your web browser software, such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla, go to:
2. Type in the ancestor’s first name and last name in the fields provided. Remember to use a woman’s married name, as that is the name she used at the time her death was reported to the Social Security Administration.
3. Click on the link to generate the letter of request for the SS-5 card.

Using the SSDI, one may request a copy of the form SS-5, which is that individual’s original application for the Social Security Number (not Social Security benefits.) Obtain a copy of the original SS-5 card, not a shortened computerized printout.

The Social Security Administration currently charges $27.00 for each SS-5 it provides. Ol’ Myrt does not recommend ordering the computer-generated NUMIDENT printout for $16.00, as the information is not as detailed, and does not contain your ancestor’s signature. There can also be mistakes as the SSA typist could have made transcription errors during data input.

Use the SSDI search option at

  • Print out the SSDI entry for your ancestors.
  • Write a letter of request to the SSA to request a copy of the SS-5. This can be expedited if you use the letter-generating option next to your ancestor’s entry at described above. Be sure to include:
    Name of ancestor
    Social Security Number
    $27 check
  • Mail the letter and check to:Freedom of Information Officer4-H-8 Annex Building6401 Security BoulevardBaltimore, MD 21235


  • RootsWeb – SSDI Search Form
  • Reporting Inaccuracies
  • RootsWeb’s SSDI – Full Tutorial
  • RootsWeb’s Guide – US Social Security Death Index & Railroad Retirement Board Records
  • Happy family tree climbing!
    Myrt :)
    Your friend in genealogy.

    (c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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