Social Security Death Index SSDI and Railroad Workers Retirement Pensions for Genealogy

Social Security Death Index SSDI and Railroad Workers Retirement Pensions for Genealogy

by Vicki Ruthe Hahn,  June 3, 2016

With reference to Ancestry.com frequently asked questions  http://search.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/faq.aspx and Social Security Death Index SSDI   http://www.deathindexes.com/ssdi.html     

I do suggest that you might want to keep your living ancestors as “private” on public family trees, as well as any relatives that have died within the last three years.  The U.S. Social Security will not post anyone’s “Social Security Death Index” information until 3 years after their death.  It is worth considering for preventing fraud and identity theft.

Who is listed in the SSDI?

This database is an index to basic information about persons with Social Security numbers whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration. The death may have been reported by a survivor requesting benefits. It may have been reported in order to stop Social Security Benefits to the deceased. Funeral homes often report deaths to the SSA as a service to family members. Beginning in 1962, the SSA began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits. About 98% percent of the people in the SSDI died after 1962, but a few death dates go back as far as 1937. Because legal Aliens in the U.S. can obtain a Social Security card, their names may appear in the SSDI if their deaths were reported. Some 400,000 railroad retirees are also included in the SSDI.

The Social Security Death Index is not an index to all deceased individuals who have held Social Security Numbers. It is not a database of all deceased individuals who have received Social Security Benefits, or whose families have received survivor benefits. (Porter 1999)

Where does the SSDI come from?

The following timeline offers a brief history of the SSDI:

14 Aug 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law.

1936-1937 Approximately 30 million U.S. residents apply for and receive Social Security numbers.

1 Jan 1937 Workers begin acquiring credits toward old-age insurance benefits, and payroll tax (FICA) withholding begins.

1947 Application for Social Security number no longer includes employer information.

1962 Electronic requests for benefits become commonly used, resulting in what is known as the Social Security Death Index.

1963 Issuance of Social Security numbers beginning with 700-728 to railroad employees was discontinued.

1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare into law. Many citizens over age 65 receive Social Security cards for the first time.

1967 Department of Defense begins using Social Security numbers instead of military service numbers to identify Armed Forces personnel.

1972 SSA is required by law to issue Social Security numbers to any legally admitted alien upon entry, and to obtain evidence of age and citizenship or alien status and identity.

1972 SSA begins assigning Social Security numbers and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, and the area number assigned is based on the mailing address zip code from the application.

1989 SSA program enables parents to automatically obtain a Social Security number for a newborn infant when the birth is registered with the state.

The Social Security Death Index

A Genealogy Records Guide

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) – Introduction

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database of people whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) beginning about 1962. A small number of deaths are listed before 1962. It was created from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. Due to restrictions enacted in March 2014, new entries to publicly available versions of the Social Security Death Index will not be available for three years beginning on the date of an individual’s death. You will not find everyone who died from about 1962 to about mid-March 2014, but it does list many deaths in that time frame, especially in more recent years (particularly after the late 1980s). It is close to being a national death index for the United States. If you find someone listed in the Social Security Death Index you can usually order a copy of the form they filled out when they applied for a Social Security Card (SS-5 application) from the Social Security Administration for a fee. This record usually has more information about the person such as date and place of birth, and names of parents. However, names of parents may not always be released by the SSA. See restrictions on SS-5 forms below.

Social Security Death Index Online

Here are some places where you can search the Social Security Death Index Online…

  • Social Security Death Index at Ancestry (fee-based – part of an Ancestry subscription)
    has over 90 million records – updated to 19 March 2014
  • Social Security Death Index at Genealogy Bank (free to search with registration)
    has over 90 million records – updated to March 2011

Social Security SS-5 Forms – Restrictions and Ordering Information

When ordering a copy of a deceased person’s SS-5 form, the Social Security Administration may exclude some information:

“… 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.” This is quoted from the Social Security Administration’s Freedom of Information Act Request Methods and Fees webpage. You can also find information about ordering copies of an SS-5 form there.

Social Security Records – SSDI FAQ and Railroad Records

Not in the SSDI?

If your ancestor died before 1962 (or they are deceased, but not in the SSDI) and you believe they may have applied for a Social Security Card, you can still obtain a copy of their SS-5 (you will need to provide proof of death). The first SS-5s were used in late 1936. For details see “The Social Security Administration’s Guide to the Freedom of Information Act” at the link above.

The Social Security Administration does not have information about people who died before about 1940 when Social Security payments were first paid out. The SSDI has very few entries for people who died from 1940-1961. Try the state listings below for some death indexes before 1962 (and for other time frames)…

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