Many of your more recent ancestors would have applied when the new Social Security law came into existence in the 1930s. There were many men and women who rushed to submit their application for this innovative retirement income assurance program. Since it was brand new, people were not issued Social Security numbers at birth as they are now. They had to apply to the program. Once they applied and were approved, they would be issued their Social Security number and card. Men who were working, and the few women who were working married women who need their spouse’s benefits one day, and women who were applying on behalf of a deceased spouse who had worked were all eligible to apply for the Social Security card. Each application was filled out by the person themselves and there tends to be less errors on those government forms.
The early applications for Social Security cards still exist and are valuable sources for information about an ancestor. The forms used beginning in 1935 and through the1940s are known as the SS-5 forms, and you can order one for any person, as long as they are deceased. The SS-5 applications are provided to U.S. citizens by the Social Security Administration under the Freedom of Information Act. You must provide proof the person is deceased, such as a copy of an obituary, death certificate, photo of their headstone with dates, unless that person is 120 years old or older (which can be shown on a US Federal Census record).
Some of the data completed by the individual applying for the SS card would be their full name, the females also provided their maiden name, the person’s date of birth and location, their race and gender, their parents’ names and birthplaces (super good to have because the mother’s maiden name would also be there), plus where the person was working (their employer) when they applied. An added bonus is the ancestor’s full signature as well the full date when they applied for their SS card. What will be surprising was the application typed in with the information or handwritten. Most were handwritten, so that is an extra bonus, but it may be hard to read each word.
Online is the Social Security request form to order a copy in different formats of a relative’s original Social Security application. Only keep in mind, not everyone completed a Social Security application, it was not required. Complete as much of the form as possible. You can order a photocopy of the application for the fee of $27 if you have their SS number. No number then the cost is $29. You can order instead a Numident Computer Extract of the SS Card application for $16 if you provide the person’s SS number. The fee is $18 with no number for the extract. This Numident Computer Extract has all or most of SS the information found on the application but does not have the person’s signature.
Since not everyone applied for a Social Security card in those early years, if you sent in a request, and no SS-5 form (application) is located, there is no refund of what you paid. That fee is for the agency to check not just a copy of an application. It does take many months (easily 6 months) to get a copy of the application to you, so you do have to be patient.
Photos: 1937 typed application, and 1955 handwritten application.
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