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Social Security Death Index

SS cardTo help senior citizens with living expenses, Roosevelt’s New Deal program of the Social Security Act became law in 1935. Some 30 million Americans registered by 1937, so that in the future when they were senior citizens money could be paid to them. The Social Security Administration kept records on all registered persons and those who received benefits as well as those who died. Those records were placed on early computers beginning in the 1960s. By the mid-1960s, all deaths reported to the Social Security Administration were recorded in the Death Master File and are listed in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

There are problems with using the SSDI to learn the death date of an ancestor. Those early individuals to receive Social Security who died in the early years (1940s), their death date was not recorded. Many names were missed in the early 1960s when the records were switched to computer. Plus, remember, those who never worked at a job, did not receive SS benefits. Not until about 1990 that state school teachers, railroad workers, municipal employees, and others had their retirement benefits absorbed by the Social Security system. A new law in 1990 also now had all deaths within the United States sent to the Social Security Administration. However, there is still a great deal to learn on a relative who did have records with the Social Security Administration.

A good source to do some investigation is Steve Morse’s One-Stop web site. He has put together 6 sources from;;;;; and NEHGS’ with the SSDI to assist the research find everything available.

Using the site place as much known information as you can. If you are not sure of a surname spelling, it allows you to ‘start with’ spelling, ‘contains’ and ‘sounds like’ to assist. For a birth and death date you can put in a date range when you are not sure. The part you will not usually know is the relative’s SS number, but that is OK. If you find the right relative, the SS number will be listed and you can make note of it then.

Before you begin the search and after you put in the known information, select a ‘search engine’. The drop down box is on the right side. The selection is from the six sources listed above. The is always a good one to start with. If you find the listing of possible names too many (like more than 100), narrow your selection a bit more using the boxes on the left. What can be fascinating is the list of individuals with the same given and surname and born about the same time as your relative. Further down the list will be names of individuals with a slight difference in the given names, just in case you used what you thought was the first name and it turned out to be the middle name.

You may need to click on a couple different listings, especially to see where their SS number was issued. This could be the link, most of the time (not always) it was where the relative was born or raised. Be careful on the information listed. Occasionally the age of the relative at time of death is listed, but it might not be right. Either the person supplied the wrong birth date when they originally registered, or the SSDI figured wrong the age because they didn’t note the person had not reached their next birth date when they died.

Check out using the SSDI all your relatives on the family tree in the United States who may have died after 1937, there might be a few surprises.

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