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Overheard in GenForum: SSDI SS-5 Applications
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

January 11, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I went into the site you gave me & posted my "complaint/question" I'm also going to send back the Numident report they sent me & re-request a copy of the actual SS-5. We'll see if anything comes of either request. -- Nan

A: Since the release to the public of the computerized Social Security Death Index in 1992, genealogists have relied on this useful tool in ever increasing numbers. As they discover an ancestor in the database, they want to know more.

The Social Security Death Index is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an ancestor. It helps to pin down the date of death for those of our ancestors who lived beyond 1961. For immigrant ancestors, it may hold the clues needed to the birth place and name of parents for our ancestor. The key is the SS-5 form.

Be sure to request the SS-5 form.

Social Security Administration

While you may be tempted to think that the Internal Revenue Service knows the most about you, it is probably the Social Security Administration. In her book Locating Lost Family Members & Friends Kathleen W. Hinckley states "The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a larger collection of date on individuals than does any other U.S. government agency." Thankfully, most of these records are confidential, covered under the Privacy Act of 1974.

The SSDI is one of the ways in which we, as researchers, can access some of the information maintained by the SSA. The SSDI is the result of the Death Master File that the Social Security Administration keeps. While they will not search their file for you, it has now been made available in many online and CD-ROM versions. To search it on Genealogy.com, visit the Family Finder.

Once you have located an ancestor in the SSDI, or you discover their social security number in another way, say off their death certificate, then you can write and request information from the Social Security Administration to aid you in your research.

To find out more about what the Social Security Administration can do to help you in your genealogical research, you will want to check out the SSA's Frequently Asked Questions section. Select the Miscellaneous category and the Death Records sub-category.

What Will You Get?

When you search the Social Security Death Index either online or through FamilySearch at your local Family History Center, you can usually generate a letter with all the pertinent information, including the cost. This letter specifically requests a copy of the SS-5 form.

If, instead of generating the letter, you have written your own request, it is possible that you will receive a printout from their computerized database. This printout, also referred to as the Numident form, has limited information included. When entering the information into the database, they included the date of birth, state or country of birth, place of residence, and employer.

One benefit of the Numident report is that it does include name changes for married women. This is not found on the original SS-5 forms. Therefore it is sometimes a good idea to request a copy of both. When requesting both, you will want to hold off on payment. They will contact you and let you know how much the cost will be.

While it happens infrequently, there have been cases where only the Numident form still exists. Since you have received the Numident printout, write to them and request specifically the SS-5 form. Mention in your letter that you have already received the Numident printout. This way if that is all that exists, they won't send it to you again.

In Conclusion

Once you have the social security number for a given ancestor, especially those who died before 1961, you will want to write for a copy of the SS-5 form. It is necessary to specify this form, and to supply proof of death by either mentioning the individuals entry in the SSDI or including a photocopy of the death record.

In some instances it is possible to visit your local Social Security Administration office and get the Numident printout information. This option appears to be on an office by office basis.

Finally, while mentioned in a response to your question that parents names were not recorded after 1951, the SS-5 even as late as 1972 was still requesting information on the names of the parents of the individual, including the mother's maiden name. So do not discount this as a source for that reason.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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