RootsWeb Removes its Free SSDI Database

RootsWeb Removes its Free SSDI Database

One of the free resources we’ve recommended for years to search the online Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has been taken offline. RootsWeb’s SSDI database is no longer available, with a message that Due to sensitivities around the information in this database, the Social Security Death Index collection is not...

One of the free resources we’ve recommended for years to search the online Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has been taken offline.

RootsWeb’s SSDI database is no longer available, with a message that

Due to sensitivities around the information in this database, the Social Security Death Index collection is not available on our free Rootsweb service but is accessible to search on

The SSDI is a database of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration, for the most part since 1962. A subscription is required to use’s version of the SSDI, and genealogists including Randy Seaver and Sheri Fenley report that Social Security numbers aren’t provided for deaths within the past 10 years.

You might think genealogists wouldn’t be concerned with such a recent death, but someone who died in 2002 might’ve been born in 1920, and his or her application for an SSN (called an SS-5) could name parents born in the 1800s. Plus, the SSDI is useful for tracing family lines forward in time to find distant cousins.

Randy lists other sources of the SSDI, which include the free FamilySearch site.

If you don’t have a deceased person’s SSN, you still can request his or her SS-5. You’ll need to provide a birth date, any other names the person used, and the parents’ names, and pay $29 instead of $27. You now can request an SS-5 online.

The “sensitivities” RootsWeb refers to are likely related to a recent news story about criminals using SSNs of deceased individuals to commit tax fraud. (Couldn’t the IRS prevent this by comparing SSNs on tax forms to numbers in the SSDI?)

Read more on recent SSDI changes, which include a reduction in the number of new deaths that’ll be included in this database, here.

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  1. Although I have had access to other versions of the SSDI, I preferred using the RootsWeb site because of some of the search options that I’m not sure I found elsewhere. I will truly miss using this.
    And you are correct, the whole idea of the SSDI was to prevent fraud; the government should be using it the way it is designed!

  2. Hello,

    A reader e-mailed me with some information that might be of interest to readers on why government agencies don’t share information the way we might expect. I’m leaving off the name until I receive permission to give it, but here’s the info:

    The Privacy Act of 1974 as well as the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 limits the database sharing between agencies, specifically concerning matching programs. There are a lot of rules and regulations that must be followed in order to establish agreements between agencies that will allow the matching programs. This may explain why they can’t compare SSNs on tax forms to numbers in the SSDI. You can take a look at just how complicated the sharing between agencies for computer matching programs is at the following website:

    As a fellow genealogist, I highly value the usage of the SSDI database and hate to see the limitations. However, as someone in the information technology field, I have often thought how dangerous it is to publish the SSN of recently deceased individuals. I know I have retrieved SSNs for relatives that have passed away recently so I don’t think the 10-year rule you mentioned has been consistently followed. Possibly a better idea would be to push for the continued publication of the SSDI with only the last 2 positions of the SSN or possibly first 2 and last 2. There are patterns that were followed when issuing SSNs that if you have the last 4 and know where/when an SSN was issued it may be possible to determine the remainder of the SSN. I also would like to see a push for publication of the SS-5 forms on a similar timetable as the census forms or if possible, only for deceased individuals, published with the same digits of the SSN number as the SSDI. This would be beneficial since it would allow name searches when you don’t have the SSN. These are just some ideas that I think might be acceptable for privacy concerns but still allow genealogists to use the data for research purposes.

  3. I for one am happy that the SSDI has been removed and wish Ancestry and others would remove it until the government puts in some safeguards. My brother died last year and when I went to file his tax return, I discovered that one had already been filed 6 months after he died from Tampa, FL. I entered his name only into the SSDI and there was his SSN so the 10 year exclusion is bunk. So now I am one of those who have to wait 18 months for resolution of tax issues.

  4. I sent in the SS application a year or so ago, along with my credit card number for payment, gave the deceased name, birth date and death date, and residence. I received a response back with a typed form stating deceased name, birth and death date, and residence. That cost me $27. What a worthless genealogy tip.

  5. If a crook wants the information he/she will find it! I was stunned at the information that was on People Search or something like that. A member of my graduation class found me after 50 years. If that is available for a nominal fee (along with my credit information) why can’t I, who subscribe to genealogy magazines and websites have access to this information to further my research. I have (maybe 30)relatives I have pictures of from my grandmother and if I could find the social security number (for free) for the parents it might help make the &quot;correct&quot; family connection. One more hurdle to climb over. Betty

  6. It seems like we’re missing the point here. I don’t see where the government has restricted Rootsweb from continuing to publish the Index. Isn’t Rootweb a part of Ancestry? Doesn’t Ancestry publish the same list for a fee? It looks like Ancestry just decided to stop the free access so they can sell it to us. Am I not correct or am I wrong about Ancestry and Rootsweb being one and the same?