Inside Sources: Social Security Death Index

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

Looking for a free, easy-to-use source of birth and death information? The US Social Security Death Index (SSDI) contains records of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) <> from 1936 on. Most entries date from 1962 or later, but the index includes some people born as early as the late 19th century. The SSDI is a handy tool for finding birth and death dates, as well as a last place of residence — which can help you locate a death certificate or obituary. Since the SSDI lists the place your ancestor was living when he or she was issued a Social Security number (SSN), you might be able to trace that person to his or her state of birth. The database also tells you where the SSA sent your family member’s death benefit payment, giving you a potential lead to living relatives.

You can search the SSDI free at several Web sites, including FamilySearch <>, Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step Web Pages <>, Family Tree Legends <> and RootsWeb <>. At FamilySearch, you can enter just a first name and find, say, all the people named John who were born in 1895 and whose Social Security numbers were issued in Iowa. Or enter a last name and a death date to find, for example, everyone with a Social Security card and the surname Graham who died in 1942. The search will even ferret out similar spellings. If you can’t find your relative in the SSDI, keep checking — the database is updated periodically.

Once you locate an SSN, you can write to the SSA to request your ancestor’s application, called an SS-5 form. For instructions on getting the files, go to <> and scroll down to Making A FOIA Request. Then muster up some patience: You’ll likely wait several months to get the record.
From the September 2005 Family Tree Sourcebook