How to Get Your Ancestors’ Social Security Applications

How to Get Your Ancestors’ Social Security Applications

Got a genealogical brick wall? Our expert advice on requesting an ancestor's Social Security application may help you get the answers you need.

Q. I’ve been stuck on my dad’s family tree. I’m looking for my grandfather’s birth certificate, but I can’t order one without the mother’s maiden name. I have my grandfather’s birth and death dates and Social Security number, as well as his dad’s name and mother’s given name. Can I find out information with a Social Security Number alone?

A.Yes, you can request your grandfather’s Social Security application (called an SS-5), which he would’ve filled out with his mother’s maiden name—if he knew it. To get it, you’ll need to make a Freedom of Information Act request to the Social Security Administration. Send your request letter, including your grandfather’s full name and Social Security number (if you don’t have the SSN, you’ll also need to send his date and place of birth and parents’ names), as well as your contact information, to:

Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Green St.
Box 33022
Baltimore, MD 21290-3022

Include a check to cover the  processing fee of $27 (if you provide the SSN) or $29 (if you don’t provide an SSN). You’ll find more information on the Social Security Administration Web site.
Those who don’t have an ancestor’s SSN may be ale to find it in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), searchable free on several genealogy websites including FamilySearch  and

As you look for your grandfather’s birth certificate, keep in mind he may have been born before the era of vital record-keeping in his state, or the state vital records office may have sent all its historical birth records to the state archives. Check the vital records office Web site or a reference such as The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists (Family Tree Books, $29.99) to learn more about vital record-keeping in his state.

For a thorough guide to getting your ancestors’ birth records (and how to birth information when there’s no certificate), look for the December 2006 Family Tree Magazine.

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