Now What?: Birth Certificates and Social Security Numbers

By Family Tree Editors Premium

Q. I thought a birth certificate, even a delayed one, was required to get a Social Security number (SSN). Yet, when I find SSNs for my deceased family members, I don’t always find birth certificates. Why?

A. When the US Social Security system was established in 1935, as individual didn’t need to show proof of birth to receive a Social Security number. In fact, the first SS-5 forms (used to apply for an SSN) weren’t turned in to the Social Security Administration (SSA) <>, as they are now, but to an employer, a letter carrier or the post office. The newly formed SSA didn’t have local offices, so it contracted with the US Postal Service to handle SS-5 forms.

Proof of birth didn’t become an issue until an individual wanted to receive Social Security benefits. At that point, the person had to show he had indeed reached the age of 65 and was eligible to collect benefits. Although some of your relatives may have had birth certificates to submit, the SSA also accepted other records for verification of age.

The SSA had regulations — such as using records made as soon as possible after birth — when it came to “best evidence” documentation of age. In fact, the records you uncover through your genealogical research, such as Bible, baptismal and census records, were often accepted as proof of an individual’s age. It’s also possible that an ancestor applied for an SSN, but never requested benefits, and therefore, didn’t need to obtain a birth certificate.

From the February 2004 Family Tree Magazine

Now What?: Querying Cuba

Tips on researching roots in Cuba.
Diane Haddad
Q. My mother was born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1914. She passed away in 1986. How can I obtain a copy of her Cuban birth certificate?

A. Cuban civil registration of vital statistics began in 1885; however, records are difficult to obtain because of strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The United States limits sending money and traveling to Cuba (though family visits are allowed), and Cuba forbids sending official documents to the United States.

One approach is to find a relative or friend in Cuba who’s willing to request a copy of the document from a civil registrar and pay the necessary fees. You’ll find civil registrar contact information at CubaGenWeb’s <> Cuban Addresses & Telephones page.

If you don’t know anyone in Cuba, the US Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana <> can provide a list of Cuban law firms authorized by the Cuban government (attorneys there aren’t permitted to maintain private practices) that might be able to assist you. Contact the US Interests Section Information Resource Center at Calzada y L, Vedado, Havana, Cuba; +53 (7) 33-3967; or In order to pay any legal fees, you must apply to the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Department of the Treasury <>

You also might try writing the church or diocese where your mother was baptized; you’ll find an address list on the CubaGenWeb site. Be sure to provide her full name, birthplace and date of birth. If she became a US citizen, request copies of her application from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service <>. Her file may contain her birth certificate, among other information.

For more details on the ins and outs of researching your Cuban ancestors, read Peter E. Carr’s Guide to Cuban Genealogical Research: Records and Sources (out of print, but available at major genealogical libraries or from Willow Bend Books <>).

From the February 2004 Family Tree Magazine

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