(Dick Eastman – May 12, 2016)
The Social Security Death Index (often called the SSDI) is a valuable tool for genealogists. It lists deceased people within the United States. When first created, the SSDI only listed those people who were receiving Social Security benefit payments at the time of death. However, as the years went by, the database was expanded to include ALMOST ALL DEATHS, whether receiving benefits or not.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) Death Master File (DMF) contains more than 80 million records of deaths that have been reported to SSA. This file includes the following information on each deceased person, as applicable: name, date of birth, date of death, state or country of residence (prior to Mar 1988), and ZIP code of last residence.
Due to false concerns over identity theft, the Social Security Administration stopped releasing updates to the SSDI a few years ago. A few web sites that previously had made the SSDI available online have since deleted the records from their web sites. Now many genealogists believe the SSDI is no longer available.
Not true! The SSDI hasn’t been “lost.” It is still available in several places today, and you can search it online.
In fact, the Social Security Administration has stopped issuing UPDATES to the Death Master File. However, the original database, current through January 2011, remains in the public domain and is still available online from a number of web sites. Later deaths are not publicly listed, however.
NOTE #1: Genealogists have always referred to this database of deceased persons as the “SSDI.” However, employees of the Social Security Administration and many others call it the Death Master File, or DMF. The reason for the discrepancy in names appears to be confusion with another service of the Social Security Administration.
If you mention “the SSDI” to an employee of the Social Security Administration, he or she will probably think you are referring to Social Security Disability Insurance, something that is unrelated to the Death Master File except that both are available from the Social Security Administration. When talking with non-genealogists, you probably should always refer to this database as the “Death Master File.”
NOTE #2: In most cases, only the first ten letters of each individual’s first name are shown in the SSDI. For instance, the name “Christopher” is abbreviated as “Christophe”. Also, middle initials are shown, but complete middle names are not recorded in the database. The search rules will vary from one web site to another. I find it best to only enter the first ten letters of longer names. That seems to always work. Entering all the letters of first names with more than ten letters sometimes results in a “not found” error on some web sites although not on others. When in doubt, use only ten letters.
NOTE #3: Not all the online databases will display all the available information about the person listed in the SSDI. You may have to try several online services in order to find what you seek.
NOTE #4: Information about geographic allocation of Social Security numbers can be found at http://www.ssa.gov/employer/stateweb.htm. Keep in mind that Social Security Numbers used to be assigned by the location where the Number was ISSUED, not by the place of birth of the individual.
I suggest you access the Social Security Death Index (Death Master File) at any of the following:
Steve Morse’s One Step Genealogy: http://www.stevemorse.org/ssdi/ssdi.html
Ancestry: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693 (Ancestry allows anyone to view a short version of the record, but viewing all the details requires a subscription to Ancestry.com.)
GenealogyBank: http://www.genealogybank.com/explore/ssdi/all (You must be a paid subscriber of GenealogyBank to view the details of each record.)
American Ancestors operated by the New England Historic Genealogical Society: http://www.americanancestors.org/databases/social-security-death-index/about/ (That page states, “Access to the SSDI is FREE to all who visit AmericanAncestors.org.” However, you must either register for a FREE guest account or pay for a subscription to view your SSDI search results.
WorldVitalRecords.com: http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/indexinfo.aspx?ix=ssdiall&affpid=1022 (Requires an account with WorldVitalReords.com. However, a FREE 7-day trial account is available.)
NOTE: Also included in the WorldVitalRecords.com version of the SSDI is See Neighbors which is a list of those persons who died during the same year and in the same zip code as the deceased who is being searched. Finally, when a residence at death is included in a listing, a geo-coded Google Map is included with the place where the person died and their nearest cemeteries.
… and probably some other places as well.
You also can download the entire SSDI record set yourself at http://ssdmf.info/download.html although that is the 30 November 2011 edition. No later records are available.