Jul 22, 2021

Using the Social Security Death Records

The Social Security Administration’s Death Index (SSDI) can be a boon to beginning genealogists. The Social Security number is the most valuable piece of information when seeking a number of other documents. It is essential for ordering paper copies of original death records, obituaries, and more. The SSDI is the first step in obtaining this information.

The Social Security Death Records information has not been updated for several years. However, the majority of genealogists are looking for information about people who passed away several years ago so that lack of current entries is usually not a huge drawback.

If you can only trace your U.S. ancestry back to your grandparents or possibly great-grandparents, the Social Security Administration can help you find where they were born, the names of their parents, and more. The SSDI can be especially helpful for those researching immigrants as the data often shows where the individual was born in “the old country.” Sometimes it will show the exact location of the town or a country that no longer exists, although that is not guaranteed.

The Social Security Administration was created by an act of law in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program. The act laid out a retirement system for many Americans, although not all. The act also created a new governmental agency to manage the program. The Social Security Administration has since become one of the largest agencies in the U.S. Federal Government.

The Social Security Administration’s Death Index (SSDI) originally was a database of deceased persons who received Social Security Benefits. The Social Security Administration started computerizing records in 1962. This made it possible to produce an index of people who had Social Security numbers and are deceased. Most death records prior to 1962 were never computerized and therefore do not appear in the SSDI although a few exceptions do exist. Some online Web sites advertise that the data they possess will contain information about deaths “as early as 1937,” but that claim is a bit misleading; 99.9% of the information is for 1962 and later.

Initially, the Social Security Administration only recorded the deaths of individuals who were receiving retirement benefits from the Administration. Those who died before reaching retirement age were not listed. Neither were those who had different retirement systems, such as railroad workers, school teachers, and other municipal, state, and federal employees. In the 1970s the railroad and many other retirement systems were merged into the Social Security system. Deaths of those retirees then started appearing in the SSDI.

In the late 1980s and after, all deaths in the U.S. were reported to the Social Security Administration and recorded in the SSDI. You can find deaths of children and non-retired adults listed for the 1990s and later, but not for earlier years.

Because legal aliens in the U.S. can obtain a Social Security card, their names may appear in the SSDI if their deaths were reported, even if the death occurred overseas.

The online SSDI databases contain the following information fields:

Social Security number


Given Name

Date of Death

Date of Birth

Last Known Residence

Location of Last Benefit

Date and Place of Issuance

You can access the Social Security Death Index at no charge on a number of Web sites, including the following:

New England Historic Genealogical Society

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) offer the Social Security Death Index on their popular Family Search site at

Keep in mind, however, that the online SSDI database is only an index — an abbreviated listing. The Social Security Administration holds additional information that can be a genealogical jackpot. The index listing of an ancestor is merely your ticket to this jackpot.

From 1936 on, anyone who has applied for a Social Security Card filled out an application form (SS-5) that the U.S. Government keeps on file. This application form (SS-5) contains the following information:

Full name

*Full name at birth (including maiden name)

*Present mailing address

Age at last birthday

Date of birth

*Place of birth (city, county, state)

*Father’s full name “regardless of whether living or dead”

*Mother’s full name, including maiden name, “regardless of whether living or dead”

*Sex and race

*Ever applied for SS number/Railroad Retirement before? Yes/No

*Current employer’s name and address

*Date signed

*Applicant’s signature

The items marked with an asterisk are not available in the online SSDI database but are available in the original SS-5 applications.

The SS-5 form is obviously much more valuable to the genealogist than the limited information shown in the online death index. The Social Security Administration can supply photocopies of the original Social Security application form (the SS-5) to anyone who requests information on a deceased individual. You can obtain a photocopy of the SS-5 form by writing to the Social Security Administration.

The SSA charges $27 for each individual SS-5 copy if you can provide the Social Security number of the deceased person, $29 if you cannot provide the number. (A computer extract is available for $16, but those extracts do not include the names of the individual’s parents nor the place of birth.) The SSA is not in the business of doing genealogical research and cannot, by law, expend Social Security Trust Fund money for purposes not related to the operation of the Social Security program. The $27 fee is intended to offset the cost to the government whenever SSA provides information from its files for non-program purposes.

To obtain the photocopy of the original SS-5, you must fill out Form SSA-711, the “Request for Deceased Individual’s Social Security Record,” available at

There is a fee of $21.00 U.S. for most records requests. Send your request and check to:

Social Security Administration


P.O. Box 33022

Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022

If you want to obtain the SS-5 forms for more than one person, it is suggested that you mail multiple forms individually (in different envelopes) and include separate checks. Be patient. You may have to wait several months for the response to your request(s).

Social Security Numbers

It is interesting to note that you can tell where a Social Security Number was issued simply by looking at the first few digits of the number. This does not tell where the person was born, only where he or she was living when the number was issued. Nonetheless, it can be a valuable clue as to where to look for additional information.

The Social Security Account Number (SSAN) is divided into three sets of digits. For example, let’s take 123-45-6789. The 3 digits in the first group indicate the state or territory in which the number was originally issued. The second group of 2 numbers is used to define the people within the state. The third group of 4 digits is simply issued in numerical sequence.

The following list shows the area indicated by first 3 digits:

001-003 New Hampshire

004-007 Maine

008-009 Vermont

010-034 Massachusetts

035-039 Rhode Island

040-049 Connecticut

050-134 New York

135-158 New Jersey

159-211 Pennsylvania

212-220 Maryland

221-222 Delaware

223-231 Virginia

232-236 West Virginia

237-246 North Carolina

247-251 South Carolina

252-260 Georgia

261-267 Florida

268-302 Ohio

303-317 Indiana

318-361 Illinois

362-386 Michigan

387-399 Wisconsin

400-407 Kentucky

408-415 Tennessee

416-424 Alabama

425-428 Mississippi

429-432 Arkansas

433-439 Louisiana

440-448 Oklahoma

449-467 Texas

468-477 Minnesota

478-485 Iowa

486-500 Missouri

501-502 North Dakota

503-504 South Dakota

505-508 Nebraska

509-515 Kansas

516-517 Montana

518-519 Idaho

520 Wyoming

521-524 Colorado

525 New Mexico (also 585 below)

526-527 Arizona

528-529 Utah

530 Nevada

531-539 Washington

540-544 Oregon

545-573 California

574 Alaska

575-576 Hawaii

577-579 District of Columbia

580 U.S. Virgin Islands

581-585 Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa

585 New Mexico (some 585 numbers)

586-699 Unassigned

700-729 Railroad Retirement Board

730-899 Unassigned

A few Social Security Numbers beginning with a 9 have been issued, but these are very rare.

Whether you’re just getting starting on your family research or picking up on details of lines of descent, Social Security Death records can provide you with information and leads that speed and validate your findings.