Social Security Death Index
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database of death records created from the United States Social Security Administration's Death Master File Extract. Most persons who have died since 1936 who had a Social Security Number (SSN) and whose death has been reported to the Social Security Administration are listed in the SSDI. For most years since 1973, the SSDI includes 93 percent to 96 percent of deaths of individuals aged 65 or older. It is frequently updated; the version of June 22, 2011 contained 89,835,920 records.
Unlike the Death Master File, the SSDI is available free from several genealogy websites. The SSDI is a popular tool for genealogists and biographers because it contains valuable genealogical data. It is also useful for medical research such as clinical trials and epidemiology, because where survival data is missing from medical records (for reasons such as loss to follow-up), the SSDI can be used to backfill it.
Social Security Death Index data
The data include:
- Given name and surname; and since the 1990s, middle initial
- Date of birth
- Month and year of death; or full date of death for accounts active in 2000 or later
- Social Security number
- State or territory where the Social Security number was issued
- Last place of residence while the person was alive (ZIP code)
Once a deceased person is found in the database, the person's application for Social Security card (Form SS-5) can be ordered from the Social Security Administration. The SS-5 may contain additional genealogical data, such as birthplace, father's name, and mother's full maiden name or that information may be blacked out.
Given the growing problem of identity theft and the importance of the Social Security number as a personal identifier in the United States, it might seem unusual that these identifiers are released publicly. However, because the documents held by the Social Security Administration are government records, it is required to make the information public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In fact, the related Death Master File is used to prevent fraud so that no one can steal the identity of a dead person, and take out a credit card or a bank loan in a dead person's name.
A recent government audit revealed that the Social Security Administration had incorrectly listed 23,000 people as dead in a two-year period. These people have sometimes faced difficulties in convincing government agencies that they are actually alive; a 2008 story in the Nashville area focused on a woman who was incorrectly flagged as dead in the Social Security computers in 2000 and has had difficulties, such as having health insurance canceled and electronically filed tax returns rejected. This story also noted that people in this situation can be highly vulnerable to identity theft because of the release of their Social Security numbers.
In November, 2011, due to privacy and identity theft concerns, the Social Security Administration redacted and no longer included death data derived from State sources. This resulted in an approximately 33% drop in reported deaths.
On December 18, 2011 Ancestry.com, changed access to the SSDI by moving the SSDI search behind a paywall, and stopped displaying the Social Security information of people who had died within the past 10 years. Some of their originally free information is now available via paid subscription only. However, other sites still provide free access.
In March 2012, the entire Death Master File, edition of November 30, 2011 was made available for download. A more recent version was made available May 31, 2013. Updates are also available by a subscription service. However, prices for both the full file and the updates are in the business-only range, not what most hobbyists (such as amateur genealogists) would be willing to pay.
A review by the Government Accountability Office in 2013 found that the Social Security Administration and other federal benefit-paying agencies that use data from the Death Master File are potentially vulnerable to making improper payments due to errors or processes that could lead to errors.
- "Social Security Administration's Death Master File". National Technical Information Service. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- Mark E. Hill and Ira Rosenwaike, "The Social Security Administration’s Death Master File: The Completeness of Death Reporting at Older Ages", Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 1 (2001/2002), p. 45.
- "Social Security Death Index Interactive Search". RootsWeb. (subscription required)
- Amons, Nancy (2008-02-20). "Government Still Declares Living Woman Dead". WSMV.com. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- Sack, Kevin (2012-10-08). "Researchers Wring Hands as U.S. Clamps Down on Death Record Access". NY Times. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
- Sterman, Joce (2011-12-14). "Website stops displaying Social Security numbers for recently dead". Baltimore: ABC2. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
- Social Security Death Data: Additional Action Needed to Address Data Errors and Federal Agency Access: Report to Congressional Requesters Government Accountability Office
These websites may require subscription/registration to search or get results
- U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 at Ancestry.com
- Social Security Death Index Records at NewspaperArchive.com
- Social Security Death Index at GenealogyBank.com
- Social Security Death Index at Findmypast
- Social Security Death Index Search at SSDI-Search.com
- Searching the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) in One Step at stevemorse.org