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Social Security Death Index

Posted by Grace Mitchell on April 17th 2012 under Death Certificates

SSDIThanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provides a wealth of data that is now part of public information. The SSDI contains 86 million Social Security Death Records and counting!  Individuals, hospitals, funeral homes and nursing homes report these data sets, creating a bevy of information for researchers and genealogists. Although this database is available to the public, there is a fee to search it through the Social Security Administration due to its immense size.

What is the Social Security Death Index?

There is a public death master file that lists all reported deaths, most of which occurred after 1962 when the SSA began actively recording deaths. This was in an effort to staunch fraudulent attempts to collect benefits for a dead person and to prevent the mistaken continuance of benefits. If a person is missing from the index, this could be because the person didn’t receive social security benefits, died before deaths were officially reported, or was omitted due to human error.

Although social security began in the 1930s as a result of the Great Depression, it didn’t actively record deaths until 1962.  However, there are death records that date back to the Civil War, albeit far and few between.

How to Access the SSDI Online

The death master file is available for purchase, but is extremely expensive, and with 86 million records, too cumbersome for the average person.  Nonetheless, there are several ways to access Social Security Death Records online, including directly through the Social Security Administration website, and without purchasing the entire database.

  • The SSA website offers online access to the SSDI, but requires individuals purchase a subscription, which is suitable for those who plan to make regular queries.  Alternatively, you can also purchase just limited numbers of queries for those who only want to perform a few searches.
  • Many online genealogy websites purchase access to the death master file and provide access to its subscribers. If you already subscribe to a genealogy website, you can likely search as many times as you like, making this a better option.
  • Information like full name, date of death, birth date and social security number are included in search results.
  • Why Social Security Death Records are Important

    Anyone interested in researching family history will eventually need to view death records as part of the search. All vital records play an important role in uncovering details about an ancestor’s roots, including death records.

    The SSDI reveals important information like full name and social security number, both of which can help narrow down results for other record types to ensure that any records you find truly belong to your ancestor and not someone with the same name. Learning the date of death can also help if you want to locate the actual death certificate for further information about whom else was connected to the deceased.

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