Using the Social Security Death Index

The US Social Security Death Index (or SSDI) is an old favorite among family history researchers, and if you haven’t heard about this record collection I’m going to explain what it is and how it is useful in your family history research.

What is the US Social Security Death Index?

If you are a United States citizen, you most likely have a social security number that was issued by the Social Security Administration. In 1935 Congress passed the Social Security Act to issue unique identification numbers that would help to track a person’s earnings in order to qualify for benefits. Those individuals born before 1935 applied for social security numbers, and individuals born after 1935 have generally been issued a number at birth. The US Social Security Death Index is one of the records collections associated with the application for and upkeep of that number by the government. This index serves as a listing of the deaths associated with each social security number reported to the Social Security Administration from 1962 to February 2014. The Index will typically contain the following:

  • Name
  • Birth Date
  • Death Date
  • Social Security Number
  • The state in which the SSN was issued.
  • The record may also have the zipcode of the last place of residence.

How does this information help me in my research?

  • Name, Birth & Death Dates This collection is great for identifying specific dates relating to family members, particularly when you begin widening your tree to include all the “cousins” and their descendants.
  • Social Security Number & State of Issuance The first three digits in a social security number will give you clues as to the origins of an individual because certain number groups are associated with particular states or agencies. From 1935 - 1972, the first three digits indicated the area office that issued the number. While it doesn’t guarantee a birthplace, the likelihood is high that the state of issuance is the residence place of the individual. From 1972 to present, the first three digits reflect the person’s place of birth. You can find a list of those groupings from the SSA here: Meaning of the Social Security Number

Where else can this record lead?

Besides the little clues left in the index and the specific dates that can lead you to a variety of other records, you can also use the information found there to order the SS-5 Application for additional information. This record is fee based and can only be ordered directly from the Social Security Administration.Although, it seems like this collection only contains a small window of death information, the information that can be gleaned from the Social Security Death Index has been proven invaluable to research, and that’s what makes this collection an old favorite.The SSDI can be found at FamilySearch and Ancestry.

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Written by


November 3, 2017
Wesley is the founder of

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