How to search for your ancestors in the Social Security Death Index

Starting Your Ancestors Search With The Social Security Death Index

One of the easiest places to begin your search online is by looking for your ancestors in the Social Security Death Index.

The SS Death Index is a database that has the records of deceased persons who were assigned Social Security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the (old) Social Security Administration. The database currently has more than 76 million names.
The SS Death Index works best for finding information about people who died after 1962 and often serves as a stepping-stone to further online investigations.

Close to 98 percent of the names listed in the Social Security Death Index are of people who lived in the United States and died after 1962.

The SS Death Index doesn’t list every deceased American, and it isn’t an index of everyone with a Social Security number. It has records for people who were assigned Social Security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the (old) Social Security Administration.

Here are some important issues to keep in mind when determining which of your ancestors might be in the Social Security Death Index:

  • Not all Americans were covered under the Social Security Act in its earlier days. Railroad workers, teachers, and other municipal employees often were covered by other retirement systems. Therefore, the Social Security Administration did not record their information, and it isn’t likely that they will be included in the SS Death Index.
  • The entries in the index are mainly American; however, some Canadians, Mexicans, and people of other nationalities are included in the database. If an immigrant is in the United States legally, he/she can get a Social Security card.
  • The index has many people who were US citizens, but who weren’t living in the United States at the time of their death. Individuals in this category might include consular employees around the world, employees of US companies or subsidiaries working abroad, or those serving in the armed forces.

Here is an example of the information you might find for an individual:

* Name: John Doe
* SSN: 527-09-5754
* Last Residence: 841 San Anselmo, California, USA
* Born: 26 May 1900
* Died: Feb 1986
* State (Year) SSN issued: San Anselmo (Before 1951)

Now you are ready to start your search in the Social Security Death Index.

If you don’t have a subscription, you can still see an individual’s information (full name; county and state of residence), but you won’t be able to see all the information listed in the Social Security Death Index.

Follow these steps to start searching the Social Security Death Index:

1. Decide which American ancestor you want to look for in the Social Security Death Index. You should choose someone who lived during the past fifty years — for example, a grandparent. If possible, have their birth and death dates available.
2. Access the Social Security Death Index [use our 5-day risk-free trial at Investigations 123 Homepage]
3. Click the “Best Matches (Ranked)” tab.
4. Enter as much information as you can, and click the “Search” button.
5. Browse through the results until you find your ancestor.

Record the information you find and include the Social Security Death Index as the source.

If you didn’t find the person you were looking for, you can use these search tips to help you revise your search:

  • Try alternate spellings and abbreviations for your ancestor’s name(s).
  • Enter only the surname, first name, plus the year of birth and death; do not complete any other search fields.
  • If the name is uncommon, you may want to omit the birth and death years.
  • If you are uncertain of the individual’s year of death, leave that field blank.

The government allows for twelve characters in the last name and nine characters in the first name, with any additional characters simply being left off. If you are searching for someone who has a long name, leave off the extra characters. Otherwise, you may not get the search results that you expect.

If you find an ancestor in the Social Security Death Index, you might want to ask a copy of the deceased individual’s original Social Security application from the Social Security Administration. The original application has valuable information not included in the Social Security Death Index:

  • Full name
  • Full name at birth (including maiden name)
  • Mailing address at time of application
  • 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

To ask a copy of a deceased individual’s original Social Security application from the Social Security Administration, you need to send them a letter and ask a copy of the Social Security application form (the SS-5).
A standard letter to the Social Security Administration is available on Ancestry website.

Now you’ve learned how to search for your ancestors in the Social Security Death Index. Congratulations!

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