Monday, October 15, 2007

Genealogy Tip — The Social Security Death Index

Want to have access to Social Security's Death Master File and have it updated quarterly? No sweat. You can get the complete file and quarterly updates with an annual subscription courtesy of the folks at National Technical Information Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The cheapest method is to get your information on DVD or CD-Rom. If you live in the U.S., Canada or Mexico it will cost you $6,900. For those wishing a subscription with a quarterly update living anywhere else on the planet the price is bumped up to $13,800.

Think that's a little too pricey? And just what kind of information does this master file contain that would make a family historian interested? Well, it's a list of over 80 million deceased individuals who have been reported to the Social Security Administration. It may have some or all of the following:

1. Decedent's name
2. Decedent's Social Security number
3. Decedent's date of birth
4. Decedent's date of death
5. State where Social Security Number of the Decedent was originally issued
6. Decedent's Last Residence or zip code of last residence
7. Zip code where Decedent's lump sum payment was sent

Sound like information that a genealogist might want to tap into? Well, no worry, there are several genealogical Web sites that have this information and get it updated on a regular basis. My favorite one to use is the Social Security Death Index on Rootsweb's Web site: There are two reasons that the Rootsweb Web site is my favorite. First, it's free to use and no registration is required. Second, the index features a basic search and an advanced search, which I find very useful.

Social Security records were not computerized until 1962, so the majority of deceased individuals listed are from that point forward. Some reasons that you might not find a deceased individual in the index include:

1. The death wasn't reported to Social Security
2. The individual didn't have a Social Security number.
3. Human error — it could be yours or the person who originally input the information into the file. (For example, the last name Vescelus may have been input Vescelas. Or you may have input incorrect information in your search.)
4. The decedent's benefits are still being paid to a spouse or child.

Besides looking up a specific individual, I can sometimes use the index to find siblings of my ancestor. In tomorrow's post, I will give an example of how I might use the Social Security Death Index to find a sibling of my grandfather and how I can use the index to find my grandmother's brother.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, October 15, 2007, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

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