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Guide No. 10: U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
and Railroad Retirement Board Records
"Long before the economic blight of the depression descended on the Nation, millions of our people were living in wastelands of want and fear. Men and women too old and infirm to work either depended on those who had but little to share, or spent their remaining years within the walls of a poorhouse . . .The Social Security Act offers to all our citizens a workable and working method of meeting urgent present needs and of forestalling future need . . .
President Franklin Roosevelt; August 14, 1938, radio address on the third anniversary of the Social Security Act
Social Security Death Index
Railroad Retirement Board Records
Social Security Numbers' State Codes
The first Social Security card was issued 1 December 1936 and on 1 January 1937, U.S. workers began acquiring "credits" toward old-age benefits. About 35 million numbers were assigned to workers who qualified at that time.
A Guide to Using SSDI
One of the largest and easiest to access databases used for genealogical research is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Its information can be utilized to help you learn more about your ancestors, as well as your aunts, uncles and cousins.
Clues and facts from the SSDI often can be used to further genealogical research by enabling you to locate a death certificate, find an obituary, discover cemetery records and track down probate records.
As marvelous a finding aid as it is, the SSDI does not include the names of everyone, even if they had a Social Security number (SSN). If relatives or the funeral home did not report the death to the Social Security Administration, or if the individual died before 1962 (when the records were computerized) then they probably will not appear in this database. The omission of an individual in this index does not indicatethe person is still living. It simply means that there was no report of the person's death to Social Security Administration.
When using the Social Security Death Index, in addition to the date of birth and date of death, there are three possible places included as well:
- State of issuance (where a person then lived and applied or the state in which the office that issued their Social Security number was located).
- Residence at time of death (this is really the address of record, but not necessarily where they lived or died).
- Death benefit (where the lump sum death benefit [burial allowance] was sent).
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA):
The nine-digit SSN is composed of three parts:
- The first set of three digits is called theArea Number
- The second set of two digits is called the Group Number
- The final set of four digits is the Serial Number
The Area Number is assigned by the geographical region. Prior to 1972, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the state in which the card was issued. This did not necessarily have to be the state where the applicant lived, since a person could apply for their card in any Social Security office. Since 1972, when SSA began assigning SSNs and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code in the mailing address provided on the application for the original Social Security card. The applicant's mailing address does not have to be the same as their place of residence. Thus, the Area Number does not necessarily represent the state of residence of the applicant, either prior to 1972 or since.
Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the Northeast and moving westward. So people whose cards were issued in the East Coast states have the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast have the highest numbers.
The state of issuance (this is not necessarily the state of residence at the time of issuance) can be verified by looking at the Social Security number itself. The next two digits of the number are a code used to track fraudulent numbers. The last four digits are randomly assigned.
Social Security Number State Codes
574 (AK) 416-424 (AL) 429-432 (AR) 526-527 (AZ) 545-573 (CA) 521-524 (CO) 040-049 (CT) 577-579 (DC) 221-222 (DE) 261-267 (FL) 252-260 (GA) 575-576 (HI) 478-485 (IA) 518-519 (ID) 318-361 (IL) 303-317 (IN) 509-515 (KS) 400-407 (KY) 433-439 (LA) 010-034 (MA) 212-220 (MD) 004-007 (ME) 362-386 (MI) 468-477 (MN) 486-500 (MO) 425-428 (MS) 587 (MS) 516-517 (MT) 237-246 (NC) 501-502 (ND) 505-508 (NE) 001-003 (NH) 135-158 (NJ) 585 (NM) 530 (NV) 050-134 (NY) 268-302 (OH) 440-448 (OK) 540-544 (OR) 159-211 (PA) 581-584 (PR) 035-039 (RI) 247-251 (SC) 503-504 (SD) 408-415 (TN) 449-467 (TX) 528-529 (UT) 223-231 (VA) 008-009 (VT) 531-539 (WA) 387-399 (WI) 232 (WV, NC) 233-236 (WV) 520 (WY) 580 (Vir. Is.; PR) 586 (Guam, Am. Samoa, Phil. Islands) 700-728 (RR Retirement Board - All States)
Beware of making assumptions about the state of residence at time of death. The one listed as "Last Residence" (more properly should be called "address of record") in SSDI is not necessarily the place of death. This was brought home when researching an individual who died while on vacation in Florida. His "last residence" shows up as New Hampshire, which was his legal residence (or address of record) at the time, but that is not where he died. Consider the possibility that a person might have had two official residences also; many "snowbirds" do.
Read the search results carefully. The actual place of death is not shown in the SSDI. Some records show where "last benefit" was sent, but that is not necessarily the place of death or the deceased's address of record either. "Last Benefit" only refers to the payment of the lump sum death benefit (a burial allowance of about $250 that went to the surviving spouse).
Keep in mind that ZIP codes given are those that existed at the time of the reported death and are not necessarily correct or the same as today's. ZIP codes have changed through the years.
Do not assume that the state in which the number was issued was the state of birth or even the state of residency at the time (see above).
Abbreviations. The following abbreviations or codes, which appear in some records in the "Last Residence" box, usually in parentheses, are internal codes used by SSA and do not mean anything to researchers. Ignore them.
- (VA) (VA) does not stand for Virginia or Veterans' Administration
Reasons you might not find someone in the SSDI
- Social Security officially was begun in 1937, with some payments being paid as early as 1940. However, the Social Security Death Index is the computerized index to deaths reported and/or death benefits paid out starting in 1962. The SSDI includes a few pre-1962 entries, but the great majority of those included in this index are from 1962 through the present time.
- While the limitations of dates may exclude your family member, other reasons that your ancestor may not be included in the SSDI might have to do with his or her occupation or lack thereof.
- Prior to the 1960s, farmers, housewives, government employees, non-employed individuals, and those with a separate retirement plan might not have had a Social Security number. It was not until 1988 that all children had to have Social Security numbers.
The "Application for a Social Security Number" is commonly referred to as the SS-5. In addition to the SSDI, you may find your ancestor's Social Security number in other ways, especially on death certificates. While it may seem like you are recreating the wheel to request the SS-5 form, there are times that this can be the only proof you will have for an ancestor's birth. For instance, for those ancestors born in the 1860s to 1880s who immigrated to the United States, it can difficult to pinpoint their place of birth. On the SS-5 it was required that the applicant supply complete birth information. This means more than just the country of birth, as is usually found on census and death records. Moreover, the maiden name of the applicant's mother was requested, often critical information for a family historian.
To request a photocopy of the original application for Social Security Card (SS-5), find the particular record of interest and let RootsWeb generate a printer-ready letter addressed to the Social Security Administration for you. Be sure to include the name of the individual, the Social Security number, date and place of death. You will need to include a check or money order for these records currently $27 if you have the Social Security number, $29 without the number. See chart below. The process of obtaining this information usually takes several months, so be patient.
Fees For Processing Requests For
Individualís Social Security Record
Effective July 1, 2001
Request for copy of Original Application for Social Security Card (Form SS-5), SSN Provided $27 Request for copy of Original Application for Social Security Card (Form SS-5), SSN Not Provided $29 Request for Computer Extract of Social Security Number Application, SSN Provided $16 Request for Computer Extract of Social Security Number Application, SSN Not Provided $18 Search for Information about Death of an Individual, SSN Provided $16 Search for Information about Death of an Individual, SSN Not Provided $18
The above chart and additional information can be found here:
Initially people relied heavily upon the 1880 and 1900 federal census to obtain proof of their births (that's why these enumerations were Soundexed a special index based on sound rather than spelling of a surname). Many delayed birth certificates were filed in order to prove age for Social Security purposes.
How to Correct Errors in the SSDI
- RootsWeb does not create, edit or correct information found in the Social Security Death Index. This database is created by the Social Security Administration (SSA). If you believe that SSA has listed incorrectly someone as deceased (or has incorrect dates/data in the file), you should contact the local Social Security Office. It will be necessary to provide acceptable proof to have the error(s) corrected.
- You can use RootsWeb's Post-em Notes to indicate that your records differ from what SSA has, but this will not change the database.
Railroad Retirement Board Records
Railroad workers were enrolled in the same Social Security program, but from 1937 to 1963 they had numbers ranging between 700 and 728 as the first three digits. In 1964 their numbers began to reflect the same geographic location as other workers. Some railroad workers received Social Security benefits, but some did not. However, it is wise to check the SSDI in any case.
The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board was created in the 1930s, and has records dating back to 1937, but they exist only for those whose employers were covered under the Railroad Retirement Act. You can obtain information about deceased individuals for genealogical purposes. The records are arranged by Social Security number. If you do not know the number, provide as much identifying information as you have. Currently there is a $21 nonrefundable fee for a search in these records. Send request, along with check or money order, to:
Railroad Retirement Board
844 North Rush Street,
Chicago, IL 60611-2092
Suggested Reading & References
- Allen, Desmond Walls and Carolyn Earle Billingsley. Social Security Applications: A Genealogical Resource. Bryant, Arkansas, Research Associates, 1989, 1991.
- Hinckley, Kathleen W., CGRS, "Locating the Living: Twentieth-Century Research Methodology." National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 77, No. 3 (1989).
- Hinckley, Kathleen W., CGRS, Locating Lost Family Members & Friends: Modern genealogical research techniques for locating the people of your past and present. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 1999.
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis & Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (revised edition). Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 1997.
- Using Social Security Number Application Forms for Genealogy by George G. Morgan
- Railroad Retirement Board Records by George G. Morgan
- Social Security Death Master File: A Much Misunderstood Index by Jake Gehring
- Search SSDI
- Social Security Administration Home Page
- Social Security Administration History Page
- Cyndi's List: Railroad Information links
- Cyndi's List: Social Security information links
- Social Security Death Master File: Common Misconceptions
- Social Security Death Index FAQs
Links in this Guide (in order they appeared)
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- Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
- Social Security Administration
Complete list of the geographical number assignments by SSA
Social Security Administration Fees and Payments
Railroad Retirement Board
Hinckley, Kathleen W., CGRS
Ancestry, Inc. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (revised edition)
Using Social Security Number Application Forms for Genealogy by George G. Morgan
Railroad Retirement Board Recordsby George G. Morgan
Social Security Death Master File: A Much Misunderstood Index by Jake Gehring
Social Security Administration Home Page
Social Security Administration History Page
Cyndi's List: Railroad information links
Cyndi's List: Social Security information links
Social Security Death Master File: Common Misconceptions
Social Security Death Index FAQs