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USA Social Security Death Index
Column updated: 22 March 2007
By: Shirley Gage Hodges Biography & Archived Articles
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) can be a great tool for those who are researching ancestors from the United States. This on-line database provides information on people who had social security numbers and have died. These deaths would have had to have been reported to the Social Security Administration. We find information on millions of people on this database. We find people with birth dates as early as 1875 and those who have died just a few months ago. Information found on these entries will contain their date of birth and death and their last known residence. We can also find the state that the card was issued in.
The use of the social security number has evolved over time. When social security numbers were first put in place it was necessary to give this number to your employer when you went to work at a new job. As time when on the social security number became a way that you were identified. Government agencies and the military started using this number as a means of identification in 1943. Today because of identity theft issues we no longer are required to use that number for identification.
Before you get too excited here about using the Social Security Death Index I need to caution you that you will not find all of your ancestors in this database. There were several classes of people who were not included in the database because they had been involved in an occupation where they had their own pension system. Some examples of these people would be doctors, teachers and railroad employees. Also farmers and other individuals who were self-employed were not included.
The Social Security Administration computerized their Master Death File in 1962. This does not mean that you will find everyone who died after that listed. Sometimes we find people who died in the 1950's who are not listed. However, I have found many who were. You may have great luck in finding individuals with earlier death dates so it is always wise to check. For example, Waymon Hodges from Texas was born in Sept. 1889 and died in Nov. 1944. We also find Thomas Hodges from North Carolina who was born 18 Dec. 1897 and died in May of 1939 listed in the database. We can even find some people who were famous. For example, you will find the record for Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. He was born 14 Oct. 1890 and died in March 1969 in Gettysburg, PA. His social security number was issued in California. I was able to see his farm in Gettysburg from an observation tower in 1959 so I was interested to see that is where he lived during his last years. Check and see if you might find your ancestors in the database also.
We have to also realize that not everyone who died will be found on the database. In order for a person to appear on the database it was necessary that a death benefit check was issued for that individual. Sometimes this did not happen because the Social Security Administration was not notified. In some cases the individual might not have qualified for a death benefit check. The SSA did know that they died, but for whatever reason they did not qualify for a death benefit check.
It is important to remember that you might have an ancestor who was not an American citizen but you should always check the database to see if they are listed You might find information for any ancestor who worked in the U.S. after 1937. After 1972 all individuals who were legally admitted to the U.S. were issued a Social Security Number.
Rootsweb.com has a great resource, which is a free site, where you can check for your ancestors. http://ssdi.rootsweb.com. There were 78,785,835 entries on that site as of 24 Jan. 2007. There were entries from as recent as Dec. 2006.
Other Web pages:
Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email: email@example.com
Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930
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