Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Social Security Death Index and Ordering SS-5 Copies Online

This genealogy tip by Joan Young is courtesy of the Rootsweb Review 12 May 2010 Vol. 13 No. 5.

My August 2008 article covered using RootsWeb's Social Security Death Index (SSDI) database. As a follow-up to my article I want to share a little more about the SSDI.

The article explained the procedure for ordering copies of the original SS-5 by mail. While the form that generates a request letter is still available on RootsWeb's SSDI page, the Social Security Administration now has an online order process which promises a much faster turn-around time and greater ease of ordering via credit card.

The online order form is located on a secure server on the SSA Web site. Both a photocopy of the original SS-5 or a computer extract called a "numident" may be ordered. As a rule, genealogists use an SS-5 because they want to learn the place of birth and/or the parents' names of the deceased account holder. The computer extract would usually not provide parents' names, so it would be of little value for genealogists if this is the information you are seeking.

Information obtained from the Social Security Administration based upon the SSDI is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which applies to deceased individuals. You can find the FOIA guidelines here. In some cases, the Privacy Act may also apply. Information covered under the Privacy Act is discussed here. The Privacy Act covers the living as well as those individuals who may be presumed by the SSA to still be living.

The individuals found in the SSDI at RootsWeb are deceased; however, the parents who are identified on the SS-5 copy may still be living. The SSA will not release the parents' names unless the parents are proven to be deceased (you would be required to submit proof of death) or, based upon the information included in the SS-5, it could be presumed that the parents would currently be one hundred and twenty (or more) years old. This is the cut-off age the SSA uses at present when processing FOIA requests when there is no actual proof that a named individual is deceased.

Keeping the above guidelines in mind will be helpful in deciding whether it would be worthwhile to request an SS-5 copy from the SSA. You will also be able to avoid needlessly paying for information that the SSA may not divulge under The Privacy Act. If the wage earner on the account would currently be under one hundred years of age the SSA is unlikely to release parental information where there is no proof of death on file for the parents.

Additional information in using the RootsWeb SSDI can also be found here: