SSDI Search – How to Find Hard to Find Ancestors

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) search is not necessarily as straight forward as you might think. We’re going to explore what SSDI records are, their range of availability, and how they compare across the Genealogy Giants records websites. 

SSDI Search

If you’ve been dabbling in genealogy research for a while, then you are very likely familiar with the Social Security Death Index, more commonly referred to as the SSDI. But even experienced researchers have questions, like the one that Marti sent me recently:

From Marti in Texas:

Hi Lisa!!

Thank you so much for all your helpful resources on your website!! I just listened to the SSDI Working Backwards podcast episode (Family History: Genealogy Made Easy episode 3) and my grandparents passed away in 2012 and 2014. Do you know when the last time the index has been updated, I cannot locate them.

Thank you so much!!

This two-fold question is a good one. While many genealogical record sets have privacy laws that dramatically restrict more recent records from being available, the SSDI is not one of them. But even if the records are available, there may still be times when we have trouble locating our relatives.

Whenever you run into a road block finding ancestors in a record collection, do what good detectives do, and go back to the beginning. In this case, let’s learn more about the collection itself.

Social Security Death Index Background

The Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt. By 1937, more than 30 million Americans had registered. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains around 90 million records of deaths and they are publicly available online.

Some data goes as far back as 1937, but most of the information included in the SSDI dates from 1962. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Some of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

It’s important to know that the SSDI does not have a death record for everyone. It’s also very possible that you may occasionally find an error here and there if something was reported incorrectly. But don’t let that stop you from tapping into this major resource! It’s a wonderful alternative source for finding people who were counted in the 1890 census (which was unfortunately mostly destroyed) because they may still appear in the SSDI. Also, those who were born before vital records registration in their home state began, may also show up. Remember, working folks just had to live past 1937 to have been possibly included. That means some people could have been born sometime in the late 1800s.

Now that we have a handle on the history of the SSDI, let’s look at who has it and how recent their records are.

Where to Find the SSDI

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is available on all of the ‘big 4’ genealogy records websites, which we here at Genealogy Gems refer to as the Genealogy Giants.” The links below will take you directly to the SSDI search page for each.

  • FamilySearch
    (Current as of February 28, 2014)
  • Ancestry
    (1935-2014)
  • MyHeritage
    (It is not stated how current the database is, but a search for 2014 did retrieve results)
  • Findmypast
    (No dates or citation provided, but a search for people who died in 2014 did retrieve results)

In Marti’s case, she will want to search every single one of these websites for her ancestors. The good news is that they all appear to be up-to-date, but that doesn’t mean they are all exactly the same. The same collection of genealogy records can appear differently from site to site for a number of reasons such as accidental omissions, variations in the power of their search engine, differences between indexers and scanners, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) inaccuracies. These may or may not affect the SSDI, but the point is that you can’t go wrong searching each one of the Genealogy Giants just in case. And since SSDI search can be conducted for free at all of the Genealogy Giants, it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.

A quick way to find all of the websites that include the SSDI is to Google SSDI genealogy. Here’s a link to the results.

SSDI Search Head-to-Head Comparison

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4Another excellent reason to search the SSDI on multiple websites is that each website displays the information a little differently. And as you can see from the chart below, when it comes to the Genealogy Giants, there are definitely differences.

SSDI Search Comparison
It’s interesting to note that Ancestry is the only website that provides information about the year that the Social Security number was issued. It isn’t exact, but it’s more than the others offered in my search for Alfred H. Sporan.
 SSDI search results
genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheet

The differences between the 4 major websites can be sometimes subtle or quite dramatic. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses, as well as free versus subscription offerings, is key to successful research that is both efficient and cost-effective.

The quick reference guide Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites is a must-have for anyone serious about getting the most out of free and paid subscriptions.

The author of this 4-page full-color cheat sheet, Sunny Morton, is Contributing Editor here at Genealogy Gems, and she’s packed this guide with everything you would ever want to know, and many things you probably didn’t know that you needed to know. You can pick up your copy here in our store.

SSDI Search and Beyond

There is another database at Ancestry that is worth keeping your eye on. It’s called the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index and it shouldn’t be missed! Currently, this covers 1936-2007, but who knows, they may update it in the future. It includes even more information. It was first released in 2015. Read more about it here at Genealogy Gems.

Gems: Share Your SSDI Search Experience!

I invite you to take a moment to share your SSDI search experience in the comments below. Have you had any surprises? Did you find a difference between the records found at different websites? We want to hear your story because we all benefit from each other’s experiences.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Inherited Genealogy Files: Adding Source Citations to an Inherited Family Tree

Adding Source Citations is our third post in the Inherited Genealogy Files series, and in this post, we answer a listener’s question.

 

We recently received this letter from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, Cristy. She says:

Thank you for your tip about starting from the present and working backwards. I was having a hard time knowing where to start. I had inherited a tree passed from my mom and my great-grandmother, that when combined with the information my husband’s aunt gave me [I had a] tree with almost 1200 names. But the information from my great-grandmother and my aunt does not have any sources and all of my mom’s sources got lost in our various moves over the years. She only had her old school database that just had the facts and no sources.

I determined that a genealogy book my mom used as a source for one of our lines [had been] copied [from] an older genealogy line that has been proven incorrect. So, my goal has been to re-find my mom’s sources and document everything. I didn’t know where to start. I have now made a second tree in my database keeping the original as a place to start and only putting what I have proved using actual sources and attaching the documentation as I go. Your episode on the Genealogical Proof Standard was really helpful. It will be a big help as I clean up my tree.

Finding Source Citations for Your Inherited Family Tree

Let’s first give a brief definition of source citation.

Source Citation: the information that tells your reader where you obtained a particular piece of genealogical data.

For example, a family tree should include a source citation for the birth date and place, the death date and place, and the marriage date and place…and that’s just the start.

Finding source citations is really easy if you are using FamilySearch. Let’s say I used a death record I found online at FamilySearch as the proof of my ancestors death date. What is so wonderful about using FamilySearch.org for finding records is that it includes a source citation for you to copy and paste. Take a look.

Adding source citations from FamilySearch

You can highlight the source citation text and copy it into your genealogy software. A bonus is knowing that FamilySearch is free and easy to use.

Adding Source Citations for Genealogy to RootsMagic Software

As I mentioned above, you can take the source citation you found on FamilySearch and copy and paste it into your genealogy software. RootsMagic is the genealogy software we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast use (and we are proud that they sponsor our free Genealogy Gems Podcast.) It is an easy-to-use and effective software for both PC and Mac users. (To learn more about using RootsMagic, read here.)

Using RootsMagic, let’s add a source citation to an event in a family tree:

Adding source citations to RootsMagic

In this example above, we have double clicked on Clarence’s name and opened up the Edit Person window. We would like to add a source citation for Clarence Bowser’s death date and place. In the line for death, we click on the box in the source citation column. The source citation column is indicated by that little icon that looks like a record.

At the pop-up window, we click Add new source and from the options, choose Free Form and click OK.

Adding source citations to database

Now, let’s assume you copied the following source citation from a record you found at FamilySearch.org:

“Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN : accessed 8 December 2014), Clarence W Bowser, 09 Nov 1958.

The first part of the citation is the title of the collection and the location you found it. “Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VKBM-BKN. That front half of the citation is going to go in the Footnote area of the next pop-up window. The remainder of the citation you copied is going to go in the Page field. Then click, OK.

correctly adding source citations

Notice, the entire footnote at the right of the screen looks like the one you copied from FamilySearch. You may wonder why on earth we separated the citation. Because, RootsMagic is going to remember you have a source citation from Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007. The next time you find an ancestor’s death record in this index, you will not need to click Add new source. Rather, you will click Cite existing source, and choose the Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007.

Adding source citation for death record

At the next screen, the Footnote field will already be filled out for you. All you need to do is fill in the Page field with the back-half of the new source.

Adding source citation for other record

More on Adding Source Citations for Genealogy

Evernote for Genealogy Quick Reference GuideIn addition to keeping your source citations on a genealogy software program, you may wish to clip the citation and add it to Evernote. Lisa Louise Cooke explains just how to do this in her article titled, “Cite Your Sources from FamilySearch with the Evernote Web Clipper.”

You can get loads more tips and tricks in our helpful Evernote for Windows for Genealogists quick reference guide (also available for Mac users). Also, get a quick overview about this amazing product from this video clip on our YouTube Channel.

DNA Testing for Kids Sparks Interest in Family History

DNA testing for kids is a great way to spark their interest in their heritage, while teaching science, math, geography, and more. Consider these reasons and start with the budget-friendly option of an autosomal test.

DNA testing for kids

According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported, “Children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”

Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But let’s explore how DNA testing might be able to help you share your love of family history with your children and grandchildren.

Why Try DNA Testing for Kids

Since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. There is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results. Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who-got-what-from-who. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great-grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.

Kit for DNA testing for kids

If there are parts of the ethnicity report you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or Southeast Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page, you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with their grandparent!

DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, or a discussion on identity. DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children.

A Warning and Caution

As with all DNA testing pursuits, this one should not be taken lightly, even with all of its benefits.

An important word to parents: Be sure to keep unintentional consequences in the forefront of your mind. This includes the possibility of revealing family secrets. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page. In the end, this is your decision.

An important word to grandparents and other relatives: DNA testing is a parent’s decision. Even though you’re passionate about preserving the family’s history and the benefits of including children are numerous, you must obtain parental consent if you are not the parent.

More About Autosomal DNA Testing for Kids

Click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos (available to Gems fans for a special price) or start your kids’ or grandkids’ DNA journey with two of my genetic genealogy quick guides. The first is a great overview and the second talks about autosomal testing which is a good test for genetic genealogy beginners.

Start Your Canadian Genealogy Research: Library and Archives Canada

Jump start your Canadian genealogy research and celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday! Here are tips for you to start your Canadian genealogy research. Already started? Take it to the next level with resources at Library and Archives Canada.

Canadian genealogy tips

Canadian genealogy researchCanada is celebrating 150 years of nationhood in 2017! To join the party, I invited Claire Banton from Library and Archives Canada to the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 199. We had a great chat about Canada’s history and its planned year-long celebration. And of course, our conversation quickly turned to tips for exploring your Canadian roots at Library and Archives Canada.

Quick Tips for Canadian Genealogy Research

You can listen to our entire conversation for free in episode 199, but here are some quick take-away tips:

research Canadian genealogy

Claire Banton obtained her Masters of Library and Information Studies degree in 2006. She has worked in Reference Services at Library and Archives Canada for 10 years, where she has enjoyed learning something new every day. She is currently Chief, Orientation Services, where she works with an awesome team who help people search for information. She loves being an information detective and helping people overcome their research challenges.

1. Library and Archives Canada is very different from the average library.
It is both a national library (search the library catalog here) and a national archive (search the archival catalog here). And you don’t even have to have an account to search.

2. Start with the LAC website genealogy resources page whether you plan to visit in person or not.
You’ll find loads of free databases and some digitized records that haven’t been indexed yet, but are ripe for browsing. The topics page will tell you more about what is available for Canadian genealogy.

3. Familiarize yourself with the history of border crossings.
There was no border control from the US to Canada prior to 1908, so that means there are no Canadian records of earlier crossings. However, there is a database containing an index of aliens and citizens crossing into the U.S. from Canada via various ports of entry along the U.S.-Canadian border between 1895 and 1956 at FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.

4. Call LAC directly for quick Canadian genealogy answers.
Schedule a Skype call with a genealogy expert to get a more in depth answer. (This is awesome – well done LAC!) Set the expert up for success and get the most out of your call by providing background information ahead of time.

Click here to explore (and join) Canada’s 150th birthday celebration!

More Canadian Genealogy Tips

Search Canadian Passenger Lists for FREE at Library and Archives Canada

Here’s Why Quebec Church Records are a Great Place to Look for Ancestors 

Canadiana: Canadian Digital Archive and Portal to the Past

Backing Up Your Genealogy with Backblaze – Q & A

Backing up your genealogy with Backblaze is a critical move if you want to protect your family history. Let us answer your questions and share with you how the cloud backup service Backblaze can be the answer to effectively backing up and protecting all your genealogy data.

backing up your genealogy with Backblaze

Recently, we received some great questions concerning the cloud-based computer backup service, Backblaze, one of our trusted sponsors of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. The answers to these questions will give you with the confidence to put a reliable cloud backup plan in place so that your family history remains safe and secure.

What is Backblaze?

Backblaze is an online back-up tool that stores copies of your computer files, and allows you to restore them in case your computer is lost, stolen, or destroyed. It offers unlimited storage and supports every type of file, including large video files and genealogy tree files.

Once installed, Backblaze works 24/7 through your internet connection to save every change you make. Backblaze also keeps your files safe offsite (at their data centers) with 24-hour staff, biometric security, and redundant power.

Unlike Evernote or Dropbox which are designed to allow you to work with your files across multiple devices, Backblaze is “set it and forget it” protection should the worst happen.

While you can sign-in and access your files from multiple devices, it’s primary purpose is to provide a back-up plan so you can restore your data if something happens to your computer. While external hard drives are great for when your computer crashes, they can’t help you if they are destroyed in a fire or flood along with your computer because they were both in the same location. Off-site backup and multiple copies (redundancy) are key when it comes to protecting your precious genealogy research.

Answers to Your Questions about Using Backblaze for Cloud Storage

Q: I am excited to begin using Backblaze for the first time! However, I am a bit uncertain of how to actually begin. Can you walk me through it?
A: Lots of our readers are a little uncertain when it comes to using something new. We have created a blog post titled “How to Download Backblaze in 4 Easy Steps” that will walk you through it!

Q: I have a number of computers at home and I also have a network drive. What does Backblaze cover? Will it back up everything?
A: No, and here are the details. You can have multiple computers backed up on your account, but each computer will require its own subscription (about $6/month). Backblaze can back up all file types and storage is unlimited, so large files from your hard drive are not a problem. It also backs up every time you make a change to a file and your backup will always have the most current version. You can view and restore your backed up files at any time via download, USB flash drive (mailed to you,) or USB hard drive (mailed to you.) Backblaze does not however support the backup of network drives.

Q: Does Backblaze also save earlier versions of my files like Dropbox does?
A: Yes. You can locate earlier versions of files or even files that have since been deleted. To learn how to do this, follow the step-by-step directions in this article from Backblaze.

Q: I live in a fairly remote location, and have a limited Internet data plan. Will Backblaze use a lot of data?
A: Backblaze, as with any Cloud backup service, does require a strong internet connection and could take days or weeks to completely back up your entire computer. This will depend quite a bit on how much data you have on your computer. If you have a limited data plan or slow internet, you could experience delays or what appears to be high data usage while the initial backup is occurring. Here is a link to a helpful page on the Backblaze website called “Bandwidth Speed Test to Backblaze”where you can test your internet speed. Backblaze is designed not to “throttle” or slow down the flow of uploads. It strives to use your full internet bandwidth. However, you do have the option to set it to slow down the backups. The “Bandwidth Speed Test to Backblaze” page provides instructions on how to  throttle your download speed so that it doesn’t use up as much bandwidth.  While this will cause your initial backup to take longer, it can clear help ease  up on the data usage and allow for your other internet activity. You can also pause backups, or set them to start manually or at scheduled intervals. Once your initial backup is complete, the data usage should slow down.

Q: Because Backblaze backs up my computer automatically and instantly, what happens if I get a virus. Will that also be transferred to Backblaze?
A: From Backblaze blog
“Since Backblaze is…continuously running online backup solution and is not locally connected to your machine, all of your backed up files would be available for restore with minimal or no data loss (depending on the last backup time before the machine was infected).”

A Note from Lisa About Backblaze and Genealogy

Lisa answers your questions“You’ve heard me talk about Backblaze on the podcast, and why it’s my first choice when it comes to backing up my precious genealogy research and personal files. I met their CEO Gleb Budman at Rootstech and after lots of research, I decided that Backblaze was the best cloud backup service out there! Maybe you’re still on the fence about it or maybe you’ve been putting it off, unsure of how complicated it is to set up or if it’s really worth the cost. So I got in touch with our friends over at Backblaze and we’ve set up a special offer for those of you have not yet begun protecting your data.”

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