Are you tracing the family history of someone who lived in the U.S. during the 20th century? Check out a wonderful free database in the United States called the Social Security Death Index, or the SSDI. Keep reading for 5 FREE online sources for the SSDI,7 tips for searching the SSDI and what you can do with SSDI info.
In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, and consequently more than thirty million Americans were registered by 1937. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains over 89 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and they are publicly available online.
Most of the information included in the index dates from 1962, although some data is from as early as 1937. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Many of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.
The SSDI does not have a death record for everyone; and occasionally you may find an error here and there if something was reported inaccurately, but overall it’s a terrific resource! It’s especially great for many people who were missed in the 1890 census or whose birth predated vital records registration in their home state. Remember they just needed to live past 1937 and to have worked to have been included. So they could have been born sometime in the later 1800s.
5 FREE Online Sources for the SSDI
Several genealogy websites provide free access to the SSDI, including (click to go right to the SSDI at these sites):
On the Search page, enter your relative’s name and other details you’re asked for. Hopefully you will get back results that includes your relative!
7 Tips for Searching the SSDI
If your relative doesn’t show up in the SSDI, even though you know they worked after 1937 and you know they have passed away, try these search tips:
1. Does the website you are using to search the SSDI have the most current version available? Look in the database description on the site to see how recently it was updated. Try searching at other sites.
2. Make sure that you tried alternate spellings for their name. You never know how it might have been typed into the SSDI database.
3. Many SSDI indexes allow you to use wildcards in your search. So for example you could type in “Pat*” which would pull up any name that has the first three letters as PAT such as Patrick, Patricia, etc.
4. Try using less information in your search. Maybe one of the details you’ve been including is different in the SSDI database. For example it may ask for state and you enter California because that’s where grandpa died, when they were looking for Oklahoma because that’s where he first applied for his social security card. By leaving off the state you’ll get more results. Or leave off the birth year because even though you know it’s correct, it may have been recorded incorrectly in the SSDI and therefore it’s preventing your ancestor from appearing in the search results.
5. Leave out the middle name because middle names are not usually included in the database. However, if you don’t have luck with their given name, try searching the middle name as their given name. In the case of my grandfather his given name was Robert but he went by the initial J.B. But in the SSDI his name is spelled out as JAY BEE!
6. Remember that married women will most likely be listed under their married surname, not their maiden name. But if you strike out with the married name, go ahead and give the maiden a try. She may have applied for her card when single, and never bothered to update the Administration’s records. Or if she was married more than once, check all her married names for the same reason.
7. Don’t include the zip code if there is a search field for it because zip codes did not appear in earlier records.
While most folks will appear in the SSDI, there are those who just won’t. But knowing where information is not located can be as important down the road in your research as knowing where it IS located, so I recommend making a note in your database that you did search the SSDI with no result. This will save you from duplicating the effort down the road because you forgot that you looked there.
What You Can Do with SSDI Information
Now, here comes the most exciting part of the SSDI: what you can do with that information. First, it usually includes a death date (at least the month and year) and sometimes a state and last known residence. Use this information to look for death records, obituaries, cemetery and funeral records. And use that Social Security Number to order a copy of your relative’s application for that number: the SS-5. Click here to read more about the SS-5 and how to order it.
Got a research trip coming up soon? These courthouse research tips for genealogists from The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker, will help you get organized before you hit the road. That way, you’ll be prepared to use your time well at your ancestor’s...
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 11: Census Wrap-Up: Decade-by-Decade to 1790
In our first segment we welcome back genealogy researcher, author and lecturer Lisa Alzo. The author of Three Slovak Women, Baba’s Kitchen and Finding Your Slovak Ancestors talks about discovering family traits and putting them in perspective.
Then in our second segment we wrap up our three-episode coverage of U.S. census records with a decade-by-decade overview of censuses from 1880 back to 1790. We talk about special schedules taken during one or more censuses: mortality, slave, social statistics and supplemental, agricultural, manufacturing and the DDD (Defective, Dependent and Delinquent) schedules.
Updates and Links
For a list of online resources for U.S. federal census data, check out the show notes for Episode 9 at http://tinyurl.com/ShowNotesEp9. More links you’ll want for this episode include:
Learn more about nonpopulation schedules and other census records in Ancestry’sThe Source.
Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. Do you see anything you should be searching for your ancestors?
Featured: U.S. – SOUTH DAKOTA CENSUS. The 1945 South Dakota state census collection at Ancestry.com has been updated. According to a FamilySearch.org collection description (where it can also be searched for free), “This 1945 South Dakota State Census is an every-name list of the state’s inhabitants as of 1945. The records are handwritten on printed cards and are arranged alphabetically by surname. People enumerated in the census are recorded individually; the census records do not show individuals in family groups.” It’s wonderful to see census records access pushing past that 1940 blackout!
AUSTRALIA VITAL RECORDS. Findmypast.com has updated collections of birth, marriage and death records for Western Australia. Transcripts for all three record sets appear to be taken from original civil registrations, which began in 1841.
SPAIN MUNICIPAL RECORDS. A free collection of Cádiz municipal records (1784-1956) has been updated with over 155,000 new browsable images at FamilySearch.org. The full collection (some of which is indexed) includes “civil registration records, censuses, military records, and other miscellaneous records microfilmed and digitized at municipal archives in the province of Cádiz, Spain.”
U.S. – LOUISIANA WILLS/PROBATE. Ancestry.com’s collection of wills and estate records for Louisiana (1756-1984) has been updated. Indexed images represent nearly 3/4 of Louisiana parishes.
U.S. – NEW YORK CHURCH. Findmypast.com has updated its collection of New York State Religious Records, 1716-1914. Find indexed images of baptisms, marriages and deaths from dozens of churches from various denominations. You can even search by denomination, church name, county or full text.
U.S. – NORTH CAROLINA MARRIAGES. There’s a new index with over 53,000 entries from North Carolina civil marriage bonds and certificates (1763-1868) at FamilySearch.org. Click here to see a description of the index’s coverage.
U.S. – NORTH DAKOTA FUNERALS. An index to records from North Dakota funeral homes hosted by the Red River Genealogical Society is newly indexed at Ancestry.com and can be searched for free. (Click here to search the index on the host website.)
Click here to buy the book. (Thank you for using this link which helps make this free show possible.) J.M. Phillips is the author of the new book Lamlash Street,A Portrait of 1960’s Post-War London Through One Family’s Story available at Amazon in paperback or Kindle.