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.
Your DNA test results come with raw DNA data. This raw data is the next piece in your DNA puzzle. Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard, shares some interesting facts about raw DNA data and its use. Dig in and learn why!
What is Raw DNA Data?
Raw DNA data is the actual output file created by the DNA testing company. You can access your raw data at each testing company, and I strongly encourage that you do. You will need to download and save your raw data results to your computer. For instructions on how to do this, head on over to this page on my Your DNA Guide website.
This file contains your little DNA values at over 700,000 locations tested by your testing company. Any company with the right set-up and analysis tools can help you find matches with other people, and make additional genealogical discoveries. They may also be able to tell you if you like cilantro and are likely to have high blood sugar!
Raw DNA Data Research Projects and Destinations
Raw DNA data has to have a place to go. There are several research projects underway that utilize your data from any of the big four testing companies (Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA, and AncestryDNA) for various genealogical or genetic purposes.
Home page of the DNA Land website
Let’s look at four examples of places you might upload your raw DNA data.
1. Family Tree DNA. If you have tested at 23andMe or AncestryDNA, you can transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free! You can access all of your matches and use the matching tools. For an additional $19, you can get access to the ethnicity features and other tools.
2. DNA Land. The not-for-profit DNA Land has over 26,000 individuals who have voluntarily uploaded their autosomal DNA test results into their website to be used for research purposes. Their self-stated goal is to “make genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity.”
3. MyHeritage. MyHeritage also accepts your raw DNA data for incorporation into their genealogical database. You can upload your results for free and receive access to matches along with the ability to contact them. For a one-time fee of $29, you can unlock access to all of MyHeritage DNA’s features and tools as well. Learn more and upload your data here.
4. Geni.com. Geni.com (a family tree collaboration tool) jumped on the DNA bandwagon and announced they too would be integrating DNA into their family tree tool. Utilizing a partnership with Family Tree DNA, Geni.com is utilizing all three kinds of DNA (autosomal, YDNA, and mDNA) in their offering. The interface looks much like what you would see at your testing company: a list of matches with some family tree information.
The biggest takeaway from the recent influx of destinations for your raw DNA data shows us that the integration of DNA into genealogy is in full swing. I estimate every genealogy company and every major genealogy software will offer some kind of DNA integration within the next five years. DNA has certainly earned a permanent spot as a genealogical record type!
A Word of Caution
With all of these options available, and surely more to come, you will want to be careful about who you are giving your raw data to. Make sure you are comfortable with the company and its goals. Be sure you understand what role your DNA will be playing in their research, as well. These are exciting times in the world of genealogy.
Take the Next Steps in Your DNA Journey
Wherever you are in your DNA journey, we can help!
In this blog and video series I’m showing you how you can create captivating videos about your family history quickly and easily with Animoto. In this final installment we will put the finishing touches on your video and produce it.
In Episode 1
…we laid a foundation for the family history video that you are going to create. Watch Episode 1 here.
You may notice when you previewed your video that the timing needs a little adjustment because its moving a little too fast or too slowly. You can fine tune the speed at which the images are shown and the length of the song by clicking the Gear icon in the upper right corner of the editor (just above the images). In the pop up window you can trim the song and slide the lever to change the pace. When you’re done, click Save and preview the video again to see the changes. Sometimes adding or subtracting images will also help perfect the pace.
Before you produce your video, be sure to click the Settings button and take a moment to review the title of your video, how your name appears as the producer, and add a date if you want. You can also add a description, which I highly recommend because it helps the people you share the video with understand what they are about to see.
Call to Action
Another really cool feature in the settings is the Call to Action button. A Call to Action invites your viewers to do something, such as:
visit your family website or blog
visit your family Facebook group (which is a really neat idea, especially when you’re organizing a family reunion)
complete a questionnaire about the family history
There are so many ways to engage your viewers! Animoto allows you to add a Call to Action button to your video at the end that you can link to any where you want to take them on the web.
To add your Call to Action, click to check box for Show Call-to-Action button. Then type in a name to label your button such as Visit our Family Reunion Facebook Page. In the field next to URL, type in or copy and paste the website address. For example: www.genealogygems.com. Click the Save button, and your call to action will appear on your video.
Producing Your Video
After making your edits and previewing your video one last time, you’re ready to produce it. Click the Produce button, which will take you to the Produce Video page. Here you have one more opportunity to edit the title, producer name, date, and description.
On the side bar you can select the resolution size of your video. Producing your video can take a few minutes and depends on the length of your video. The good news is that Animoto will conveniently send an email to notify you when it is ready.
Your final produced video will appear on its own page where you can view it again. You’ll see another link along the side for Video Settings. Click it and you will find additional settings that can now be customized. One important setting is Privacy Options, which lets you to designate whether or not you want to allow viewers to comment on your video or be able to share it on social media. When you’re done, click Save to go back to the video page.
Sharing your Family History Video
Your family history video is now ready for sharing, and there are loads of options available. You can share by:
sharing a link to the video
uploading it to YouTube
You can also post it on your own website by copying the Embed code and pasting it into the source code of a webpage on your website. Click the More button and you’ll find many more social media options for sharing your video. I would also highly recommend that you download a copy of the video as well to your computer for permanent storage.
Continuing with Animoto
Once your free trial is over you will have to subscribe to Animoto if you wish to continue creating videos. There are many options to choose from so you can find the one that fits your needs.
If you only need to make one or a couple of videos at a time, you could do all your planning before making a purchase. Then you can purchase one month’s Personal use of Animoto. If you have several or ongoing projects, purchasing the 1 year subscription saves quite a bit compared to the monthly subscription. Plans include unlimited HD video creation and sharing. Click this link to go to Animoto and click Pricing at the top of the page for all your options.
Need to contact distant relatives? Got cold feet? Follow these steps and you’ll warm right up–and hopefully, so will those you contact!
Today, online trees, social media, and email make it easier than ever to find relatives you don’t know well (or at all). And there are SO many reasons to contact them: to collaborate on research, swap photos or stories, or even request a DNA sample.
In these cases, you may need to make what salespeople refer to as a “cold call,” or an unexpected contact to someone you don’t know. I’ve done it successfully many times myself, so I can tell you this: it does get easier. Follow these steps to make it a smoother experience.
1. Identify the person you want to call. Common ways to identify a new relative include:
Another relative tells you about them
Family artifact, such as an old greeting card, address book, captioned photograph, letter, etc.
On a genealogy message board
In an online family tree (with enough information showing to identify them)
As the author of a book, article, or blog post with information about your family
2. Locate the person’s phone number, address, and/or email address.
Here are some great websites for locating people you don’t know, or at least learning more about them (as you can on LinkedIn):
TIP: When looking through a geographically-based directory, don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name, particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers.
3. Prepare ahead for making the call. Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first!
Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
Choose a time when you are not too rushed
Set yourself up in a quiet place, where there will be minimal background noise or disruptions
Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips
4. Adopt a positive mindset. It’s natural to feel some apprehension when calling someone you don’t know. Before you pick up the phone, give yourself a little pep talk. Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself, “I can do this. This is important!” Be positive and remember, all they can do is say, “No thank you.”
5. Introduce yourself. Give your first and last name and tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share. Tell them who referred them to you or how you located them. Cover these basics before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.
6. Overcome reluctant relatives. Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest. If they are very hesitant or caught off-guard, offer to mail them information and call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can get their bearings, too.
7. Do these things during the call:
Take notes: try a headset or use speakerphone, which will help to free up your hands for writing.
Ask for new information and confirm what you already have.
If you have a way to record the call, then you won’t have to take notes and you can focus all your attention on the conversation. You can then transcribe the recording later. However, in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without telling them first and/or getting a person’s permission (not to mention discourteous). It can be very off-putting to start the first call by asking if you can record them. So, establish a connection first, make your request to record, and then press the record button.
8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer. State your name clearly, and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back. These days many people are more comfortable with email for the first contact.
9. Ask questions like these:
“Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs or a family Bible that I could arrange to get copies of? (Reassure them that you are happy to pay for copies and shipping.)
“Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
“May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
“Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time? What is your preferred method of contact?”
10. Wrap up the call. Offer to give them your address, phone number, and email address. Ask for their mailing address and email address. Repeat or state your desire to share information you have, and tell them how you’ll send it. Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.
11. Document the call. Keep track in your genealogy database of each time you call someone and the outcome (“left a message” or summary of conversation). Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you know when it’s time to follow-up with whom—and who wasn’t so interested in chatting again.
After a conversation, sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number, and date of the conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.
12. Enter new information into your genealogy database.
This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind. Cite the conversation as the source of the information.
Remember to respect the privacy of those who prefer to remain “off-the-record” by not naming them in sources you post on public online trees.
13. Create an action item list. Create action items based on what you learned. Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end goal. It’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.
“The call is not the end goal.”
Lisa Louise Cooke
14. Follow up. Send the person a written thank-you note or email. Remind them of your willingness to share your information, and acknowledge any willingness they expressed to share theirs (restate your willingness to help with copying expenses, postage etc. and consider including a few dollars). You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!
Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. Try this service: Birthday Alarm. If you don’t know their birthday but do have an address or email, send a greeting card for the next major holiday or on your shared ancestor’s anniversary or birth date. It’s another way of keeping the connection alive and expressing that you really do appreciate their help.
Occasionally make a follow-up call. See how they are doing, share any new family items you’ve come across recently, and ask whether they have they heard or found anything else.
Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn strategies for finding living relatives with their exclusive access to my video class, “Unleash your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives.” Class includes:
a handout summarizing 9 strategies and resources
a resource guide for online public records (U.S.)
a downloadable Living Relatives worksheet you can print (or open in Word) that will help you capture and organize what you learn about them
Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.