Family History Episode 4 – Genealogy Conferences, the SS-5, Delayed Birth Records and Death Records

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy PodcastPublished October 29, 2013

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

by Lisa Louise Cooke

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. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 4: Attending Genealogy Conferences and Vital Records Requests

In our first segment, our guest is the longtime online news anchorman of genealogy, Dick Eastman, the author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. He talks about the changing industry and the benefits of attending genealogy conferences.

Next, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using some “vital” sources for U.S. birth and death information: delayed birth records, Social Security applications (SS-5s) and death certificates.

Genealogy Conferences Conversation: A Few Updates

  • Dick and I talk about Footnote.com as a relatively small site. Has that ever changed! Footnote.com is now Fold3.com and it’s a go-to site for millions of online American military records.
  • Family History Expos still offers an exciting conference, especially for first-timers. But there are others as well: In the United States, there’s RootsTech, the National Genealogical Society and many state and regional conferences (like one near my home, the Southern California Genealogical Society’s annual Jamboree). Find a nice directory at Cyndi’s List. Many conferences are starting to offer live streaming sessions for people who can’t attend: check websites for details. In addition, Family Tree University offers regular virtual conferences—where sessions and chat are all online! If you live outside the U.S., look for conferences through your own national or regional genealogical societies. If you can get to London, don’t miss Who Do You Think You Are Live.
  • Dick now writes all of his Plus content himself. If you haven’t already checked out Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, you should! Both his free and Plus newsletters are great insider sources on what’s new and great (or not-so-great) in the family history world.

The SS-5

You can order a copy of the application that your ancestor filled out when they applied for a Social Security Number: the SS-5. I have done this, and they really are neat, but they aren’t cheap. So let’s talk about the facts you’re going to find on them so you can determine if it is worth the expense.

The SS-5 has changed slightly over time, but may include the applicant’s name, full address, birth date and place and BOTH parents’ names (the mother’s maiden name is requested). If your ancestor applied prior to 1947 then you will also very likely find the name and address of the company they worked for listed, and possibly even their position title.

Here’s an example of a Social Security application form:

Osby Johnson SS5

In the 1970s, the Social Security Administration microfilmed all SS-5 application forms, created a computer database of selected information from the forms, and destroyed the originals. So it’s important to order a copy of the microfilmed original, rather than a printout or abstract from the Administration’s database. And luckily now you can request a Social Security Application SS5 Form online under the Freedom of Information Act.

It will help to have your relative’s Social Security Number (SSN) when you apply for a copy of their SS-5. First, it gives you greater confidence that their SS-5 exists. Second, it’s cheaper to order the SS-5 when you have their SSN. Third, the Social Security Death Index, in which you’ll find their SSN, usually has death data that makes your application for their SS-5 stronger. Privacy concerns have caused some genealogy websites to pull the SSDI, but you can still search it (in many instances for free) at the links provided in Episode 3.

Finally, here’s a little background on the Social Security Number itself. The nine-digit SSN is made up of three parts:

The first set of three digits is called the Area Number. This number was assigned geographically. Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the Northeast and moving westward. So people whose cards were issued in the East Coast states have the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast have the highest numbers.

Prior to 1972, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the state in which the card was issued. This wasn’t necessarily the state where the applicant lived, since you could apply for a card at any Social Security office.

Since 1972, when the SSA began assigning social security numbers and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore, Maryland, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code of the mailing address provided on the application for the card. And of course, the applicant’s mailing address doesn’t have to be the same as their place of residence. But in general the area number does give you a good lead as where to look for an ancestor.

The next two digits in the number are called the Group Number, and were used to track fraudulent numbers.

The last set of four digits is the Serial Number, and these were randomly assigned.

UPDATE: The website for ordering Social Security applications (SS-5s) has changed since the podcast first aired. For current ordering instructions, including online ordering, click here. The cost is still $27 to order a deceased relative’s SS-5 if you know the Social Security number and $29 if you don’t know it.

Delayed Birth Certificates

After 1937 folks who qualified to apply for social security had to have proof of their age. If they were born prior to official birth certificates being kept in their state, they applied for a delayed birth certificate.

Anytime someone needs a birth certificate for any reason, they have to contact the state—and often the county—in which the birth occurred. If a birth certificate exists, they can simply purchase a certified copy. But if there were no birth certificates issued at the time of the person’s birth, they could have a “delayed birth certificate” issued by that state or county.

In order to obtain a delayed certificate, they had to provide several pieces of evidence of their age. If these are considered satisfactory, the government would issue the certificate and it would be accepted as legal proof of birth by all U.S. government agencies.

Originally people turned to the census for proof of age. But eventually the Social Security Administration began to ask for birth certificates. For folks like my great grandmother who was born at a time and place where birth certificates were not issued, that meant they had to locate documents that could prove their age and allow them to obtain a delayed birth certificate. Delayed just meaning it was issued after the time of the birth.

Delayed birth certificates are not primary sources. (Remember we talked about Primary Sources in Episode 2. Since the delayed certificate was based on other documents, and not issued at the time of the event by an authority, such as the attending physician, then it is not a primary source. This means that while it’s great background information, it is more prone to error. In order to do the most accurate genealogical research you would want to try to find a primary source if possible. Chances are your ancestor used another primary source, such as an entry in the family bible, to obtain the delayed birth certificate.

The process for ordering a delayed birth certificate is likely going to be the same as ordering a regular birth certificate. You would start with the checking with the county courthouse, and then the Department of health for the state you’re looking in. Let them know that the birth record is a delayed birth certificate. Also the Family History Library card catalogue would be a place to look as many were microfilmed. Go to www.familysearch.org and search for delayed birth records by clicking on Search from the home page. Then click Catalog and do the keyword search just as the episode instructs, using “delayed birth” as your keyword. (Within that search, you can also add parameters for the place name.)

So the lesson here is that even though your ancestor may have been born at a time or in a location where births were not officially recorded by the state, they may very well have a delayed birth certificate on file.

Ordering Death Certificates

The Social Security Death Index is just one resource for getting death information. But in the end you’re going to want the primary source for your ancestor’s death, and that’s the death certificate. While many of your ancestor’s born in the 1800s may not have a birth certificate, there is a much better chance that they have a death certificate since they may have died in the 20th century. Each state in the U.S. began mandating death certificates at a different time, so you have to find out the laws in the state, and probably the county, since death certificates were filed at the county level.

As I said before, the death certificate is going to be able to provide you with a wealth of information. Of course you’ll find the name, date of death and place of death, and possibly their age at death and the cause and exact time of death, place of burial, funeral home, name of physician or medical examiner and any witnesses who were present. The certificate is a primary source for this information.

You may also find information such as their date and place of birth, current residence, occupation, parent’s names and birthplaces, spouse’s name, and marriage status. But because this information is provided by someone other than the ancestor themselves it is really hearsay, and the certificate is considered a secondary source for that information.

And lastly you may find a name in the box that says Informant. This is the person who reported the death to officials. Informants are often spouses, children, and sometimes, depending on the person’s circumstances, just a friend or neighbor. But the informant is almost always someone that you want to investigate further because they obviously were close to your ancestor.

Once you think you know the location where your ancestor died, and the approximate if not exact death date, you’re ready to order a certificate. If the person died in the last 50 years you’ll probably have really good luck at the county courthouse Department of Vital Records. The older the record, the more likely it may have been shipped off by the county records department to the state Department of Health. Look for helpful links to death records at Cyndi’s List Death Records.

Here are some tips that will ensure that you don’t get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape:

  1. Get the appropriate request form – this is usually available online.
  1. Print neatly and clearly – if they can’t read it, they will send it back to be redone.
  1. Provide as much information as you have.
  1. Provide a self addressed stamped envelope.
  1. Make one request per envelope.
  1. Include a photocopy of your driver’s license to prove your identity.
  1. Be sure to include your check for the exact amount required.
  1. Make a copy of the request form for your records and follow up.
  1. Lastly, keep in mind that county offices have limited personnel and are often swamped with paper work. So my best advice is that the more courteous and thorough you are the more success you’ll have.

Online Death Indexes

In the case of very old death certificates, as well as birth certificates, some state agencies have opted to hand them over to state Archives and Historical Societies, or at least make them available for digitizing.

And there you have it, lots of different avenues for tracking down your ancestor’s death records providing you with key information for climbing your family tree.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We learn about great new genealogy records online every week! On Fridays we round up a few for you. Watch for databases and documents that your ancestors might appear in–and get inspired by the types of records that may be out there for your family, waiting for you to discover. This week: a photo archives for Canadian Mennonites, a Georgia state newspaper collection, a genealogy index for a northeast Ohio archive and WWII Cadet Nursing Corps membership cards (US).

CANADIAN MENNONITE PHOTO ARCHIVE: A new database is now online with over 80,000 images of Mennonite life from across Canada and dating back to 1860s. A press release says that the archive “is a project of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada  and includes Mennonite archival partners in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.” An online ordering system allows visitors to order image copies for noncommercial use.

GEORGIA NEWSPAPERS: The Digital Library of Georgia has launched an archive of north Georgia historical newspapers. “The North Georgia Historic Newspapers Archive provides online access to six newspaper titles published in three north Georgia cities (Dalton, Gainesville, and Rome) from 1850 to 1922. Consisting of over 33,000 newspaper pages, the archive provides historical images that are both full-text searchable and can be browsed by date. The site is compatible with all current browsers and the newspaper page images can be viewed without the use of plug-ins or additional software downloads. The archive includes the following north Georgia newspaper titles: Gainesville News (1902-1922), Georgia Cracker (Gainesville) (1894-1902), North Georgia Citizen (Dalton) (1868-1921), Rome Courier (1850-1855), Rome Tri-Weekly Courier (1860-1880), Rome Weekly Courier (1860-1878). The Digital Library of Georgia will add additional titles from the region over time.

OHIO GENEALOGY INDEX. The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, OH has created an online Genealogy Index to some of its most valuable and unique genealogical records, including original funeral home and Bible records. Also in the index are Jewish marriages and death notices, an index of names in a significant African-American manuscript collection, a 1907 Cleveland voter registration index, a photo database of Cleveland military personnel from WWII and the Korean War and a biographical sketch name index. Currently, there are about 320,000 records in the index; more are being added on an ongoing basis. The Society primarily archives records relating to Cleveland and northeast Ohio. Soon to be added are indexes to the 1870 mortality census for Ashtabula, Ohio and indexes to several church records collections.

WWII CADET NURSING CORPS (US): The WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, new on Fold3, contain membership cards of women who joined. According to Fold3, the cards “are organized by state, nursing school, and cadet name. Some cards include the date of admission to the school, date of admission to the corps, and date of graduation (or date of other reason for termination from the school). Others contain details like the woman’s marital status, father’s/husband’s name and profession, years of college completed, place of residence, and how they heard about the corps. Still others also record the woman’s age in addition to the previously mentioned information.”

To search for images you can use without violating copyright, do a keyword search in Google Images (or just do a keyword search from Google’s home page and then click “Images” above your search results). Click Search Tools. Another toolbar will pop up. Click “Usage rights.” You can sort search results by those that are labeled for reuse in different ways. You won’t capture every copyright-free image, but hopefully you’ll get a decent selection of options! This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineEvery Friday, we highlight new genealogy records online. Scan these posts for content that may include your ancestors. Use these records to inspire your search for similar records elsewhere. Always check our Google tips at the end of each list: they are custom-crafted each week to give YOU one more tool in your genealogy toolbox.

This week:

ALABAMA COUNTY MARRIAGES. Over 700,000 names have been added to FamilySearch’s index of Alabama county marriage records (1809-1950). Some of the index entries have images.

ENGLAND PARISH RECORDS. Indexes to baptisms, marriages and burials from Derbyshire (1538-1910) and images of original records of Yorkshire baptisms, bishop’s transcripts of baptismsmarriage bannsmarriages, bishop’s transcripts of marriages, burials and bishop’s transcripts of burials (1500s-19oos, dates vary) are now searchable on FindMyPast.

IOWA HISTORICAL JOURNALS. The State Historical Society of Iowa has posted back issues of The Annals of Iowa dating to 1863. This is a quarterly, peer-reviewed historical journal. Use the search box to see whether your Iowa ancestors, hometowns or other family connections (schools, churches, friends, etc) are mentioned in more than 150 years’ worth of articles.

RUSSIAN WWII SOLDIERS. According to this article, “Thanks to a new online state initiative, families of Russian WWII combatants…are now able to give their forebears the recognition they deserve, 70 years on. The Zvyezdy Pobedy project, organized by the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, allows the descendants of those who fought in the Red Army in WWII to find out whether their ancestors were among the recipients of over 38 million orders and medals awarded during the war….There are more than 8,200 names listed in the database, which can be read in Russian at rg.ru/zvezdy_pobedy.”

U.S. CIVIL WAR RECORDS. These aren’t new, necessarily, but until April 30, Civil War records on Fold3 are FREE to search! Among the 43 million items are (of course!) military records, personal accounts, historic writings, photographs and maps. Both Union and Confederate records are represented.

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064 new genealogy records online

Google tip of the week: Need to read web text in Russian or another language you don’t know? Use Google Translate to translate short passages or even entire webpages! Copy text or a URL (for full page translation) into the left box, then click English and Translate on the right. You can even play back an audio version of the foreign text to hear how it sounds! Learn more in Lisa Louise Cooke’s The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. The 2nd edition, newly published in 2015, is fully revised and updated with the best Google has to offer–which is a LOT.

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