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Computer Search Into the Social Security Death Index

Searching the SSDI can require some creative thinking.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Carolyne Gould
Word Count: 588 (approx.)
Labels: Birth Record 
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This article is designed for those people who know what the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is but, are having limited success in actually searching the Index. If you are a genealogy newbie, I recommend you first read the GenealogyToday.com article Using the Social Security Death Index" by Ruby Coleman, for a general overview on the SSDI.

Although there are several web sites on the Internet where you can search the SSDI at no cost, the three easiest to use are Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and Rootsweb.org. The following links will take you directly to the SSDI search engine for each of these websites.

In my opinion, the one that is the easiest to use is the Rootsweb site which is updated monthly. Both Rootsweb and Ancestry.com have an advanced search option that allows you to search by surname, first name, state where the social security number was issued, date of birth, date of death, the social security number itself, etc. These options are extremely valuable, especially if you are searching for data on a fairly common name.

Even though I recommend the advanced search option, I suggest you first begin your search by entering only the first an last name of the person. Novice researchers are often surprised at how many people there are with the same name. For example, the name Robert Smith will turn up 13,568 hits. Seeing those results is a good reminder to be careful in your everyday genealogy research and not presume you have found an ancestor based on the name only.

At this point, begin entering known data into the search engine fields, one item at a time. I usually start with the year of birth, even if you are just estimating. Using the Robert Smith example, the birth date of 1910 narrows down the field to 281 people. If you are absolutely positive of the state where the social security number should have been issued, this is the time to enter that state into the search parameters. Entering the state of Oklahoma into the search parameters now narrows down the choices to 5. If you are lucky, one of those final five will be the ancestor you are searching for. If not, here are a few things that may have gone wrong:

  1. The name may be recorded as R. Smith.
  2. The name may be recorded as Bob Smith.
  3. The name may be recorded as Bobby.
  4. The name may be recorded as R. L. Smith.
  5. The surname may be spelled differently: i.e. Smyth, Smythe, etc.
  6. The date of death or birth may not match known information.
  7. The state of issuance may be one where your ancestor never lived.
  8. There may be a transcription error in the database.
  9. The Social Security office may have the wrong information on file.
  10. The person's death may not have been reported to the Social Security Administration.
  11. The person may have died before 1962.
  12. The person may not have had a social security number.
  13. The person may have changed their name.
  14. Incorrect information may have reported.

Since your genealogy research is supposed to begin with you and go backwards in time, most of us will have a relative or two listed in the SSDI. If your grandfather died before 1962, but had a brother who died after that date, search for the brother. A copy of the brother's Social Security application will give you the info you want on the family—the name of his parents, and particularly his mother and her maiden name—unless the two were half-siblings. The key is to be flexible and creative in your searches.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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