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There are several different websites that offer a search form for the Social Security Death Index, the public-access extract of the Social Security Administration's Death Master File.

Since November 2011, since the new the restrictions were enacted, the search results I used to get have changed, and RootsWeb's site (which used to have a good search form) doesn't offer a search of the SSDI anymore.

Does it make a difference which website I use? What fields will I find in a search result?

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The question and answer is intended to demonstrate that the answer to the verboten question "what's the best site to use if I want to search the SSDI" is "there isn't one -- you have to search them all" –  Jan Murphy Apr 5 at 19:08
    
Surprised to see no mention of ssdmf.info This site uses the 30 November 2011 version of the ssdi that you can also download in full. –  Sam Sep 12 at 0:03
    
Well, I'm not surprised that I didn't include a site that I didn't know about when I wrote the question. If I had included it, I would have marked it with large "USE AT YOUR OWN RISK" notices. ;) It's certainly an interesting site, though. If you'd like to write an answer that shows what form the data is in, and what fields you can see from Tom's file, then if others think the data is useful, you can get yourself some upvotes. I have to leave something for other people to put in their answers, you know. –  Jan Murphy Sep 12 at 0:30
    
Not here for the votes, thanks anyway. prefer you incorporate into your answer. –  Sam Sep 12 at 2:00

4 Answers 4

Over the past few years, there have been efforts to restrict ALL access to the SSDI. Some background to explain why RootsWeb's search form was taken down, and why other websites now have redacted information, follows at the end of this answer.

Steve Morse’s One-Step Web pages has a form for Searching the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) in One Step. His Frequently Asked Questions page has a detailed table of what parameters are returned by each site, but the information returned is volatile, and maintaining an accurate list is a nightmare. This answer is intended as a snapshot of the information given as I write this answer (April 2014); comments and additions are welcome.

I've collected the fields returned by searches from each website in his list and made a summary (compiled from the vendor's own descriptions of the collections and a search for one of the people in my database). Some of the restrictions are noted.

Ancestry.com See also their FAQ

  • Social security number masked for individuals who have died within the last 10 years
  • Name
  • Last Residence
  • Birth date (full date)
  • Death date (full date)
  • State (Year) SSN issued
  • Lump sum payment (Last Benefit)

DOBSearch (Morse notes: limited to 7 per day)

Restrictions: Due to data restrictions, entry of a Last Name is required, and must match the last name of the recorded death record, to see details in the search results.

  • Name
  • State Resided
  • Zip Code Resided
  • Date of Birth
  • Date of Death
  • Age at Death
  • Benefit Paid to Zip Code
  • S.S.N. (Redacted for my test search for a 2006 event)
  • State/Years SSN Issued (date range)
  • Results are unverified

FamilySearch

Research Wiki: United States Social Security Death Index (FamilySearch Historical Records)

  • Name of the deceased (Married women are usually listed by their married name.)
  • Social Security Number
  • Birth date
  • Death date
  • State or territory where the Social Security number was issued
  • Death residence zip code and corresponding localities (this in not necessarily the place of death, it is the last place of residence that the SSA has on file)
  • Age (years)

Family Tree Legends

My search for a person who died in 2006 returned no results. Following bgwiehle's comment I searched for the record of a death from the 1970s and got the following fields:

  • Name
  • Birth Date
  • Death Date
  • Age
  • Last Residence
  • Last Benefit
  • Issued By
  • SSN
  • Extras (link to generate SS-5 letter and link to search GenCircles, currently rebranded as MyHeritage)

Genealogy Bank ($ - requires subscription)

In compliance with Section 203 ("Restriction on Access to the Death Master File") of the Budget Act of 2013, we are no longer able to display SSDI records for individuals who have died within the previous 3 years. You can learn more here. [downloadable PDF of the law detailing the restrictions]

  • Name
  • State of Issue
  • Date of Birth (with weekday)
  • Date of Death (with weekday)
  • Est. Age at Death (years, months)
  • Confirmation (verified / unverified)
  • Last Residence (City, County, State, ZIP, Latitude and Longitude

NEHGS (marked as $ requires subscription at Steve Morse's website, but I was able to make a search as an (unpaid) registered user)

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Date of Death
  • Social security number
  • State Issued
  • Est. Age at Death (years, months)
  • Last Residence (City, State, ZIP)
  • Last Residence (County)
  • Payment Location (City, State, ZIP) [Last Benefit]
  • Payment County [Last Benefit]

Rootsweb

Due to sensitivities around the information in this database, the Social Security Death Index collection is not available on our free Rootsweb service but is accessible to search on Ancestry.com.

World Vital Records ($ - requires subscription)

This list of fields was taken from their collection description.

  • Social security number
  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • State or county of residence (prior to Mar 1988)
  • ZIP code of last residence
  • ZIP code of lump sum payment (Prior to 1939) [Last Benefit]

Background and bibliography

As of March 27 2014, access to the Death Master File is limited to parties that have been certified. For more information see:

These earlier posts discuss the reduction in scope of the information available from a search of the SSDI:

For general information and history:


On her blog The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell wrote about Ordering the SS-5 (posted on May 31, 2013).

...the SSA has made it harder to get the very information most useful from the SS-5 forms: the date and place of birth and the names of the parents. Here’s what the SSA says now: “under our current policy, we do not release the parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless the parents’ are proven deceased, have a birth date more than 120 years ago, or the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age.”

She also says:

In a large number of cases, people who have ordered SS-5 forms since 2011 have found the copies they receive have had the names of the parents redacted (blacked out) and even on occasion the date and place of birth as well. To avoid that, you need to provide evidence that the parents are deceased, or that they would have been born more than 120 years ago, unless the person whose SS-5 you’re ordering was born more than 100 years ago. And, again, there’s no way to attach that proof in the online system.

She recommends sending in the printed SSA-711 form with supporting evidence to avoid getting redacted records. The end of her post also has recommendations for information you can send in if you need to appeal.

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The Social Security Death Index is commonly used for information about birth and death dates, state of SSN issuance and state of death. This information can be quite useful in its own right and is an easily accessible post-1940 source of nationwide information, unlike the Census, which is lagged by decades for privacy reasons.

But it's just an index to a treasure trove of information. Many people who do genealogy are unaware that there is any information beyond the index, but it can be a very valuable tool for researching 20th century relatives. Beyond the basic vital stats of the index, you can request the Social Security Application Form SS-5 of the person in the index. The Form SS-5 provides more detailed information about the person being search:

  • Full name
  • Full name at birth, including maiden name
  • Present mailing address
  • Age at last birthday
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth (city, county, State)
  • Father's full name
  • Mother's full name, including maiden name
  • Sex
  • Race as indicated by the applicant
  • Whether the applicant ever applied for Social Security or Railroad Retirement before
  • Current employer's name and address
  • Date signed
  • Applicant's signature

The request qualifies under FOIA, so you do not need to establish or assert any familial connection. You can even request information on people not listed in the Index, if they are dead (which you must establish by documentation unless their birth was 120+ years ago). Note that there is a moderate fee. The request is made with Form SSA-711.

Separately, please note that if you can prove familial link and death, then you can spend a little more money and apply for an earnings report that includes the names and addresses of all employers using Form SSA-7050. This firm is especially helpful for a person with a very recent gap in their family history (e.g. early death, family dissolution, non-marital event).

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Your answer is a nice answer that belongs to a different question -- e.g. "What are the advantages of requesting a copy of someone's SS-5 application?" If you'd like to ask that question and self-answer with this answer, I'll be happy to give you an upvote. My question was intended to aid people in gathering enough information to narrow down the candidates before making a request. If you're on a budget, sending in multiple applications on a fishing expedition is a waste of time and money. –  Jan Murphy Apr 6 at 6:01
    
@janmurphy - The question is "What information could I get from a search result?" I think it's natural to include not just what the index entries say but what information is being indexed. I think it's a very germane answer. Someone looking at the SSDI might not know that it could lead to obtaining SS-5s unless people answer for more than the narrowest interpretation of a question. –  NL7 Apr 6 at 6:09
    
I think your answer is worthy of its own question, and is more likely to be seen in searches if you post your own question and self-answer it. Also, if people like your question and your answer, they will be able to upvote both your question and your answer. –  Jan Murphy Apr 7 at 18:32

Under the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, the Death Master File is defined as contiaing first and last names, birth and death dates and SSN. For more information see the article at http://www.forensicgenealogists.org/Resources.html Vol 4 ## Special DMF edition. I may have been one of the first genealogists to be NTIS certified and licensed for the online interactive DMF.

Dee Dee King, CG

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As pointed out by Steve Morse, sites vary with

  • which fields are included and how formatted
  • search capabilities and restrictions
  • updating frequency and redactions

[Supplementing Jan's answer ...]

And they keep changing:

GenealogyBank's SSDI database is "free" but a few months ago, they started masking all search result lists (newspaper & ssdi) behind subscription boxes. Recently, Genealogy Bank returned to allowing non-actively subscribed registered users to see SSDI search results without covering them up. All SSNs are redacted but verification codes are included.

Family Tree Legends only includes deaths up to about 2003. In 2011, they started omitting the last 10 years of data. This end-point updated monthly in 2011 and 2012 but then stopped. FTL is currently the only other site that includes the verification codes. As of 6 Oct 2014, the FamilyTreeLegends website, including the SSDI search page redirects to myheritage.com

And the loss of Old Search at Ancestry means you can't specify issuing state or last residence anymore. You can fudge them with birth and death locations or include an "Any event" location (without a limiting date), but it's not right. Ancestry is the only site that provides an issue year or range in the results, but I generally haven't found that field very helpful.

FamilySearch is peculiar in omitting the Last Benefit field altogether and often omitting the city in locations. They do include SSNs up to about 2012, where most other sites don't.

Mocavo used to have a separate SSDI offering, with a unique search engine, but it is no longer accessible from the navigation menu. SSDI results are included in global searches.

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I have Mocavo Basic. Without logging in I get these fields on my test case when searching for name and year of death in the keyword field: Last Name / First Name/ Death Year / Death Date / Birth Year. Does anyone have Mocavo Gold? If so what fields do they show? –  Jan Murphy Apr 6 at 1:36
    
RootsWeb used to show the verification codes. I expect other sites will also stop reporting on recent deaths as Genealogy Bank has done. –  Jan Murphy Apr 6 at 1:45
    
Rootsweb's SSDI was my favourite. Now I cobble together fields from several sites to get the equivalent. Regarding the changes recently enacted: Ancestry especially has been diligent about updating the database on a monthly basis. Once the restrictions kick in (3 year moratorium on new entries), how much incentive will there be to keep purchasing a database with fewer revisions between updates. –  bgwiehle Apr 6 at 2:08

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