I filed for a copy of the original Social Security application of my paternal grandfather. The photocopy of the form was returned, redacted to remove his parents' names (which was the whole point of the exercise -- his father is unknown to us).

Considering he was born in 1918, I find it inexplicable why I should have to provide proof of death for someone whose parents are would be well over 115 years old.

His mother (who is known to me) died in 1988 (b. 1897), as recorded in the Social Security Death Index. I'm hoping they will consider their own records sufficient.

Is there some privacy exemption they failed to apply for this that I can point them to? It seems silly that there wouldn't be some sanity check on that policy.

  • The group which has been hit the hardest by the new restrictions are the genealogists who help coroners identify unclaimed persons. See unclaimedpersons.org/faq.html -- the members may have more updates on the SS-5 difficulties on their own blogs.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 0:48
  • I've updated the answer to include a link to Ancestry's new Social Security Claims Index.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


Judy G. Russell, on her blog The Legal Genealogist, has been reporting on the problems involved with making a FOIA request. In her entry Ordering the SS-5 posted on May 31, 2013. she says:

... 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.”

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.

It seems as if you've gotten burned because the person whose records you seek was born less than 100 years ago. Check the information given at the bottom of Russell's post where she advises what records might help with your case, if you want to send in an appeal.

Russell says:

There are lots of ways to prove your case that may carry the day with the SSA. I’ve personally used some combination of the following in a number of cases:

 • An obituary of the person saying the parents predeceased the person
 • Death records of the parents
 • Tombstone photos
 • A census record showing the ages of the parents

Do you have any census records that show your paternal grandfather in the census along with his mother? If you can show his father was absent from the family, it might help your case.

A couple of notes:

  • Be sure to read the comments on the blog posts, too -- Russell's readership is good and there is often useful information there. Note the discussion that the Numident can contain information that the SS-5 image lacks and vice-versa.
  • Russell cites other bloggers who discuss the problems of restricted access to the SSDI, so checking their sites and blogs may yield more updates.

In the same post, Russell explains why we can't expect the SSA to accept their own records as proof the person's parents are deceased.

It's precisely because of problems like this that I haven't ordered the SS-5 records for either of my parents (born 1914 and 1916). (I don't need them for the parents' names, but I want them to find out when the SSNs were applied for, and what their residences were at the time).

In 2015, Ancestry.com published a new collection, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. This index includes information from some applications and claims made to the Social Security Administration.

Be sure to read Ancestry's description of the collection so you can see what information might be in the index, and understand the limitations on coverage. The claim types are described here (the text is Ancestry's, but I have re-formatted it for easier reading):

The most common types of claims noted include:

  • Original SSN (when the original application was submitted to obtain a SSN)
  • Life Claim (when a claim was made for disability or retirement benefits)
  • Death Claim (when a claim was made by a surviving family member for death or survivor benefits), and
  • Duplicate SSN (usually used when an application was made to replace a SS card, it may also indicate a change in SSN or that more than one SSN was assigned).

Ancestry is publishing the names of the parents for some of the original applications in this record set. The About the Database section says:

Why can’t I see certain parents' names in the records?

Ancestry follows publishing guidelines similar to the approach used by the Social Security Administration when individuals request related records. Unless the deceased would be at least 75 years old today, we do not publish the parents' names in these records.

The Social Security numbers are redacted under these rules:

Why can’t I see the Social Security Number?

If the Social Security Number is not visible on the record index it is because Ancestry.com does not provide this number for any person who has passed away within the past 10 years.

Coverage issues are discussed under the section Why can't I find the person I'm looking for? Be sure to read this section and all the search tips carefully because this database is far from complete. However, if you can find your relatives in this database, some parents' names are included in it.

Further reading:

Update: see Ordering the SS-5: 2024 style

  • Thanks Jan! Unfortunately, the father is unknown to us. The mother and my GF lived with her parents in 1920. The application was my attempt to get a name. I have an obit from her daughter (by a later husband) mentioning that her mother preceded her in death, and I can probably get a snapshot of her tombstone. Doesn't help with the father though. I might have to wait 4 more years until my GF would've been 100. Or possibly obtain a copy of his birth record from Tennessee Vital Records, but they have rules too. Wish I'd known this before paying the $35. Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 5:49
  • 1918 is in the grey area where there was statewide birth registration (began 1914) but not general compliance yet (in the 1920s). Tenneseee Vital Records Is he in the index (which is far from complete) on FamilySearch? familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/…
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 20:34

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