What information is available from Social Security records to help in genealogical research?
Records potentially available include the Application for a Social Security card (form SS-5) and information from the claims folder for past recipients of benefits. In any case, to obtain any of this information from Social Security you will need to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
The detailed procedures are as follows:
To search records for the information you want, the Social Security Administration need certain identifying information. The records are filed by Social Security numbers (SSNs) rather than by names. If you can provide the person's SSN, the Social Security Administration will search the records for any information they might have. Without an SSN, you will need to give the person's full name, date and place of birth, and parents' full names to locate the record. If you can provide the necessary identifying information, the SSA will search for the number. The SSA cannot search for the SSN for people born before 1865.
Social Security did not begin keeping records until 1936; therefore, they have no records about people who died before then. A deceased person does not have any privacy rights. Therefore, if he or she applied for an SSN, a copy of the Application for a Social Security Card (form SS-5) can generally be provided. This document contains the person's name, date and place of birth, and parents' names that were given when he or she applied for the number. You will be charged the cost of searching the records even if any information on the person you are asking about is not located.
The fee for searching records for the form SS-5 is $27 when the SSN is known and $29 when the number is unknown or is incorrect. The check or money order should be made payable to the Social Security Administration. They will also accept VISA, MasterCard, Discover, American Express or Diners Club. Please include the appropriate credit card number, along with the expiration date of the credit card with your written request.
There is a form available to request copies of applications for a Social Security Number (Form SS-5) for people who are deceased. Form SSA-711 (Adobe reader required to view) may be used for this purpose; however, you do not need to use the form.
Address your request to:
Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Green Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
The cost to search for a claim file is $14 when you provide the SSN. You may be charged 10 cents a page for copies. Please note that claim files are usually destroyed within a few years of the final decision on the claim, so the Social Security Administration will not have claim files for most people.
Send requests for claim files to:
Social Security Administration
Freedom of Information Officer
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235-0001
Note: Information on living persons won't be released without their written consent.
Social Security maintains a Death Master File, a record of approximately 70 million deaths that were reported to us.
Although Social Security's Death Master File is not available online, you can get the SSA Death Master File Extract from our distributor, the United States Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS).
For a fee, you can:
- Search the data on the NTIS website, www.ntis.gov/products/ssa-dmf.aspx.
- Buy a copy of the SSA Death Master File Extract and subsequent updates from NTIS. The data is available from NTIS as a CD-ROM or DVD; or 3480 cartridge.
To get access to the online SSA Death Master File Extract or buy a copy of it, you should:
- Contact NTIS through their website;
- Call the NTIS Subscriptions Department at 1-800-363-2068 or 703-605-6060 (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., EST, Monday – Friday); or
- Write to NTIS at 5284 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161.
Warning: Others have purchased the SSA Death Master File Extract through NTIS, posted it on their websites, and referred to their websites as SSA's death index or SSA's Death Master File.
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