The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is the commercial name for the Death Master File (DMF) created by the United States Social Security Administration. The DMF was first created in 1980 and contains every person with a Social Security number who has been reported dead to the Social Security Administration from 1962 onwards or who had died prior to 1962 but still had active Social Security accounts in 1962.
Each record in this index will provide you with a transcript of key information:
Social Security number
Place of issue (of Social Security number)
Social Security numbers are assigned to citizens, permanent residents, and employed temporary residents of the United States. The Social Security Administration issues these numbers for the purpose of tracking individual Social Security and, secondary, for identification regarding taxation, employment, and other services.
The New Deal Social Security program introduced the first Social Security numbers in November 1935. The New Deal was the result of the Great Depression and the creation of Social Security was intended to provide for older citizens, as the United States had no national insurance system in place at that time. The program differed fundamentally in scope from other New Deal programs, which were intended to last for less than a decade. The Social Security Act, however, introduced a permanent system, funded by payroll taxes and formed the basis for the welfare system in the United States, designed to provide aid for older citizens, needy minors, the unemployed, and the handicapped.
As you search through this index, it’s important to keep in mind that the policies and practices of issuing Social Security numbers have evolved over the years. Prior to 1986, it was common for individuals to receive Social Security numbers around age 14 as they were primarily used for tracking income. It wasn’t until the Tax Reform Act of 1986 that parents and guardians were required to list the Social Security numbers of any dependents over the age of five who they were claiming on their taxes. The age was lowered to two in 1988 and to one in 1990. Today, parents usually apply for Social Security numbers for their children on the same form used to apply for their birth certificates.
If you have military ancestors, it may be useful to know that Social Security numbers were used as identification numbers for members of
The Army and Air Force from 1 July 1969
The Navy and Marine Corps from 1 January 1972
The Coast Guard from 1 October 1974
This practice ended in June 2011.
Since the start of the Social Security program, over 450 million Social Security numbers have been issued. The Social Security Administration does not reuse numbers and has said it has enough remaining numbers to last several generations without the need to reuse or change the makeup of the Social Security numbers. As you start your research, however, it should be noted that there have been incidents of more than one person being accidentally assigned the same Social Security number.
The makeup of Social Security numbers
The first three numbers, the area number, are determined by geographical region of the local Social Security office where it was issued, prior to 1973. This does not mean that the individual lived in the place where the card was issued as, at that time, you could apply for a card at any local Social Security office. Starting in 1973, however, all numbers are issued out of Baltimore and the area number correlates to the applicant’s mailing address ZIP code. Please note that the mailing address does not have to match the place of residence.
The middle two numbers represent the group number, which range from 01 to 99. Group numbers are not assigned consecutively but instead are assigned in this order:
Odd numbers from 01 to 09
Even numbers from 10 to 98
Even number from 02 to 08
Odd number from 11 to 99
The final four digits are the serial numbers: a straight numerical sequence from 0001 to 9999 within a group.
You can find many notable individuals in this death index.
Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the United States. From the index, we see that he was born on 6 February 1911, died on 5 June 2004, and had his Social Security number issued in Iowa.
The iconic American author John Steinbeck is recorded in this index. His birth was recorded as 27 February 1902 and his death as taking place in December 1968. His Social Security number was issued in New York, which is also the state in which he died.
Cary Grant, star of Charade and North by Northwest, can be found in the Social Security Death Index. Born on 18 January 1904 and died in November 1986. His Social Security number was issued in the state of California.
The incomparable Katharine Hepburn who starred in such films as Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, and The Lion in Winter is recorded in the index as having been born on 12 May 1907. It further notes that she died on 29 June 2003 and that her Social Security number was issued in New York.
Begin your search broadly by searching on just a first and last name. Then you can narrow your search by adding a birth or death year.
If you were unable to locate your ancestor in this index or if you are interested in finding more information about your ancestor’s death or burial, try searching Findmypast’s entire collection of deaths and burials for the United States & Canada by following the link in Useful links and resources.