Two Older Changes to the Social Security Death Index You May Not Be Aware of

There are two changes to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that happened several years ago and yet many people are not aware of one or both of the changes. The two changes are: 1) Social Security Administration (SSA) no longer adds names to the SSDI if they only receive the information from a state agency unless they have a sharing agreement in place with the agency; there are some exceptions, and if the name is reported by somebody else, then the name should appear on the SSDI. However, the second change now requires a three year wait before adding a name to the SSDI. The first change I mentioned can still prevent the name from being added after three years. 2) Due to identity theft concerns, Congress added a three year waiting period before adding names to the SSDI.

For the first change in November 2011, it had immediate and long-lasting consequences. Over 4.2 million names were removed from the SSDI. In addition, it was estimated that around one million new deaths per year would not be added to the SSDI. For example, between 2012 and 2014, an estimated three million new deaths weren’t added to the SSDI. Before this change, 3 – 7% of new deaths weren’t being added to the SSDI. If I were died September 2011 and they had no way of connecting my SSN to me, I wouldn’t show up on the SSDI. This article sums up the 2011 change and has links to the 2013/2014 change (law took effect in early 2014): Important to realize SSA maintains two databases: the Social Security Death Master File (SSDMF or DMF) which isn’t publicly available, and a smaller version, the SSDI, which can be purchased. Ancestry, GenealogyBank, and a number of other companies buy access to the monthly SSDI list.

The SSA maintains two versions of the Death Master File (DMF):

  • The full file contains all death records extracted from the SSA database, including death data received from the States, and is shared only with certain Federal and State agencies pursuant to section 205(r) of the Social Security Act.
  • The public file (commonly referred to as the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI), as of 1 November 2011, does not include “protected” death records received from the States.  According to the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which disseminates the Death Master File, “Section 205(r) of the Act prohibits SSA from disclosing state death records SSA receives through its contracts with the states, except in limited circumstances.” This change removed approximately 4.2 million of the 89 million deaths at that time contained in the public Death Master File (Social Security Death Index), and approximately 1 million fewer deaths are now added each year. At the same time, the Social Security Agency also stopped including the decedent’s residential state and Zip code in the public file (SSDI).

It’s not cheap to purchase the SSDI, but one individual decided to buy access to the SSDI list – (not an official SSA site* – see the quote below from the link) and it’s only the November 30, 2011 SSDI list so newer deaths won’t be on it. They have created some interesting tools. You can sort by number: (link indicates updated to February 2014) or by name:

*This is a privately owned genealogy website using a purchased copy of the Social Security Death Master File.
(¿Would anybody really think the Social Security Administration would build a website this amateurish?)

As an FYI, to appear on the SSDI, a couple of other requirements have to be met even if you meet the ones listed above. 1) You need to have an SSN (NOTE: many people did not have an SSN until the late – mid 1980s); 2) SSA has to be informed by somebody that you died and the notification would need to attach an SSN to the name; 3) it was the mid-1980s before SSNs pretty much became the norm. See the chart below for when SSNs became mandatory:

Exhibit 2. Legislated and regulatory requirements for using Social Security numbers (SSNs), 1943–2008
Date Requirements
1943 EO 9397 requires all federal agencies to use SSNs whenever the head of the agency finds it advisable to establish a new system of permanent account numbers for individuals.
1957 Military personnel are covered under Social Security and are enumerated in mass.
1961 The Civil Service Commission adopts the SSN to identify federal employees.
1962 IRS begins using the SSN for federal tax reporting.
1964 The Department of Treasury requires Series H savings bond buyers to provide SSNs.
1965 Medicare enrollment requires enumerating those aged 65 or older.
1966 The Veterans Administration begins to use SSNs to keep hospital admissions and patient records, and U.S. Indian programs begin using SSNs.
1969 The Department of Defense starts using the SSN as a military identification number.
1970 Legislation requires banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, and securities dealers to obtain the SSNs of all customers.
1972 Legislation authorizes SSA to assign SSNs to all legally admitted noncitizens at entry and to anyone receiving or applying for a federal benefit.
1973 SSNs are used for the Supplemental Security Income program. Also, the Department of Treasury requires buyers of Series E savings bonds to provide an SSN.
1975 Legislation requires an individual to have an SSN as a condition of eligibility for federal benefits.
1976 Legislation authorizes states to require an SSN for taxes, eligibility for state programs, driver’s licenses, and motor vehicle registrations.
1977 Legislation requires disclosure of SSNs for members of Food Stamp households.
1981 Legislation requires disclosure of SSNs of all adult members of a household that includes children applying for the school lunch program.
1982 Legislation requires applicants for federal loan programs to furnish SSNs.
1983 Legislation requires an SSN for all interest-bearing accounts.
1984 Legislation authorizes states to require SSNs for beneficiaries of certain state-administered programs, requires persons engaged in a trade or business to file a report including an SSN to the IRS for cash transactions over $10,000, and requires an alimony payer to furnish the IRS with the SSN of the ex-spouse receiving the payments.
1986 Legislation requires an SSN for all dependents older than age 5 reported on a tax return, for commercial motor vehicle operator’s licenses, and for student loan applicants.
1988 Legislation requires an SSN for eligibility under Housing and Urban Development programs, for the parents of newborn children when a state issues a birth certificate, for dependents aged 2 or older of tax filers, for blood donors, and for all Title II (Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) beneficiaries.
1989 Legislation requires that the National Student Loan Data system include SSNs of borrowers and that the SSNs of the parents of school lunch program applicants be provided.
1990 Legislation requires an SSN for eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, for each dependent aged 1 or older claimed by a tax filer, and for officers of stores that redeem Food Stamps.
1994 Legislation authorizes SSN use for jury selection and federal workers’ compensation.
1996 Welfare reform legislation requires the SSN to be recorded on numerous official documents, including professional licenses, driver’s licenses, death certificates, birth records, divorce decrees, marriage licenses, support orders, and paternity determinations. (In 1999, Congress would repeal the requirement for SSNs to be displayed on some of these documents, such as driver’s licenses and birth records).
1997 Legislation authorizes the Attorney General to require noncitizens to provide an SSN for any records maintained by the Attorney General or the INS. It also mandates that an SSN appear on driver’s licenses (repealed in 1999). Additional legislation requires an SSN applicant under age 18 to provide his or her parents’ names and SSNs.
2003 SSA no longer issues SSNs solely for the purpose of obtaining a driver’s license.
2004 SSA is required to verify the last four digits of the SSN, name, and date of birth for voter registration in federal elections only when an individual cannot provide a driver’s license, except where a waiver applies.
2008 EO 13478 rescinds the 1943 EO 9397 requiring federal agencies to use the SSN when establishing a system of permanent account numbers and makes such use optional

Some additional information. Until the mid-1970s, SSNs were hit or miss as many people died who didn’t have SSNs. Pre-1970s, the odds of not appearing on the SSDI are much higher. In most cases, pre-1962 deaths are almost nonexistent unless the person had a surviving spouse who drew benefits on their account and died late enough for the number to show up. For the 1962 – early mid-1970s time frame, many aren’t on the SSDI because they didn’t have or need an SSN.


About ICT Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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1 Response to Two Older Changes to the Social Security Death Index You May Not Be Aware of

  1. Pingback: Social Security Death Index (SSDI) Accuracy of Information | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

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