Social Security Death Index (SSDI) Accuracy of Information

While Social Security Death Index (SSDI) has plenty of good information, certain things shouldn’t be relied on as primary evidence. For example, if your ancestor was born  in the late 1800s and the SSDI shows State Issued: Oregon, it doesn’t mean the ancestor was born in Oregon. All it means is they applied for an Social Security Number (SSN) in Oregon. For a long time, many people didn’t need an SSN and when they finally applied for it, they were often living in a different city or state than where they were born.

Likewise, Last Known Residence isn’t necessarily where they died. It is where Social Security was sending correspondence which could be where the person lived, or if they had a legal guardian or somebody handling their affairs, where that person lived.Even if the address is where the person lived, it’s not a guarantee the person died there. I have a relative whose SSDI shows Last known residence in one state, but he died visiting several of his children in a state that was several states away from his residence.

Along similar lines, Location of Last Benefit Paid doesn’t mean that’s where the person died. It’s one of several possibilities: 1) where Social Security was direct depositing the check which may not be anywhere near where the person had been living or where they died; 2) where the person’s payee or the payee’s financial institution was located; 3) they died elsewhere – different city, county, state, etc., but the last benefit paid was where they were living. As noted above for last known residence, the person could have the financial institution where they were living, but died elsewhere.

With the changes in the SSDI I mentioned a while back: Two Older Changes to the Social Security Death Index You May Not Be Aware of, there are several other reasons a person may not appear on the SSDI. First, they needed an SSN – while it is standard practice to be issued an SSN shortly after birth these days, that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s before most Americans needed an SSN. If you weren’t working in a job covered by Social Security, then you didn’t need one for a long time. If you go to and scroll down to Exhibit 1. Changes in Social Security card evidence requirements, 1936–2008, you can see some of the dates where changes required more people to need an SSN.

Exhibit 1. Changes in Social Security card evidence requirements, 1936–2008
Date Evidence requirements
November 1936 SSNs are assigned based on the applicant’s allegations.
November 1971 Evidence of identity required of applicants aged 55 or older for original SSNs.
October 1972 Evidence required establishing age, true identity, and citizenship or alien status of SSN applicants.
April 1974 Evidence required establishing age, identity, and citizenship or alien status of U.S.-born applicants aged 18 or older for original SSNs and all foreign-born applicants for original SSNs.
May 1978 All applicants are required to provide evidence of:

  • Age, identity, and U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status for original SSNs; and
  • Identity for replacement cards.

In-person interviews are required for individuals aged 18 or older applying for original or new SSNs.
An individual signing the SS-5 on behalf of another (for example, a parent for his or her child) must establish his or her own identity.

May 1987–May 1988 Aliens living in the United States since before 1982 are offered lawful temporary resident status. Because many aliens were unable to submit the proper identity documents, SSA accepted Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) documents as proof of identity.
January 1996 A “valid nonwork reason” for an alien to have an SSN is defined as a federal, state, or local statute or regulation requiring an individual to have an SSN in order to obtain a benefit or service.
June 2002 SSA begins verifying birth records for all U.S.-born individuals aged 1 or older when requesting an original SSN or when changing the date of birth on the Numident record.
September 2002 SSA begins verifying all immigration documents for all aliens requesting original or new SSNs, or replacement cards.
October 2003 In-person interviews are required of all applicants aged 12 or older applying for original SSNs.
Evidence of identity is required of all applicants regardless of age.
A valid nonwork reason is defined as a federal statute requiring an SSN to receive a benefit or a state/local statute requiring an SSN to receive a public assistance benefit. (SSNs are no longer assigned for the sole purpose of obtaining a driver’s license.)
October 2004 Foreign students who do not have an employment authorization document from the DHS and are not authorized for curricular practical training (CPT) as shown on the student’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status, will no longer be presumed to have authority to work without additional evidence. Before SSA will assign an SSN that is valid for work in such cases, the F-1 student must provide evidence that he or she has been authorized by the school to work and has secured employment.
December 2005 IRTPA of 2004 changes evidence requirements for SSN applications and sets limits on the number of replacement cards an individual may receive:

  • SSA verifies birth records for all U.S.-born individuals requesting an original SSN (except for those who obtain an original SSN through the EAB process). Additionally, SSA verifies birth records for U.S.-born applicants (nonclaimants) who want to change the date of birth on the Numident.
  • Applicants for replacement cards beyond the 3-card yearly or 10-card lifetime limits need to provide evidence to establish that a valid exception to the limits applies.
  • Acceptable evidence of identity is revised; there are new guidelines for evaluating these documents and their acceptability for SSA purposes. In addition, the evidence of identity must show the applicant’s legal name. In name change situations, the applicant must submit the document that shows the name change event.
February 2008 Domestic birth records are no longer verified with the custodian of the record unless the document appears to have been modified or is questionable. (Change is based on study results). For foreign-born individuals requesting a change to the Numident date of birth, SSA continues to verify with DHS any immigration document presented as evidence.
SOURCE: SSA n.d. b, section RM 00203.001.

If you scroll down to Exhibit 2. Legislated and regulatory requirements for using Social Security numbers (SSNs), 1943–2008, you will see additional dates

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.
SOURCE: SSA n.d. d.

Next, the person had to die with a SSN attached to their name. By this, I mean if John or Jane Doe can’t be identified or they can’t determine which individual is the correct one. For example, Mary Smith dies, but without enough information to determine which SSN is the correct one for Mary Smith, you will know she died, but her SSN may not get attached to her on the SSDI. Worse, if they find a body without being able to prove it’s Mary Smith, they probably aren’t going to assume it’s the one they were looking for. DNA has helped a lot with reducing this issue if they can recover DNA from the body and match it with a known relative.

Since many organizations and agencies don’t allow Social Security to add names from their databases to the public SSDI, the names are added to the Social Security Death Master File (SSDMF) kept by Social Security, but aren’t added to the SSDI. That takes over 1 million deaths/year off the SSDI in addition to the estimated 3 – 7% that are missed in other ways.

As mentioned in my earlier blog post (link above), the 3 year rule requires a person be dead for three years before they can be added to the SSDI if they otherwise meet the requirements to show up on it.

The reason for this post is a friend reported receiving several Find-A-Grave edits based on SSDI information without any other proof the information was valid. On a personal note, I am in the middle of a Three Stooges blog post and one of the people (not a Stooge), but appeared with all six of the Three Stooges and his first name was butchered badly (transcription error – don’t know if it was that way on the SSDI or a result of the website transcribing it wrong.




About Wichita 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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