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What Is the Social Security Death Index?

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  • Written By: Josie Myers
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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The Social Security Death Index is a service provided by the United States Social Security Administration. It catalogs information about every deceased U.S. citizen who was given a social security number during their lifetime, and whose death was reported to the Social Security Office. The Social Security Death Index is one of the largest citizen information databases in the world.

The index began immediately after the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. Most Americans alive at the time applied for a social security number between 1935 and 1937. The first payments from the system were made as lump sums between 1937 and 1940, with monthly benefits starting in 1940. Since that time, Social Security benefits have been paid monthly, to qualified individuals, with regular increases to account for inflation and cost of living changes.

The early days of the Social Security Death Index are sketchy. Until 1962, a death had to be reported to the Social Security Administration by a surviving family member. Since deaths were not automatically entered into the system, many who died prior to that time are not included in the index.

A Social Security Death Index entry contains basic information about the deceased. An individual's birth date, death date, place of last residence, and social security number are listed. This basic information can be an important first step in finding out more information about the deceased.

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The death index has become an invaluable tool to those researching genealogy. Knowing a birth date and residence can make it much easier to find ancestors through other information channels. For example, marriage records can be confirmed by knowing a birth date, or the census records can be searched easier by knowing where the relative lived and how old they were.

The Social Security Administration does not publish the Social Security Death Index on its own. Records that can be found online or through other genealogical searches are published by independent commercial organizations. The Social Security Administration does not directly support these organizations and is unable to verify the information supplied by them.

Along with the basic information in the death index, there is other information that can be obtained about a deceased person through the Social Security office. Using the information in the death index, relatives can apply for a copy of the original application for a social security number. Having this application will provide more detailed information about the relative, including their parents' information and residence at the time of birth.

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