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Genealogy and Social Security

Updated on April 14, 2010

Social Security, believe it or not, can provide a wealth of information for the genealogist, both amateur or professional. How exactly, you might be asking. Well, I'll tell you.

Social Security applications were hand written by each individual requesting a social security number as they still are today. Those applications contain valuable tidbits to assist in researching your ancestors.

The Depression brought about widespread suffering and President Franklin D.Roosevelt, in response to the great need for relief, passed the Social Security act of 1935. To get into the program workers were asked to provide proof of birth and to complete a short application form to receive a social security number.

Though this was not the first of this type of program it was the most comprehensive. In colonial America in the 18th century almhouses and poorhouses were created to contain the poor and help with poverty relief. However, the relief was made as unpleasant as possible to discourage those from becoming dependent on the system.

Even though the first pension was passed in 1776 they were limited. The creation of the Civil War Pension was truly the precursor to a full fledged retirement system in our country. Beginning with the first legislation in 1862 for those who were disabled and for those disabilities of which were a direct consequence of military duties. Also widows and orphans received benefits in an amount equal to what the soldier would have received had he been disabled.

Social Security Death Index

The Social Security Death Index is a starting point for this type of genealogical records. There are numerous sites on the web which will allow a free search of the index and they are listed at the end of this article as direct links for your use. 

One very simple to use is found at familysearch.org. As illustrated in the picture below, the search engine allows you to search by your ancestors name, State, and or Social Security number, if you already have that information, often we do not and this is the one of the primary reasons for the search.

So what information does this index provide, you ask? Limited yes, as it is only an index:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Month and Year of Death
  • Social Security Number
  • State of Death

Once you have found your ancestor in the index, are pretty confident that, yes, this is the correct "John Smith", document your findings either on paper or in your computer program and move to the next step which is the Social Security Application.

Social Security Death Index Search Engine at FamilySearch.org
Social Security Death Index Search Engine at FamilySearch.org
Social Security Application from 1939
Social Security Application from 1939
Social Security Application from 1952
Social Security Application from 1952

Social Security Applications

The Social Security Application known as form SS-5, changed somewhat over the decades, yet all contained pertinent information for genealogists and is often used as a well sourced document, simply because the applicant completed the information himself. Information of the SS-5 application includes:

  • Full Name of Applicant, including middle name(s), which as many researchers know is often difficult to find or substantiate. Middle names if referenced in other documentation are often a simple initial. For women, they were asked to include their maiden name as well as married name.
  • Full Address
  • Occupation and Employment information.
  • Age and Birth information including place of birth.
  • Full Names of Both Parents, another plus as the mother's maiden names are listed and can offer an entirely new line of ancestors. Often this is primarily what researchers are looking for, maiden names of mothers. Seasoned genealogists know that not having a mother's maiden name can often lead to long brick walls and can be quite frustrating.
  • Date employed
  • Sex and Race if other was checked they were to fill in race.
  • Whether or not they had filed prior, when and why they were refiling.
  • Date applied for Social Security.
  • Signature, not necessarily helpful in genealogical research, however, to see an ancestors signature on a piece of paper is a wonderful piece of your family's history.

Ordering Copies of an Application

Armed with the information on your ancestor, the next step is to order a copy of the SS-5 application. There are three ways that you can request a copy of an original application.

The first option and probably most convenient and timely:

Form SSA-711 Internet Request with the option to pay via credit card or print and mail in with a check or money order.

The second option:

The third option:

  • Write a letter to: Social Security Administration, OEO FOIA Workgroup, 300 North Green Street, P.O. Box 33022, Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
  • Include on the front of your envelope the wording "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST or INFORMATION REQUEST.
  • A sample request may look like this:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to request through Freedom of Information, a copy of my deceased Great Grandmother's social security application for genealogical purposes.

Her name: Jane Doe

Her date of birth: 1/1/1894

Her date of death: 1/1969

Her Social Security Number: 000-00-0000

I have enclosed my check #9000 in the amount of $00.00 for the photocopy. Please return to the address (enter your mailing address)

Sincerely,

Jack Baker

You can enclose a check or money order made payable to Social Security Administration. Do Not Send Cash!

The fee schedule is:

  • $27.00 for a photocopy of original application WITH Social Security Number provided.
  • $29.00 for a photocopy of original application WITHOUT providing Social Security Number. The additional cost is for research.
  • $16.00 for Computer Extraction of Social Security Application providing the Social Security Number.
  • $18.00 for Computer Extraction of Social Security Application without providing the Social Security Number. The additional cost is for research.

They also offer a certified copy for an additional $10.00 which is not necessary for genealogy only, typically used for legal purposes and/or court.

Once your request has been submitted by one of the above options, be patient, it does take time to receive your document. The last one I had requested took three weeks to arrive in the mail.

Happy Hunting!

Comments

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    • Auntie D profile image

      Auntie D 

      7 years ago from California

      Excellent! I've been busy with other genealogy areas that were before Social Security and didn't realize the applications contained so much information. Thank you.

    • Missi Darnell profile imageAUTHOR

      Missi Darnell 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      Donna thank you and you are welcome!

    • Missi Darnell profile imageAUTHOR

      Missi Darnell 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      HealthyHanna thank you for your comment happy you found this useful. Happy Hunting!

    • DonnaWallace profile image

      Donna Wallace 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Very nicely written. Thank you for the valuable genealogical information.

    • HealthyHanna profile image

      HealthyHanna 

      8 years ago from Utah

      This is one I am going to bookmark. Geneology is on my list of hobbies I want to start.

    • JannyC profile image

      JannyC 

      8 years ago

      Very cool wow I did not know this.

    • Missi Darnell profile imageAUTHOR

      Missi Darnell 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      rebekahELLE thank you for stopping by, glad you found this hub helpful. I agree with you very fascinating. I'm an addict! Happy Hunting.

    • Missi Darnell profile imageAUTHOR

      Missi Darnell 

      8 years ago from Southern California

      Quill thank you for your comment, glad you enjoyed and found this hub useful. Not many beginners in genealogy know of the SS secret, as you said it can be a great resource.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 

      8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      great hub. I have been wanting to do this for so long. I have some photographs that go back quite a ways on my mothers side, but not much on my fathers side. I think it's fascinating and helps us understand who we are. I'm bookmarking this for future reference. thanks. :]

    • profile image

      "Quill" 

      8 years ago

      Great Hub and filled with information to help the serious in finding their roots...My grandfathers SIN was the key to unlocking a family history which I still search out...well done.

      Blessings

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