By Tamie Dehler
TERRE HAUTE — Every once in a while, it pays to revisit the Social Security Death Index, even if you have been there before. That’s because people are always dying and the index is always being updated. The SSDI is a free tool available on several web sites. The Kindred Konnections site at recently announced that it has updated its version of the Social Security Death Index to include 86 million records current through Nov. 30, 2009.
If you are a beginner to genealogy, the SSDI is a good place to start looking around. You can search for the records of your recently deceased relatives and go back to in time to anyone who died after 1935 (when the Social Security program began). They had to have been on Social Security in order to be included on the index. In most cases, that means they had reached retirement age and begun receiving Social Security checks. Others who might be on the list are disabled individuals who got on the Social Security program at an earlier age due to their disability.
Don’t expect to find anyone and everyone who died after 1935, on the index, though. The person also had to have worked after that date, had Social Security withholding payments taken out of his paychecks, and then lived to collect Social Security. For instance, my own grandfather is not listed on the SSDI. He was already 65 when the Social Security Act passed, was not working at that age, and so never paid into or collected Social Security. He died in 1952 and is not on the SSDI because there was no reason to contact Social Security upon his death.
The SSDI lists the person’s name at the time of death, date of birth, date of death, last known residence at the time of death, and sometimes the state from which the person made his/her social security application. If you are searching on the Kindred Konnections site, you can search by last name only (the minimal information required), first and last name, date or year range for birth, date or year range for death, and location of last residence. These latter search options help you to zero in on your person of interest when there are multiple hits for the same name.
A nice feature of this site is that after you find your person of interest on the SSDI you can click on a link that takes you directly to an order form for a copy of the person’s Application for a Social Security Card. A photocopy is $27 and a computer extract that includes the information on the application is $16 from the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Card Application can include the person’s full legal name, date of birth, parents’ names, mother’s maiden name, state of residence, and employment information.
If you know your deceased ancestor’s Social Security number, you can figure out what state he/she lived in when the application was made. Up until 1973, the first three digits of a social security number indicated the state where the person was living. The numbers started with 001 on the east coast and got higher as they went westward through the states. All Indiana numbers start with 303 through 317 and Illinois numbers start with 318 to 361.
Social Security numbers starting with 700 to 728 indicate someone receiving railroad retirement.
A word of caution. The residence at the date of death does not necessarily mean that the person died in that place. It means that is where the last check was sent. A person could have been living in Terre Haute but died in Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, or while visiting a relative in California. So knowing the last place of residence does not always lead to discovering the place of death.