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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Misunderstanding SSDI and Social Security
by Rhonda R. McClure

January 24, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Over the last few months I have received many questions and comments about the Social Security Death Index and the Social Security Administration. Many of these communications show a misunderstanding of the SSDI and of how to request information from the Social Security Administration.

The Social Security Death Index is not an all-encompassing index to the United States. First, let me say that you do need to be deceased to be in the SSDI. I recently had a woman ask how she could get herself and her children added to the SSDI. I pointed out that this index was of those deceased individuals who had received a death benefit or of whom the Social Security Administration was aware of their death.

SSDI is useful but not all-encompassing.

Not in SSDI - Out of Luck?

Another misconception is that if you do not find an individual in the SSDI you cannot contact the Social Security Administration for a copy of the SS-5 form. While finding your ancestor in the SSDI does make it easier, as you can then print out the automated letter that most of the online SSDI databases offer, it is not the only way to get the SS-5 form. If you have a copy of the individual's death certificate, you may find that the social security number is on the death certificate. You can then write a similar letter to those automatically generated, only point out that you are including a copy of the death certificate (so that the Social Security Administration has proof that the individual in question is deceased).

A third misconception in regard to the SS-5 form is that you must have the social security number to request the SS-5 form. While it makes it easier, with the new pricing structure it only saves you about two dollars. You can still request a copy of your ancestor's SS-5 form. In your letter be sure to include a copy of your ancestor's death certificate, again so that SSA knows the person you are requesting the SS-5 form on is deceased.

Costs and Concerns

A recent comment that is becoming more frequent is that the Social Security Administration is running a fraud. When a person writes for a copy of the SS-5 form, they instead get a computer printout. In many instances the computer print out, known as the NumIdent, has no new information. Unfortunately in some instances the NumIdent is all that exists. The SS-5 form is no longer available.

Finally the cost for requesting the SS-5 has gone up considerably. In the past if you knew the social security number the cost for the copy was $7.00. Now the cost for a copy of the SS-5 form is $27.00 when the social security number is known. Before, if you did not know the social security number, the cost for a search was $16.00. Now, the cost for a search and copy of the SS-5 when the social security number is not known is $29.00. When reading the social security administration web site in their FAQ section this change was apparently the result of a study on the costs involved in supplying this service.

In Conclusion

The SSDI and the SS-5 form are valuable research terms. To use them effectively though you need to understand their purpose and their limitations.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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