For the family historian, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a great tool. This RecordClick genealogist uses it on a regular basis and will probably continue to do so – even though the present 113th U.S. Congress (2013-2014) enacted legislation in December 2013 to limit its use. Known as the H.R.295 – Protect and Save Act of 2013, the bill delays adding any new personal information to the SSDI until three calendar years after an individual’s death. The reason for this restriction by Congress: To help prevent fraud and identity theft.
The SSDI is an easy way to get birth and death dates for individuals born late enough in the 20th Century to be part of the Social Security program. The main reason the SSDI was created was to help prevent fraud and identity theft. Genealogy is a secondary application, but to genealogical researchers and professional genealogists, it is the most important.
[box type=”info”] The Social Security Act was signed by FDR in 1935. Taxes were collected for the first time in January 1937, and the first one-time, lump-sum payments were made that same month. Regular ongoing monthly benefits started in January 1940.
The Death Index contains a listing of persons who had a Social Security number, who are deceased, and whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration. (The information in the Death Index for people who died prior to 1962 is incomplete since SSA’s death information was not automated before that date. Death information for people who died before 1962 is generally only in the Death Index if the death was actually reported to SSA after 1962, even though the death occurred prior to that year.
Source: Official Website for Social Security (http://www.ssa.gov/history/hfaq.html : accessed 15 February 2014)[/box]
Congress passed the H.R. 295 Protect and Save Act of 2013 just after one of the largest incidents of identity theft ever: the theft of the credit information of an estimated 70 million consumers, which occurred during the 2013 Christmas shopping season. That theft of information had nothing to do with the Social Security Death Index, however. And, to date, identity theft or fraud from the SSDI online information has been minimal.
At this point, family history researchers can choose to do two things about the new SSDI search restrictions: Begin working on legislation to reverse or nullify this recently passed legislation, or deal with the new time limits by planning ahead for your ancestor search in the SSDI.
Because I am neither a legislator nor lobbyist, I will leave the legislative aspects of this recent SSDI situation to those who are. The option for me and other family history researchers: We will deal with it.
Here is how:
Dealing with the SSDI now requires some old fashioned footwork, most of which may be done on the Internet. Birth and death information may be located on the Internet directly or may be obtained using obituaries that are now also online. In recent years, increased numbers of newspapers, funeral homes, and larger cemeteries began providing obituary information online.
In my work as a professional genealogist, I have never come across any data compiled on how businesses have used the SSDI for preventing fraud and identity theft. As a professional family history researcher, I have found that the information on the application form for a Social Security card provides family data dating back to the time when the family member applied for the card . . . those many years ago. That person’s actual Social Security Number is a secondary prize.
To begin my genealogical death information search, I frequently go to Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records, a website created and maintained by Joe Beine. He classifies resources by the state and metropolitan areas of Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, and St. Louis. This free site is basic, but contains a wealth of information including links to cemetery and newspaper websites.
Perhaps the best pay website for finding recent obituaries is ObitsArchive. Although the website requires membership for obtaining an obituary, it does have a free index showing name, newspaper, and the date of the obituary. GenealogyBank.com, another pay website, also has a good number of recent obituaries.
Keep in mind that an obituary may appear in more than one newspaper. Often the obituaries in a smaller circulation newspaper may contain more information. When the newspaper doesn’t appear to be online, try searching Google for the state newspaper or press association. There should be a list of state newspapers and, possibly, links to those newspapers. If a newspaper has a website, it is likely the newspaper will also have obituaries online. If the newspaper doesn’t have a website, the Google search will usually provide direct contact information for the newspaper.
Additionally, the genealogical researcher may look at funeral home listings online. Many funeral homes now have websites and post obituaries along with condolence books. When the deceased lived in a larger metropolitan area, I will use an online city directory or phone book to determine the residence address. Check information from the nearby mortuaries first. The local Chamber of Commerce or public library may be helpful for contact information when a funeral home does not have a website.
Finally, there are the cemeteries. Historical societies, local county records, and FindAGrave have lists of known cemeteries. Remember that not all cemeteries are listed on FindAGrave. Even though recent death information may not be available through the Social Security Death Index or a death certificate, burial records are likely available through the private or governmental entity that owns the cemetery.
On several occasions, I have visited a County Clerk’s office and then decided to skip the hassle of trying to get a death certificate. I have chosen, instead, to go straight to the burial records of the cemetery at the cemetery office. These records are open to the public. Large cemeteries often have staff who will help genealogical researchers. For smaller cemeteries, the family history researcher may have to seek out a clerk or sexton who will provide access to the records.
So, family historian, when you find that you can use some help searching for recent death information or navigating the Social Security Death Index, the genealogists at RecordClick will set you on the right path. We have experience in developing research strategies and doing the footwork needed in tracking down that illusive date or place or person.
For more information on the H.R. 295 – Protect and Save Act of 2013, visit Congress.Gov – United States Legislative Information.