Every U.S. citizen, permanent resident, and authorized temporary resident has a social security number, issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA.) Your social security number is used to help confirm your identity and for tax withholding and filing purposes. When someone dies and their death is reported to the SSA, the agency adds that person’s record to the Social Security Death Master File commonly referred to as the Social Security Death Index.
What Information is Included in the Social Security Death Index?
The death index is actually extracted information from the SSA’s electronic database that includes information about everyone who has been assigned a social security number since 1936. Death index records are updated weekly and include the following information (when that information is available to the SSA):
- Full name (first, middle, last, and suffix if applicable)
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Place of last residence (state and zip code)
Because information entered into the death index was based on the paper records kept originally by SSA offices across the country, it is not uncommon for the death index to contain misspellings, incorrect birth dates, and other errors.
Common Research Uses for the Social Security Death Index
Social Security death index free records
Genealogists rely on the death index today to help with compiling accurate records of ancestors. The index includes birthdates and the area where the person lived when they died, which can help researchers find more information in other places, such as census records and marriage records.
If you find a record in the death index and want to obtain more information about the deceased person, you can apply for a copy of the application that was used to issue the deceased person’s social security number. In many cases, original applications include the deceased person’s parents’ names and place of birth, which can help genealogists further trace family lineage.
Many families use this information to come together, learn more about their history, and to honor lost ancestors. A GatheringUs or virtual ceremony is a great way to share this information with your entire family. Coming together to celebrate the lives of those who came before us is a powerful tribute.
How is Information Added to the Social Security Death Index
The information available through free death records in the Social Security death index is, unfortunately, only as good as the information provided to the SSA. For deaths occurring prior to 1962, the SSA relied on the deceased person’s family members to report someone’s death. And, those deaths were not always automatically input into the death index.
If you are looking for a death record for someone who died prior to 1962, you may or may not find it in the death index. For deaths after that date, you’re much more likely to locate the record you’re searching for. However, it’s important to note that records added to the Social Security death index are not available for public search until three years have passed since the person’s death.
Conducting a Free Death Record Search
Although the SSA maintains the Death Master File, it does not make it available for public viewing. Therefore, if you were to search for “social security death index gov free” hoping to land on the SSA’s site, you won’t be successful. However, the good news is that many private organizations provide access to social security death records.
Some options include the following (please note that Cake is not affiliated with and does not endorse these providers):
There are other sources and online tools for searching the Social Security Death Index. Be sure you are on a reputable site before providing information to a site offering social security death records free of charge.
Plan Ahead for Yourself
Whatever your motivation is for exploring the death index, it may get you thinking about your own mortality. How does that make you feel? At peace? Anxious? Planning ahead for the inevitable can give you and your loved ones valuable peace of mind. Create a free end-of-life plan with Cake (you're on our blog now) to document and share your wishes for healthcare, estate, funeral, and legacy decisions with your family. Try Cake today!