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The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database of death records created from the United States Social Security Administration's Death Master File Extract. Most persons who have died since 1962 who had a Social Security Number (SSN) and whose death has been reported to the Social Security Administration are listed in the SSDI. For most years since 1973, the SSDI includes 93 percent to 96 percent of deaths of individuals aged 65 or older. It contains the records of over 84 million people, and was last updated on September 10, 2009.

Unlike the Death Master File, the SSDI is available free online from several genealogy websites. The SSDI is a popular tool for genealogists and biographers because it contains valuable genealogical data: the deceased person's birth date, death date, SSN, state or territory where the SSN was issued, and last place of residence. Once a deceased person is found in the database, the person's application for Social Security card (Form SS-5) can be ordered from the Social Security Administration. The SS-5 contains additional genealogical data, such as birth place, father's name, and mother's full maiden name.

Given the growing problem of identity theft and the importance of the Social Security number as a personal identifier in the United States, it might seem unusual that these identifiers are released publicly. However, because the documents held by the Social Security Administration are government records, it is required to make the information public under the Freedom of Information Act . In fact, the Death Master File is used to prevent fraud so that no one can steal the identity of a dead person, and take out a credit card or a bank loan in a dead person's name.

A recent government audit revealed that the Social Security Administration had incorrectly listed 23,000 people as dead in a two-year period. These people have sometimes faced difficulties in convincing government agencies that they are actually alive; a 2008 story in the Nashvillemarker area focused on a woman who was incorrectly flagged as dead in the Social Security computers in 2000 and has had difficulties, such as having health insurance canceled and electronically filed tax returns rejected. This story also noted that people in this situation can be highly vulnerable to identity theft because of the release of their Social Security numbers.


Specific references
  1. Mark E. Hill and Ira Rosenwaike, " The Social Security Administration’s Death Master File: The Completeness of Death Reporting at Older Ages", Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 1 (2001/2002), p. 45.

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