Was your Ancestor’s Death Entry Removed from the Social Security Death Index?

If you thought the Social Security Death Index entries came from deaths reported directly to the Social Security Administration, your thoughts paralleled those of most genealogists.  

So the announcement that the SSA would change their death date collection policy effective 1 Nov 2011, came as a surprise to the genealogy world. 

Seems that death entries were taken from reports of death from family members, funeral homes, hospitals, state bureaus of vital records, Federal agencies, the United States Post Office, banks, and other financial institutions.  [Changes in eligibility for Social Security, based on the death of a spouse or parent could also be reported by CPA firms and attorneys offices.] 

Deaths from State death records are supposed to be protected [what does that really mean?]  from public disclosure.  And since 2002, state death records have supplied over 4 million entries to the Public Death Master File.  This file is shared with agencies that pay federally-funded benefits–IRS, Medicare and Medicaid Services, and other Federal agencies–for a fee.

What does this change in policy mean for your genealogy?  

The whole Public Death Master File, upon which the Death Index is based, is expected to decrease by 4.2 million entries as these state death records are removed.  And many deaths will not be included in future database updates.  For these deaths, you will have to consult individual state bureaus of vital statistics.  And pay the current fee to get a copy of the record.

Historical death records from many states are currently available online–each state has its own rights of privacy policies that affect what is considered historical. 

Sample entry from the Social Security Death Index which falls into the “since 2002” time frame.  Does this entry come from a state death record or a report to the SSA directly?  There is no way to tell from the entry itself–the Death residence localities, however, indicate more than one reporting source.      

Alma EAKLE   
    Birth Date: 30 May 1934 
    Death Date: 7 Dec 2004 
     State Where Number Was Issued  
  Death Residence Localities
    ZIP Code: 84337 
    Localities:  Bothwell, Box Elder, Utah
  Elwood, Box Elder, Utah
  Penrose, Box Elder, Utah
  Thatcher, Box Elder, Utah
  Tremonton, Box Elder, Utah

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle    http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Check the Index during the next months for those entries in your family that were reported since 2002 (and perhaps even earlier) for changes in the entries that have relevance for your genealogy. 

PPS  The above discussion demonstrates these facts about databases:

  1. Databases may not be complete .  And those that approached completness, can be changed retroactively.
  2. Databases are often compiled sources–merging information from a variety of records.
  3. Databases can change the accuracy of your pedigree .
  4. Databases don’t have to keep you informed about changes– you need some vigilance in the records you use.

PPS  And remember, the Social Security Death Index is one of the best sources to find the complete birth date of people born in the 20th century.


A check of the updated Family Search.org site reveals some interesting changes:

  1. Middle initials have been added to names–Alma Eakle is now shown as Alma D. Eakle.
  2. Specific localities have been removed.  Death residence is now shown as Box Elder County UT 84337 only.
  3. Esitmated age at death is supplied.  [This may be an add-on from FamilySearch.org–I don’t know.]
  4. 17 entries under Alma Eakle, with other spellings included are reduced to 6 entries with other spellings included.

The Social Security Death Index is dated, 1875-2010.

Current as of 31 Oct 2011 with 90,732,247 entries added to http://FamilySearch.org  5 Nov 2011.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply