There has been significant focus on the Social Security Death Index by Congress in the last year. It is a good example of government reacting to public misunderstanding and actually making a problem they are trying to solve worse rather than better.
The Social Security Death Index is one of the most useful record sets in the United States. It contains death records for many Americans since 1962. When the death of an individual occurs, a report is made to the U.S. Social Security Information. This death is then released within about a month to the subscribers of the Social Security Death Index. Most of the online genealogical companies subscribe to this information and publish it.
If you are looking for an ancestor who died after 1962, the SSDI is a great resource. The index includes about 50 percent of deceased persons from 1962 to 1971 and about 85 percent of the deceased persons from 1972 to 2005. It also includes a few deaths from 1937 to 1961. As of 2005, the index contained 76 million death records.
The index contains:
Day, month, and year of birth
Day, month, and year of death
Social Security Number
State where the number was issued
Last zip code of residence
Once the information is found in the index you can order the application the deceased individual submitted to obtain their social security number. Additional information can be found in the FamilySearch Wiki (http://wiki.FamilySearch.org).
There has been discussion in congress about removing the social security number from the file that is released for privacy reasons and to eliminate identity theft. Several organizations have already removed the last two years of social security numbers from the file.
This is a case of taking action that appears to be right, but does not accomplish the end. Identity theft, in reality, is reduced by the fact that the Social Security Administration promptly publishes social security numbers of those who have died. The index is widely available. Anyone can check, for free, whether a social security number used by someone is on the list and belongs to someone who has died. There is no better check to reduce fraud than rapidly publishing the list of social security numbers of those who have died.
It is also a tremendous genealogical resource. Unlike many countries, the United States does not have a federal vital records index. Birth, marriage, and death records are kept at the county level. The social security death index is as close as we have to a nationwide death index. It is one of the most widely used United States genealogical records.
I hope that lawmakers will take time to understand the real issues behind the SSDI and its uses. I encourage you to write your representative and senator and express your opinion that the SSDI should remain open and available as a tool for genealogical research. If we take action we can help to ensure that identity theft is reduced, and genealogical work is facilitated.