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Kimberly Powell

Social Security Administration Removing Names from Public Death Master File (aka SSDI)

By December 12, 2011

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Another fairly quiet change made by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) last month will greatly impact the amount of information publicly available in the SSA's Death Master File, a file of all deaths reported to SSA from sources other than States beginning around 1936 (the online version includes deaths from 1962). While recent legislation introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) -- the "Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011" (aka KIDS Act) -- aims to remove all public access to the Death Master File (aka SSDI), there are already changes in the works that will keep as many as 1 million of the  2.8 million deaths expected by the SSA next year out of the public Death Master File, a reduction of almost 36 percent. In addition, the SSA plans to remove about 4.8 million names from the historical SSDI.

The names that will no longer be included in, or will be removed from, the Death Master File are those where the only source of death information was a State record of death. The change, according to the SSA, went into effect November 1, 2011:

"We began disclosing certain state records on the Public DMF in 2002. After review of the Public DMF,  we have determined that we can no longer disclose protected State records.  Section 205(r) of the Social Security Act prohibits SSA from disclosing State death records we receive through our contracts with the States, except in limited circumstances.  Therefore, we cannot legally share those State records on the Public DMF."

This change may help to explain Virginia's recent announcement (also effective November 1) that it would no longer allow Virginia's death records to be included in the SSDI.

These deaths, for the most part, are still being recorded in the Death Master File - but will no longer be available in the public version of this file -- the one we have all come to rely on in our genealogical research. I wonder if this change also had any bearing on Ancestry.com's removal of the free SSDI index from RootsWeb? Free, fairly recent, online versions of the SSDI are still available from FamilySearch.org, GenealogyBank and AmericanAncestors.org, among others. Ancestry.com is also no longer displaying social security numbers for individuals who have died within the past 10 years, according to their database description.

Thanks to Gary Horton for your "heads up"!

December 13, 2011 at 8:52 am
(1) John says:

Wee FOIA still exists so private companies will just FOIA the information and make people pay to access it. If the feds were truly concerned about regulating information they would put more stringent requirements on FOIA requests.

December 13, 2011 at 11:59 am
(2) Marilou says:

Why are they doing this? Who benefits? We know who does not benefit – genealogical researchers.
It must have something to do with privacy – an excuse that is getting seriously out of hand

December 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm
(3) ~Kimberly says:

Anyone interested in this topic might also want to read Megan Smolenyak’s excellent article: Are We Going to Lose the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)?

December 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm
(4) Joyce Leonard says:

Leave the information but take out the Social Security numbers

December 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm
(5) Norman Greenfeld says:

Free Death i\Indez information has been removed from RotsWeb but may be accessed at Ancestry.com (not free)
A further comment is really not nexessary.

December 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm
(6) Anne says:

Read that article. It all falls in to plac. My question. Why can’t children under 18 be left off the SSDI? Would that not solve that problem?

December 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm
(7) Eileen says:

Is there any way that as citizens we can protest to these changes and try to keep the records open for our use?

December 13, 2011 at 8:22 pm
(8) Dawn Baker says:

The biggest problem I see is when the USA required newborn babies get SSA numbers !!, this should have been asigned only when a person goes to work or after age 16 or for disability. this makes old numbers, from lets say your great aunt ,after her death to pass onto a newborn. these newborns need another way to have a head count till then! food for thought!

December 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm
(9) Shari Milk says:

For crying out loud..the people are dead! What privacy is anyone invading by knowing the birth and death dates?
I’m not buying it! Ancestry probably has a lot to do with this cause they like to charge for “their” information.

December 15, 2011 at 8:51 am
(10) Karen S says:

I saw that some wrote that Ancestry.com probably is ‘behind’ this. I am certain that is not true. I am a serious researcher – and I find Ancestry.com to be an outstanding research tool, especially when I am not able to travel around like I used to do. For blame, I think we should look elsewhere – everyone has to put bacon on the table – give me a break!!

December 15, 2011 at 10:44 pm
(11) Pam Johnson O'Brien says:

If they are so worried that the Dead Person’s info will be used for Illegitimate credit using. Have it be required that ssi reports the DEATH DATE TO THE THREE CREDIT REPORTING BUREAUS SO THAT IF THERE IS A CREDIT INQUIRY UNDER A PERSON’S NAME OR SSI# IT WILL SHOW THAT THE PERSON IS DEAD, That’s all the Privacy a dead person needs.

December 18, 2011 at 8:37 am
(12) Carol H says:

This is another case of the Government throwing the baby out with the bath water. Is anyone surprised?!!

December 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm
(13) William McCollum says:

As baby boomers like me became interested in family history research the Social Security Administration suddenly quadrupled the price of a copy of the SS-5 form that people filled out to obtain a Social Security number. That $27.00 fee for a copy of a single sheet of paper was pure exploitation.

January 8, 2012 at 11:38 am
(14) Jack says:

How will this help? Children, before birth have credit cardds issued in their names!! Another governmental policy enacted because they cannot enforce the old ones and hold people ACCOUNTABLE!! If issuers of credit would do their JOBS, we wouldn’t pay for our privacy. Of course the SSA is raking in the money now charging up to $26. or over $50 in this economy for that information. I will not cave to this and am very disappointed with other agencies caving to our government. I will be canncelling my subscrition to Ancestry!!! I also willl not vote for anyone who will nnot hold the people not doing their jobs accountable for protecving our rights in the first place!!

January 10, 2012 at 8:17 pm
(15) sonya staffolani says:

Well of course this was not a surprise to me, the removal of this index is yet another ploy to get more money out of we researchers; too much(?) today is freely available and here and selfless genies are publishing lists to aid researchers so the big ‘fellas’ are simply re-routing the money trails… and in the next year or so another ‘subscription’ will be available to purchase and I’ll bet it will be SSDI by another name…cheers sonya

February 28, 2012 at 7:17 am
(16) Mary Ingram says:

I have had family members die and they were listed in the SSDI
of ancestry.com. now when i go back, their names are not there.
This is ludicrous. We want a sensible explanation as to why
ancestry.com is doing this.

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