1. Parenting
Social Security Sleuthing
By Pamela Boyer Porter, CGRS, CGL
 More of this Feature
• Introduction
• What's In a Number?
• Social Security Death Master File
• Writing for More Information
• Internet Resources & Selected Readings
 Special Chat!
Genealogical Lecturer, Pamela Boyer Porter, will be a special guest in our chat room on Wednesday, April 3 from 9pm-11pm Eastern Standard Time to discuss sleuthing in the U.S. Social Security Index.
Learn More About this special online "Virtual Lecture"!
  Related Resources
• Reasons Why You May Not Find Your Ancestors in the Social Security Death Index
• Social Security Search Online
• Social Security Number Assignments by State
• Finding People Online
• 50 FREE Ways to Research Your Family Tree

 Elsewhere on the Web
• National Genealogical Society
• Social Security Administration

What’s in a Number?

A nine-digit Social Security number is composed of three parts:

  • The Area Number
    The first three digits in a Social Security number comprise the Area number. Before 1972, this number identified the state in which the applicant’s original Social Security card was issued. Since 1972, all Social Security numbers have been assigned and issued from one office in Baltimore, and the Area number identifies the mailing address zip code of the applicant. An applicant’s mailing address, either before or after 1972, may not be the same as the residence. The Area number is merely an indicator that an applicant resided in or used an address in a particular state at the time the Social Security card was originally issued. A list of area numbers and corresponding states is available on the SSA’s Web site (see Internet Resources) or in The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy (see Selected Readings).
  • The Group Number
    The middle two digits of a Social Security number range from 01 to 99, but they are not issued in consecutive order. The SSA World Wide Web site contains a frequently updated list of the latest Group numbers issued within each area.
  • The Serial Number
    The last four digits of a Social Security number run serially from 0001 through 9999.

Employees of U.S. railroads earn retirement through the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), but they also have Social Security cards. Before June 1963, railroad employees received special Social Security numbers in the 700-728 area range. After that date, their numbers were assigned based on their mailing address, just like everyone else.

The SS-5: Application for Social Security Number

Chances are if an individual worked in the United States after 1935, he or she applied for and received a Social Security number. Even non-citizens have Social Security numbers. The SS-5, Application for Social Security Number, contains the following information: Social Security number, full name (including women’s maiden names), address at time of application, employer and employer’s address (pre-1947 applications only), age at last birthday, date and place of birth, parents’ full names (including mother’s maiden name), sex, color, and whether the applicant had previously applied for Social Security or Railroad Retirement. It also contains the application date and the applicant’s signature.

In the 1970s, the SSA microfilmed all SS-5 application forms, created a computer database of selected information from the forms, and destroyed the originals. This SSA internal computer database contains some, but not all, of the information on the original applications. When requesting an SS-5, genealogists generally should ask for a microprint of the microfilmed original, rather than a printout or abstract from the SSA computer database.

Next page > Clues in the Social Security Death Master File


URL: http://genealogy.about.com/library/authors/ucporter1b.htm
© 1999 Pamela Boyer Porter, CGRS, CGL.  Used with Permission.


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