Once you've found your ancestor in the Social Security Death Index, you may want to request a copy of your ancestor's original Social Security Application. An excellent record for genealogical information, the SS-5 is the application form used by an individual to enroll in the U.S. Social Security program.
The SS-5, or Application for Social Security Number is a great resource for learning more about individuals who died after about 1960, and generally includes the following:
- Full name
- Full name at birth, including maiden name
- Present mailing address
- Age at last birthday
- Date of birth
- Place of birth (city, county, State)
- Father's full name
- Mother's full name, including maiden name
- Race as indicated by the applicant
- Whether the applicant ever applied for Social Security or Railroad Retirement before
- Current employer's name and address
- Date signed
- Applicant's signature
As long as a person is deceased, the Social Security Administration will provide a copy of this Form SS-5, Application for Social Security Number to anyone who makes a request under the Freedom of Information Act. They will also release this form to the registrant (the person who belongs to the Social Security Number) and to anyone who has a release-of-information statement signed by the person about whom the information is sought. To protect the privacy of living individuals, there are specific requirements for SS-5 requests involving "extreme age."
The SSA will not provide a copy of the SS-5 or otherwise release information about any person who is under 120 years old, unless you can provide acceptable proof of death (e.g., death certificate, obituary, newspaper article, or police report).
The SSA will also redact (black out) parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless you provide proof that the parents' are deceased or both have a birth date more than 120 years ago. They will also release parents' names in cases where the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age. This restriction is, unfortunately, a bit tricky when your purpose of requesting the SS-5 is to learn the names of the parents!
How to Request a Copy of the SS-5The easiest way to request a copy of the SS-5 form for your ancestor is to apply online through the Social Security Administration:
A printable version of this SS-5 Application Form is also available for mail-in requests
Alternatively, you can send (1) the person's name, (2) the person's Social Security Number (if known), and (3) either evidence of death or a release-of-information statement signed by the person about whom the information is sought, to:
Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
Mark both the envelope and its contents: "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST " or "INFORMATION REQUEST."
If you supply the Social Security Number, the fee is $27.00. If the SSN is not known, the fee is $29.00, and you must send the person's full name, date and place of birth, and names of parents. If you have a Social Security Number from family records or a death certificate, but are unable to locate the individual in the SSDI, then I strongly suggest you include proof of death with your application, as it will likely be returned to you otherwise with that request. If the individual was born less than 120 years ago, you also need to include proof of death with your request.
The usual wait time for receiving a copy of a Social Security Application Form is 6-8 weeks, so be prepared to be patient! Online applications are generally a bit quicker - often with a turnaround time of 3-4 weeks, although this may vary based on demand. And the online application system doesn't work if you need to provide proof of death!
Kimberly Powell, About.com's Genealogy Guide since 2000, is a professional genealogist and the author of "Everything Family Tree, 2nd Edition." Click here for more information on Kimberly Powell.