SSDI: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

The Social Security Death Index, called the SSDI, is a wonderful took for genealogists.  The SSDI is available for free on various sites, including and Genealogy Bank.  Steve Morse even has a one-step search tool for it.  The SSDI is useful because it provides the birth and death date for individuals that applied for a social security card.  More importantly, if you request a copy of the person’s actual application, called the SS-5, you may find out the parents’ names as well as where the person worked at that time.   If the person was an immigrant, they often state their full birthplace including the town (but many times just put the country of birth).

This great-aunt was so "great" about identifying her place of birth that it led me right to my great-grandmother's birthplace.

This great-aunt was so "great" about identifying her place of birth that it led me right to my great-grandmother's birthplace.

The Bad

Some beginning researchers give up too soon – if they don’t find the name in the index, they assume that that individual never applied for social security.  That is not always the case – the index was compiled around 1962, and many earlier deaths were not included.

I have several ancestors who actually applied for social security but were not listed in the SSDI.  Both died prior to the 1962 cutoff for indexing:

  • Joseph Zawodny, 1880 – 1944, applied 04/01/1938
  • Louis Pater, 1893 – 1957, unknown date of application

You won't find him in the SSDI.

You won't find him in the SSDI.

The Ugly

Did you know that the name in the SSDI can be spelling incorrectly?  Both of my grandparents are listed as POINTKOWSKI in the SSDI.  I have a copy of my grandfather’s SS-5 from November, 1936 – one year after President Roosevelt began the Social Security program.  On the application, he quite clearly spells his name as POINTKOUSKI.  I guess he never bothered to correct them once they started sending him checks!  It’s a good thing they didn’t ask for much in 1936 in the form of documentation.  If he had to produce his birth certificate, he would have had a difficult time explaining why it lists his last name as KINCOSKI.  His parents’ actual surname was PIONTKOWSKI, but neither seems to have applied for social security prior to their deaths in 1937 and 1942.

Some researchers get frustrated when they can’t find their ancestors in the SSDI.  However, when it first came about it did not include several categories of workers including state or city employees or those that were self-employed.  This explains why two of my grandmother’s brothers are nowhere to be found – one was a fireman, and one ran his own business.  Also, if for some reason a person’s death was not reported to the Social Security Administration, it will not be listed in the SSDI.

Read more about the SSDI at Joe Beine’s Death Indexes site – The Social Security Death Index

4 thoughts on “SSDI: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Hello Donna,

    About the mispelling in surname PointkoWskI (instead of your PointkoUskY). I wonder if your ancestors in Poland used a Polish surname PIĄTKOWSKI? Have you ever seen such name in your documents? I tried to say your family name in Polish and it seems to me to sound like Piątkowski.

    Then your surname took a long journey:

    In 2005 there lived in Poland 6813 people with surname Piątkowski and 7339 people with the feminine version of the surname Piątkowska (source: K. Rymut, Słownik nazwisk używanych w Polsce na początku XXI wieku, pages 8197÷8198).

    My warmest greetings from Poland!

  2. Well, I’m gobsmacked – I didn’t realize that not everyone who applies was included; there are definitely some names I’d like to give another try for. Thanks!

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