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Thursday, February 2, 2012

What is the SSDI? And why do I care?

One of the first and most valuable resources used by beginning genealogists in their research in the United States is often the Social Security Death Index or SSDI. On the old FamilySearch.org website, the SSDI was one of the very few sources that could be considered original. Nearly all of the other records on this valuable site were user contributed family trees or extracted records. Many researchers got their first real lead on a family member by locating his or her death date and location on the SSDI. The SSDI also listed the dead person's Social Security Number allowing the research to order, for a fee, the original Social Security Application Form.


Even very experienced researchers found the SSDI a quick way to locate people who lived too recently to show up in any other records due to modern privacy and buerocratic limitations on records.

The value of this extensive listing extends way beyond the realm of genealogy however. For example, the SSDI is used by insurance companies to check whether or not a death claim is valid. If an insurance beneficiary's claim is not substantiated by a corresponding record in the SSDI, then there is a reason to investigate further. Attorney's use the SSDI to find out if someone they are searching for is deceased.


Presently, there is a bill pending in the U.S. Legislature that would seriously limit the use and value of the SSDI. The proponents of the bill are reacting, I believe inappropriately, to a situation where dishonest taxpayers are falsely claiming dependents by using an unrelated recently deceased child's Social Security Number. This problem is not an issue with the SSDI, it is a problem with the way the IRS handles tax returns. In other words, this is not an identity theft issue, it is a tax issue. A deceased child's Social Security Number is associated with the numbers of his or her parents. The IRS could simply verify that a child's Social Security Number matched the parents' number and the problem would be solved. Rather than requiring this simple step, politicians want to use the emotionalism of the loss of a child and the use by another person of the dead child's Social Security Number as a springboard to make a valuable genealogical record even more difficult to use and may destroy the use of the SSDI altogether.


Stay tuned for more specific information about this serious issue and what you can do to help. Go to the website of the House Ways and Means Committee for information about hearings that are being held right now about this bill.

1 comment:

  1. Restricting access to the SSDI may not be the answer to the problem, but something has to be done. I had to file my taxes by mail instead of electronically because someone used Allison's social security number to claim her on their taxes. This is not an isolated incident. I am friends with two other couples who also lost their children, and they had the same thing happen to them last year. All the IRS does is say "perhaps someone typed their number wrong. Too bad for you."

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