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The U.S. Social Security Death Index

Posted on January 4, 2006 | Genealogy.about.com

By Kimberly Powell

The Social Security Death Index is a huge database containing vital information for more than 64 million people (primarily Americans) whose deaths were reported to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Deaths included in this index may have been included by a survivor requesting benefits or in order to stop Social Security Benefits to the deceased. Most of the information (about 98%) included in this index is from 1962-1988, although some data is from as early as 1937. The reason for this is that 1962 is the year that the SSA began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits. Many of the earlier records have never been added to this computerized database.

Also included in the millions of records are approximately 400,000 railroad retirement records from the early 1900s to 1950s. These begin with numbers in the 700-728 range.

Here is a brief timeline of Social Security in the United States:

August 14, 1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law. The new Act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement.

November 24, 1936: Applications for Social Security account numbers were distributed by the U.S. Post Office. The post offices then collected the completed forms, typed the Social Security number (SSN) cards and returned the cards to the applicants. The applications were then forwarded to the SSA's processing center located in Baltimore, Maryland, where the numbers were registered and various employment records established. Over 35 million Social Security numbers were issued through this procedure in 1936-1937. The first SSN account was established for John D. Sweeney, Jr. of New Rochelle, New York and the lowest number ever issued (SSN 001-01-0001) was to Grace Dorothy Owen of Concord, New Hampshire.

January 1, 1937: Workers began to acquire credits toward old-age benefits and payroll tax (FICA) withholding begins.

January 2, 1937: The first applicant for a lump-sum refund was a retired Cleveland motorman named Ernest Ackerman, who retired one day after the Social Security program began. During his one day of participation in the program, a nickel was withheld from Mr. Ackerman's pay for Social Security and, upon retiring, he received a lump-sum payment of 17 cents. The average lump-sum payment during this period was $58.06. The smallest payment ever made was for 5 cents.

10 August 10, 1939: The Social Security Amendments of 1939 broadened the program to include dependents and survivors benefits.

January 1940: Payments of monthly benefits began in January 1940. On January 31, 1940 the first monthly retirement check was issued to a retired legal secretary, Ida May Fuller, of Ludlow, Vermont, in the amount of $22.54. Miss Fuller died in January 1975 at the age of 100. During her 35 years as a beneficiary, she received over $22,000 in benefits.

1947: Application for Social Security number no longer includes employer information.

1950: Individuals in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as employees working abroad for American companies became eligible for Social Security benefits. Conditional and temporary government workers, farm and agricultural labor, the self-employed, certain short-term railroad workers and domestic workers (those earning wages in a household setting) also gained Social Security eligibility the same year.

1955: Eligibility was increased to include employees working for a subsidiary of a U.S. company abroad or self-employed farmers.

1956: Farmers who owned their land and took at least a managerial role in the farming became eligible in 1956. Self-employed lawyers, dentists, medical professionals (except medical doctors) and other professional groups also received coverage in 1956. The new amendments also provided benefits to disabled workers aged 50-65 and disabled adult children. The minimum retirement age for women was lowered to 62.

1961: The Amendments of 1961 lowered the age at which men are first eligible for retirement benefits to 62.

1962: The SSA began processing requests for benefits electronically, resulting in the beginning of the Social Security Death Index.

1963: Railroad workers were issued a SSN based on where they applied for Social Security coverage just as everyone else, rather than being issued numbers in the special block 700-728 which was previously used.

1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare Bill in the presence of former President Truman who proposed this legislation to Congress in 1945.

1967: The Department of Defense began using Social Security numbers instead of military service numbers to identify Armed Forces personnel.

1972: A law was passed requiring SSA to obtain evidence of age, identity and citizenship or alien status of every legal alien upon entry into the United States, and to issue them a Social Security number.

1989: Parents can automatically obtain a Social Security number for a newborn infant when the birth is registered with the state of birth.

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