Section 1: History and basics about the Social Security Administration and Social Security Number system

From: Linda Edwards


Q.1.1 What is the history behind the Social Security Service?

A: SSA has continually emphasized the fact that the SSN identifies a particular record only and the Social Security Card indicates the person whose record is identified by that number. In no way can the Social Security Card identify the bearer. From 1946 to 1972 the legend "Not for Identification" was printed on the face of the card. However, many people ignored the message and the legend was eventually dropped. The social security number is the most widely used and carefully controlled number in the country, which acts it an attractive identifier.

Q.1.1.1 What are the prefix (eg. "W" or "A") letters in front of the social security number?

A: These indicate the reason benefits were paid to a living person; the relationship of the living person to the Social Security number holder is as follows:

A = Worker

B = Spouse (of an employed individual).

C = Child of worker

D = Widow/widower age 60 or older

W = Disabled widow/widower age 50 or older E = Young mother/father with child in care

These are the common denotation. However, there are other letters for other classes of benefits: B, C, D, W, E's - all of these letters may or may not have a number after them, e.g., D - widow; D1 - widower; D6 - divorced widow - several others D2, D4, D9, etc - each has a particular meaning). B - wife; B6 - divorced wife, etc.

Q.1.2 Is the Social Security Records a public record?

A: With the exception of the restrictions imposed on Federal and some State and local organizations by the Privacy Act of 1974, organizations requiring a unique identifier forp urposes of controlling their records are not prohibited from using (with the consent of the holder) the SSN. SSA records are confidential and knowledge of a person's SSN does not give the user access to information in SSA files which is confidential by law.

Q.1.3 I see commercial usages of Social Security numbers, how come?

A: Many commercial enterprises have used the SSN in various promotional efforts. These uses are not authorized by SSA, but SSA has no authority to prohibit such activities as most are not illegal. Some of these unauthorized uses are: SSN contests; skip-tracers; sale or distribution of plastic or metal cards; pocketbook numbers (the numbers used on sample social security cards in wallets); misleading advertising, commercial enterprises charging fees for SSN services; identification of personal property.

Q.1.4 What is the meaning of each segment of the Social Security Number?

A: The Social Security Number (SSN) is composed of 3 parts, XXX-XX-XXXX, called the Area, Group, and Serial.For the most part, (there are exceptions), the Area is determined by where the individual APPLIED for the SSN (before 1972) or RESIDED at time of application (after 1972). The areas are assigned as follows:
000 unused
001-003 NH
004-007 ME
008-009 VT
010-034 MA
035-039 RI
040-049 CT
050-134 NY
135-158 NJ
159-211 PA
212-220 MD
221-222 DE
223-231 VA
232-236 WV
237-246 NC
247-251 SC
252-260 GA
261-267 FL
268-302 OH
303-317 IN
318-361 IL
362-386 MI
387-399 WI
400-407 KY
408-415 TN
416-424 AL
425-428 MS
429-432 AR
433-439 LA
440-448 OK
449-467 TX
468-477 MN
478-485 IA
486-500 MO
501-502 ND
503-504 SD
505-508 NE
509-515 KS
516-517 MT
518-519 ID Guam, American Samoa,
520 WY Northern Mariana Islands,
521-524 CO Philippine Islands
525 NM
526-527 AZ
528-529 UT
530 NV
531-539 WA
540-544 OR
545-573 CA
574 AK
575-576 HI
577-579 DC
580 VI Virgin Islands
581-584 PR Puerto Rico
585 NM
586 PI Pacific Islands
587-588 MS
589-595 FL
596-599 PR Puerto Rico
600-601 AZ
602-626 CA
627-699 unassigned, for future use
700-728 Railroad workers through 1963, then discontinued

729-899 unassigned, for future use 900-999 not valid SSNs, but were used for program purposes when state aid to the aged, blind and disabled was converted to a federal program administered by SSA.

As the Areas assigned to a locality are exhausted, new areas from the pool are assigned. This is why some states have non-contiguous groups of Areas.

The Group portion of the SSN has no meaning other than to determine whether or not a number has been assigned. SSA publishes a list every month of the highest group assigned for each SSN Area.The order of assignment for the Groups is: odd numbers under 10, even numbers over 9, even numbers under 9 except for 00 which is never used, and odd numbers over 10. For example, if the highest group assigned for area 999 is 12, then we know that the number 999-04-1234 is an invalid number because even Groups under 9 have not yet been assigned

The Serial portion of the SSN has no meaning. The Serial is not assigned in strictly numerical order. The Serial 0000 is never assigned.

Before 1973, Social Security Cards with pre-printed numbers were issued to each local SSA office. The numbers were assigned by the local office. In 1973, SSN assignment was automated and outstanding stocks of pre-printed cards were destroyed. All SSNs are now assigned by computer from headquarters. There are rare cases in which the computer system can be forced to accept a manual assignment such as a person refusing a number with 666 in it.

A pamphlet entitled "The Social Security Number" (Pub. No. 05-10633) provides an explanation of the SSN's structure and the method of assigning and validating Social Security numbers.

Q.1.5 How do I know someone indeed had a Social Security Number?

A: The following chronology may help to determine that the none" in the SSN field of a death certificate, for example, may mean that the person never had one:
1935 - Social Security Act passed
1936 - Enrollment begins, first SSNs issued to covered workers
1937 - Payroll ("FICA") tax withholding begins (1% on first $3,000 in wages!)
1940 - Payment of benefits begins.

Initially, workers under age 65 in commerce and industry were covered. In the following years, Congress made significant expansions of coverage:
1950 - Regularly employed farm and domestic workers; non-farm self-employed
1954 - Self-employed farmers professions, except most medical and legal
1956 - Military and remainder of professionals, except physicians (1965)

Some groups, such as government employees, firefighters, and clergy came in over longer periods, with coverage first being elective and later mandatory with limited exemptions.

1965 - Mass enumeration of those over age 65 without social security numbers for Medicare entitlement purposes - this meant that many who had never had a number were now assigned numbers even though never worked.

Not until the mid-1970s, did SSA routinely assign SSNs as part of the benefit application process for dependents of the worker, such as spouses, widows, and dependent children without an SSN.Dependents had a claim number which was the worker's SSN plus a letter suffix.Thus, the husband's SSN sometimes appears on the death certificate of a wife or widow who never had one.

The Social Security Administration issued SSN's only to record earnings from which benefit amounts were calculated, and rather consistently resisted initiatives and trends to make the SSN a universal identifier.In the past two decades, that stance has been overwhelmed by the insistence of private entities, such as credit bureaus, and other branches of government (most notably IRS), for a unique identifier that could be used by computers for drivers' licenses, curbing tax evasion and welfare fraud.As one Rooter observed, most children born today have SSNs requested by their parents as an optional step in the birth registration process.

SSA has abstracted the data from SSN applications into its database, but does not release this or other information to other parties during the lifetime of the individual.Until the mid-1970's, the worker's actual SSN application was inserted into the claims folder, which, unfortunately due to the cost of storage, is generally not retained very long after the death of the worker or the last survivor goes off the benefit rolls.Most claims folders also include a copy (and translation, if necessary) of the beneficiaries' birth certificates or other proofs of age and relationship, not to mention a written explanation when Guy Rivers' papers show his name at birth as Jose Rivera.

When SS benefits were instituted in 1937, individuals claiming benefits had to document their births even if their states had not required birth registration.The 1880 and 1900 federal census enumerations were partially of fully indexed to help provide this documentation. Another methos was to file evidence as part of an application for a delayed birth certificate

The individual applying had to submit a petition to the county court stating his/her name, address, birth date, birthplace, father's name, race, as well as evidence to support the facts presented.The evidence could be in the form of a baptismal certificate, Bible record, school record, affidavit from the attending physician of midwife, application for an insurance policy, birth certificate of a child, copy of an application for a Social Security account number, of an affidavit from a person having definite knowledge of the facts.

The delayed birth certificate lists vital information abstracted from the supporting evidence. Most states have delayed birth records, some of which are indexed and easily usable.Some delayed birth records have been filed for individuals born as early as 1840.These records are usually filed in the county where the individual applied and not in the county of birth. Though comparatively infrequent, these records provide information about the individual and his/her parnets when vital records were not widely kept.The records and testimony used as supporting evidence for the document will lead you to other information sources and also show which relatives were living at the time the certificate was applied for.

Q.1.7 When was the SSN first used for Income Tax Return purposes?

A: In 1942 the use of a SSN was optional. In 1946 it became mandatory. However, in our experience the IRS will not release any tax information whatsoever to individual, regardless of the taxpayers' status (included long deceased).

Section 2: How to use the Social Security Number of a deceased person for genealogical purposes?

Q.2.0 How can I obtain a Social Security Number of a deceased person?

A: The Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church of Jesus Christ maintains Family History Centers (FHL) throughout the U.S. and world wide. In most of these centers a computer program allows the user the search the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).
This index shows - if known - the deceased's first and last name, place of death (by Zip code locale only), date of death (sometimes just a year), and date of birth (sometimes this information is partial or missing). In addition, it provides the state in which the person had _obtained_ the Social Security Number, and the number itself. With this information, a genealogist or researcher can request the Social Security Administration for a copy or an extract of the original application for a Social Security Number (see below).

Q.2.0.1 What information can the Social Security Adminstration give out to genealogist or family members?

A: Disclosure of information by SSA is governed mainly by the Social Security Act itself, the Freedom of Information Act of 1974, the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Tax Reform Act of 1976. In general, information about a LIVING person MAY NOT be released to a third party unless the individual has signed a written authorization for release of that information. The fact of an individual's death, date of death, and place of death or burial may be disclosed to anyone. Any other information, other than tax return information, in a DECEASED individual's record MAY BE DISCLOSED as long as any information in the record pertaining to other living individuals is deleted from the record prior to disclosure. The Tax Reform Act of 1976 prohibits disclosure of tax return information without the consent of the individual to whom the record pertains. This prohibition continues even after the death of an individual. Requests for tax return information for a deceased individual may be released to the legal representative of the estate; surviving relative (spouse, parent, child); or heir at law, next of kin, or beneficiary of the deceased. Proof of one of the listed relationships must be provided with the request for information.

SSA originally maintained paper files of all applications for original SSN's and applications requesting a change in the record. In the 1970s, these files were converted to an electronic database. The application forms were microfilmed for retention and the paper forms destroyed. Current applications are microfilmed; the paper forms are retained in the Federal Records Center for 5 years and then destroyed.

There are 2 types of SSN application extracts which can be furnished upon request.
(1) The Numident printout is a computer printed record which contains all the information on the original application form except the address and signature of the applicant.
(2) A microprint is a print of the microfilmed application form.

Either of these items may be furnished to anyone upon written request and confirmation of death where this is not detrimental to the estate and there does not appear to be an unwarranted invasion of privacy of a living person; i.e., the parents of the deceased who are listed on the application form.

Make your own free website on