22 November 2011


   There has been lots of  buzz in the American genealogy community lately about new rules regarding the U.S. Social Security SS-5 applications. Researchers who have ordered the applications in the past few months have received their copies with the parents' names redacted.
   Researchers are upset about this redaction, with good reason. I have learned more from the U.S. Social Security SS-5 applications than perhaps any other record. Social Security applications have broken right through three of my research brick walls. Not only have I obtained birth dates, places of origin, and addresses from the applications, but, most importantly, I have gained a step on the genealogy ladder by learning the names of the applicants' parents.
     To obtain the parents' names, the rules now require "acceptable proof of death for a number holder who is at least 100 years of age" or "the number holder exceeds 120 years of age." I am reprinting the relevant Social Security statement below. This statement lists the documents that are "acceptable proof."
     The names of the parents can also be obtained if you submit acceptable proof of death of the parents.
    Well, these rules certainly create one more unnecessary "Catch-22" for family history researchers. I would never have been able to trace at least three of my ancestral lines back to Ireland and Poland had I not been given the names of my ancestors' parents on the SS-5 applications.
     I could rant on for pages, but will simply say that this is another overly broad use of the excuse of "privacy" concerns on the part of the government.
     Below is the relevant language and also the link to the source.

"Our current policy does not allow us to release (the mother’s, the father’s, the parents’) name(s) without proof of (his, her, their) death unless we have acceptable proof of death for a number holder who is at least 100 years of age, or the number holder exceeds 120 years of age. Acceptable proofs of death include:

  • a certified copy of a public record of death of the number holder; or
  • a statement of death by the funeral director; or
  • a statement of death by the attending physician or the superintendent, physician, or intern of the institution where the person died; or
  • a certified copy of the coroner’s report of death or the verdict of the coroner’s jury; or
  • a certified copy of an official report of death or finding of death made by an agency or department of the U.S. which is authorized or required to make such a report or finding in the administration of any law of the U.S.; .  .  .
. . . If you can provide acceptable proof of death for ###’s (mother, father, parents, as appropriate), we can release the withheld information to you. The proof of death for the parent(s) must contain enough information for us to determine that the proof of death refers to the same individual(s) shown on the requested SS-5."