Thursday, October 11, 2012


I wanted to talk a bit about the social security form SS-5. I have answered a couple of questions about SS-s on the blog but I wanted to go into a little more detail today.

An SS-5 is the social security application form and they become public record when the person dies (with some caveats which I will explain a little further down). I used to get SS-5s all the time because they only cost $7. The government decided that SS-5s could be a lucrative business so they upped the price to $27 so I don't request them very often anymore.

The Social Security Act was signed into law on 14 Aug 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Not everyone signed up right away though so you will find people that fell though the cracks, especially woman that never worked. It isn't until many years later that everyone signed up. Most researchers are familiar with the Social Security Death Index. The problem with this index is that it isn't complete for deaths prior to 1962. 1962 is when the SS Administration automated their records.

So what is on an SS-5? You will see the applicant's name, social security number, home address, age and date of birth, place of birth, home address, occupation, place of employment, marital status, names of parents and you will be able to see the person's signature if they could sign. If not, you will see that they marked with an X which lets you know that they were not literate. The forms changed a bit over the years so you might not get all of this info on every form.

To request a copy of someone's SS-5, you need to use THIS FORM. You will see that it is cheaper to order a computer extract of the form but I will tell you that you are better off seeing the actual form itself. You must make the request online or via snail mail. Your local SS office will not be able to pull the record for you because they are on microfilm. Now the caveats:

  1. If the person is not proven dead, they will not release the SS-5 unless the person's birth date is at least 120 years ago. If you have a death certificate for the person they will take this as proof.
  2. They are now withholding the name of the parents of the applicant unless you can prove the parents are deceased, or the applicant was born more than 120 years ago if their death is not proven, or the applicant was born over 100 years ago if their death is proven. This is a new restriction. This one is kind of funny to me. The reason you would want the names of the parents is if you didn't know the names of the parents. If you don't know the names of the parents how can you prove that they are dead? Oh well.
  3. They no longer release the social security number (you don't need it anyway so this isn't a biggie). This too is a new restriction.

Here is a copy of my great uncle’s SS-5. On this particular one, I ordered it thinking I wouldn’t learn anything new. I just wanted to have the record since it was available. However, when I received it in the mail I got a pleasant surprise. I had no idea his first name was Rufus. Every census record, his military record, his death certificate, his tombstone, everything only had Elmore. Every relative I spoke with only knew him as Elmore. When I looked at the document and saw that his full name was Rufus Elmore Simmons that was pretty exciting for me.

Since Elmore's is a bit hard to read, here is another one. This one belongs to one of Elmore’s first cousins, Mack Columbus Simmons.

I hope you noticed who Mack's mother was, Mary Catherine Boon[e], daughter of Daniel Boon [sort of an inside joke for those that follow the blog].

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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