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SSN follow-ups

Yesterday’s post about Social Security numbers brought in a flurry of information tidbits and additional questions… all of which are too good to leave in the comments section.


The tidbits.

First, from Ancestry‘s Chad R. Milliner, the tidbit that — starting in 2011 — new Social Security numbers (SSNs) began to be randomized so that the first three digits of new SSNs issued after 25 June 2011 won’t tell you where the person applied for or was living when the SSN was issued. Chad refers us all to the Social Security Administration website and its explanation of Social Security Number randomization there.1 Pity the poor 22nd century genealogist…

Second, from Israel Pickholtz, the tidbit that the Social Security Bulletin published a brief explanation of what the numbers meant — with a useful chart of what the first three digits used to mean — in 1982.2 He published a link to it on his blog recently.

And then the questions… mostly from a new-found cousin-by-marriage Ruth Cattles Cottrell,3 who is clearly having some trouble finding one or more Social Security records that she’d like to find — and might expect to find.

• “During the first 20 years (@1936-@1956) were there groups of people that were excluded from signing up or drawing benefits such as women who never held formal jobs? Was signup perhaps limited only to males who held formal jobs? Or to people who filed tax returns?”

Yup, there were loads of folks who didn’t have to register and didn’t qualify for benefits: “the original Social Security Act had excluded some types of employment from coverage, such as agricultural workers, domestic servants, casual labor, maritime workers, government employees, and the employees of philanthropic, educational, and similar institutions. The self-employed were also excluded from coverage. Seventy years ago, these exempt workers comprised about 40 percent of the working population.”4 Under the law, “Initially, only employees working in covered employment and aged 64 or younger were eligible to obtain an SSN.”5

Eligibility and benefits expanded steadily over the years. In 1939, for example, wives and widows over age 65 and children under age 16 began to be eligible to receive dependent benefits.6 In 1950, the program covered “regularly employed farm and domestic workers, self-employed workers (except farmers and professionals), federal civilian employees not under a federal civil service retirement system (e.g., temporary employees), Americans employed outside the United States by American employers, and workers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Not-for-profit organizations could elect coverage for their employees (except ministers). State and local governments could elect coverage for their employees not under public employee retirement systems.”7 Amendments in 1954 expanded coverage to include “self-employed farmers, most professional self-employed workers, and most homeworkers.”8

• “When was a SS# required to file a federal tax return?”

The Internal Revenue Service began using the SSN for federal tax reporting in 1962.9

• “Why would there be no record of a man who was @66 years old in 1936 who died in 1947 ever having a SS#?”

The dates and categories set out above pretty much explain it. The system was intended to cover employees under age 64, and Ruth’s guy was older than that. Chances are pretty good, unless he held regular paid employment as an older man and decided to register anyway, that he wasn’t covered, never received benefits — and never got any SSN.

• “And lastly, any idea whether the database just released” — the Ancestry database of “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007” — “is complete or is there more to come?”

Great question — and one for which I have no clue as to the answer. Ancestry‘s source information is pretty sketchy, simply citing as original data “Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.” There are clearly fewer overall records here than in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) — roughly 49 million, or about half the number in the SSDI — but then there are also some folks in this index who aren’t in the SSDI. So it’s worth checking both — and hoping for more down the road.


Image: Modified from Wikimedia Commons.

  1. See “Social Security Number Randomization,” Social Security Administration ( : accessed 28 July 2015).
  2. Meaning of the Social Security Number,” Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 45 No. 11, 1982); PDF version, Social Security Administration ( : accessed 29 July 2015).
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “The unexpected cousin,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Sep 2014 ( : accessed 28 July 2015).
  4. Carolyn Puckett, “The Story of the Social Security Number,” Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 69 No. 2, 2009; online version, Social Security Administration ( : accessed 27 July 2015).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Geoffrey Kollmann, “Social Security: Summary of Major Changes in the Cash Benefits Program” (2000), Legislative History, Social Security Administration ( : accessed 28 July 2015).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Puckett, “The Story of the Social Security Number,” Exhibit 2, “Legislated and regulatory requirements for using Social Security numbers (SSNs), 1943–2008.”
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