Ordering the SS-5

Ordering applications from the SSA

Reader Janet Buchanan is helping a friend, now in her 80s, with a major conundrum: wading through too many names for her paternal grandparents.

The friend’s father had one sibling and “between the two of them on the birth, death and marriage certificates there are many different sets of names,” Janet wrote. “So, we want to send away for their Social Security applications to see what names they have listed there.”

The father died in 1958, the aunt in 1981. And what Janet and her friend want most to know is exactly what to order from the Social Security Administration, how to order it — and “whether we will spend the money and get nothing.”

What to order

The form you want to order from the Social Security Administration is generally known as an Application for a Social Security Number — the Form SS-5.1 The example below is my grandfather’s SS-5 form from 19372:

Whether it’ll be worth it

From the very beginning of the Social Security system in 1935, the form required a number of key pieces of information, including:

     • First, middle and last name
     • Present mailing address
     • Age at last birthday
     • Date of birth
     • Place of birth (including city, county and state)
     • Father’s full name
     • Mother’s full maiden name
     • Race or color
     • Date and signature

At various times, an applicant may have also had to specify his or her full name at birth, including maiden name if a married female, the name of the current employer and employer’s address, and other information.

Getting a copy of this form is almost always worth it. The information on the SS-5 form was usually provided by the applicant, and so is often the best source of information about what the applicant knew about his or her own birth and parentage.

The worst you’ll get is information supplied by an employer that filled out the form from its employees’ records and had them sign it — which adds another layer of possible human error, or the lie the applicant told for whatever reason. In my family, for example, a cousin of my father’s listed her grandparents as her parents to avoid having to admit that she’d been born out of wedlock. But even that information is worth having.

How to order it

To order a copy of an applicant’s SS-5, you need to make a formal request under the federal Freedom of Information Act using Form SSA-771. And you can do that in one of two ways: online and by mail. Which method you choose should depend entirely on when the applicant was born and died.

Here’s why:

First of all, you can only get a copy of an SS-5 form for a person who is deceased. The living all have a right of privacy that the government recognizes in the information supplied on the form. So you must be able to prove that the person is dead.

As of 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) changed its privacy policy and now declares that it “will not disclose information about any person in our records who is under 120 years old, except in those cases where we have acceptable proof of death (e.g., death certificate, obituary, newspaper article, or police report).”3

Generally speaking, the SSA has in the past accepted the fact that the person’s name appears on the Social Security Death Master File (what we know as the Social Security Death Index or SSDI) as proof that the person is deceased. But since 2011 not all deaths have been included in the public version of the SSDI — that’s when the SSA stopped including deaths from protected state death reports4 — and it’s just not clear anymore whether the SSA will look to its own records instead of the public version to determine whether someone is deceased.

So with newer deaths, deaths of younger persons, and as to anyone whose name you can’t find in the public SSDI, you may well need to supply proof of death and that can’t be done using the online system.

Second, under that 2011 privacy policy change, the SSA has made it harder to get the very information most useful from the SS-5 forms: the date and place of birth and the names of the parents. Here’s what the SSA says now: “under our current policy, we do not release the parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless the parents’ are proven deceased, have a birth date more than 120 years ago, or the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age.”5

In a large number of cases, people who have ordered SS-5 forms since 2011 have found the copies they receive have had the names of the parents redacted (blacked out) and even on occasion the date and place of birth as well.

To avoid that, you need to provide evidence that the parents are deceased, or that they would have been born more than 120 years ago, unless the person whose SS-5 you’re ordering was born more than 100 years ago. And, again, there’s no way to attach that proof in the online system.

So even though the online ordering system is faster, the only time it really makes sense to use it any more is where (a) the person whose form you want was born more than 100 years ago and (b) you’re darned sure that there aren’t any Social Security records showing the parents were under age 20 when the person was born. If you’re sure about both of those facts, then it’s safe to make the request using the online SSA-771 form even if you don’t have an exact date of death or proof of death (for the person or the person’s parents).

In all other cases, you should probably download the SSA-771 form and send it in by mail with your supporting evidence. The address for mailing is:

Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022

There are lots of ways to prove your case that may carry the day with the SSA. I’ve personally used some combination of the following in a number of cases:

     • An obituary of the person saying the parents predeceased the person
     • Death records of the parents
     • Tombstone photos
     • A census record showing the ages of the parents

And if you happen to get a redacted version of the SS-5 anyway, whether from the online system or by mail, you can appeal the decision to redact it and send in the additional evidence to the address provided in the letter that accompanies the redacted version.


  1. See generally Pamela Boyer Sayre, “The SS-5: Application for Social Security Number,” Social Security Sleuthing, About.com Genealogy (http://genealogy.about.com/ : accessed 30 May 2013).
  2. Clay Rex Cottrell, SS no. (withheld for privacy), 22 June 1937, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Make a FOIA Request,” Social Security Administration (http://www.ssa.gov/foia/request.html : accessed 30 May 2013).
  4. See Kimberly Powell, “Social Security Administration Removing Names from Public Death Master File (aka SSDI),” About.com Genealogy (http://genealogy.about.com/ : accessed 30 May 2013).
  5. Ibid.
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109 Responses to Ordering the SS-5

  1. Sometimes it pays to also order the Numident printout of the SS-5, the computer printout from SSA’s database. In the online Social Security Sleuthing course on NGS, there is an example of a woman whose Numident and original SS-5 showed different information. One had another of her married names, date she applied for Social Security, and somewhat different facts than on the SS-5 she filled out. For anyone interested in learning more about Social Security, take a look at the National Genealogical Society 5-lesson course at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/socialsecurity_sleuthing.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Now if I could just get the SSA to find my grandmother’s SS5 instead of just her Numident

  2. Thank you for showing us the way through this particular hallway of the bureaucracy! Such very important information for genealogists. I wonder why they chose 120 years . . . to encompass all possible lifespans? Hm.

  3. Sidney Levesque says:

    I’ve had success ordering SS5 for other relatives. I was wondering if it would be worth the $29 expense to order an SS5 for my great great grandmother even thought her 1947 death certificate said “none” under Social Security number. Is it possible she applied and wasn’t granted a number but they might still have an application?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Possible yes. But you’d have to consider if it was likely. Did she work at all outside the home? Many people who didn’t, didn’t bother to get SSNs that early.

  4. Renee Stern Steinig says:

    Thanks for the excellent advice on the “appeals process” to avoid redaction of parents’ names. It took two months and one followup email for the SS-5 to arrive… but I’m delighted to have it.

    The 120-year rule brings to mind an old Yiddish expression, “May you live until 120 ,” used to wish someone a long life. The reference to “120″ may come from this passage in Deuteronomy: “And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.”

    I guess the folks at the SSA know their Bible! :-)

  5. Kathleen Craine says:

    Thanks for this helpful information. Also, what information is included in the NUMIDENT computer extract? Are parents’ names included?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It is supposed to be an extract of all of the information, except the signature, contained on the original SS-5 application, Kathleen. That being said, I have seen Numidents that do not contain the parents’ names and because I could only get the Numident (the original SS-5 having been lost, misplaced, etc.), I don’t know if the parents’ info was on the SS-5.

  6. Karyn says:

    Has anyone ever ordered the SS-5 without a name? I have a social security number that I think may be my greatgrandfathers. Can I order an SS-5 with just a number?

  7. Alexander says:

    Hi !
    I am from Israel but I can’t fill israely address(inly for US recidence)in ssi form
    What can do ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If there’s no way to fill in the online form with your information, you’ll need to download and send the request by mail.

  8. Alexander says:

    Hi ! thank you for answering.
    My great grandfather was born in 1879 in Russia and emmigratted to US in 1904.
    1. How I can sure that he had SS number ?
    2.if ss number didn’t exist would I pay ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You may not be able to find out for sure without asking for a record check. You can see if his name is on the Social Security Death Index (there are several versions published online, the one at Mocavo (at http://www.mocavo.com/Social-Security-Death-Index/246389?) is a good choice). But many people who did have Social Security numbers never were recorded on the death index, for a variety of reasons. If you do ask for a record check, and the check determines there is no application (no SS-5 form), there will not be a refund of the amount paid. It’s a fee that pays in part for the record check, not just for the record.

  9. Alexander says:

    Thank you .
    I ordered to address my relatives.
    My last question : Can I find certificate of birth my great grandfather that was born in Russia in 1879,emmigraited in 1904, in US database ?
    May be he translate it and submitted to US archive ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There’s no way to know without checking all possible US records of events where he may have needed a birth record. He would not need it to get a Social Security number that long ago, but if he was ever naturalized or obtained a US passport or applied for a land homestead, it’s possible. There won’t be any one central place to look, however.

  10. Alexander says:

    Hi !
    3 weeks ago I filled form and paid.
    Still I have not receive nothing.
    I have Agency Tracking ID number and Pay.gov Tracking ID.
    Which way I can check my status ?
    Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It takes monthsmany months — to get the documents you’ve ordered. Be patient.

    • Dawn Prado says:

      Alexander, im in the same boat as you. wish I could find out that info too.

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        The only option you have really is to regard to failure to respond as a denial of your request and file an “appeal” with the Executive Director for the Office of Privacy and Disclosure, Social Security Administration, 617 Altmeyer Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235. Mark the envelope “Freedom of Information Appeal” and, in the appeal letter, explain when and how you made your request and that you regard the failure to answer as a denial and therefore appeal. It may not work, but it’s all we have.

  11. Alexander says:

    How do you know that it takes so long period ?I didn’t find nothing information

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s a matter of experience, Alexander: many of us in the US order these records and we know from experience how long it takes. Be patient; it takes months, really.

  12. Alexander says:

    thank you Judy.
    Can I check my status order online ?
    I have searched I have not succeeded.
    Sorry I am not from US and English not the main language spoken

  13. Alexander says:

    But this link for The USCIS Genealogy Program processes Index Search Requests (G-1041) and Record Requests (G-1041A)……
    I ordered SSA-711 (Request for Deceased Individual’s Social Security Record)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      My apologies. You’re right: I gave you the wrong link. There is NO information online about checking the status, and no standard way to request a status of a request for information from the Social Security Administration.

    • Mary says:

      Im on the same boat i went ahead and ordered a SSA-711 for my great grandmothers who has been deceased sense 1995. im aware it takes months and i ordered in july 14. But i am wondering if i will be given any information. Im hoping i have her mothers name as well as fathers i just need a birth place to request a birth certificate. Does anyone know how i could go about that? I have a death certifcate it states she was born in arizona..

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        Arizona birth records are sealed for 75 years after birth. There are some exceptions outlined here.

        • Mary says:

          She was 85 when she died and that was in 1995, Accordin to her death record. Would i be able to still request it sense its past 75years after birth?. Also i dont know the county she was born in thats why i requested the SSA-711. I have everyting else just looking for a place of birth.

        • Mary says:

          Also my grandfather is her son but never recieved a birth certificate i think it was a home birth. I do have a ca death certificate with my great grandmothers information so how would i be able to go about requesting the birth record? She was married a second time so her last last nams is different then in her first marriage to my great grandfather. Im sorry so many questions i been searching for months and its very frustrating when your stuck at a stand still.

  14. edward w wright says:

    Hi I live in the U.K., can you tell me how to apply for a copy of a deceased relatives ss-5. All the app. forms seem to assume residence in the U.S. and payment to be made in dollars.
    Can apps. be made from outside the U.S. ?
    best regards Edward.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There’s no bar to ordering an SS-5 by a non-US resident but it certainly isn’t going to be easy. Unless you can place your order entirely online using a credit card, you’re probably going to have to deal with a bank draft — or getting a friend or relative in the US to order it for you.

  15. Alex says:

    Hello !
    At 26 august 2014 I sent request to SS-5 and paed.
    Still I haven’t got nothing.
    My relative called and leaves message.
    But still nothing.
    How Can I check request status ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      This question has already been answered: there is no way to check the status online. Requests take up to SIX MONTHS to fill. Your order was only two months ago.

  16. Linda Money says:

    If a person was married more than once when they applied for social security benefits, they can choose which spouse to claim benefits from. Is there a way to find out the names of multiple spouses to choose from?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not that I’m aware of, and with the restrictions the Social Security Administration is imposing on data, I doubt that you could get that information even with a Freedom of Information Act request. At a minimum, you’d have to prove that everyone involved was already deceased.

  17. Nick Cimino says:

    Judy- I met you at an evening round table discussion in Salt Lake City in January 2015. Thank you for the suggestions for further research on my great grandmother from the Sacramento orphanage.

    My question on the SS-5 is whether there is any exemption from the redaction of parents if you can show relationship. The letter from Social Security says that they “do not disclose to the ‘public’ personal information from our records.” But what if the person of record is a parent and the names of his parents would be grandparents? Are direct descendants considered “public”?

  18. Leonard says:

    Need help getting Alex Leonard Numident Printout…

    • Leonard says:

      I michelle have helped him an his wife with filing of all paperwork but haven’t gotten anythg back.. sent the money order an everythg.. to Social Security adm 6100 Wabash ave Baltimore 21215
      what do I need to do to speed this up

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Your only option is to order the information from the Social Security Administration.

  19. Leonard says:

    the papers were Filed 3/3/2015 it has been almost 2months??

  20. Pingback: Social Security Applications Forms | Shelf Life

  21. Jeneane Clear says:

    I sent a request for a great grandmothers SS Application with check in January, 2014 and again in August 2014 with a check. I have both cancelled checks and sent copies of the checks along with letters of inquiries and still have not received my request. I filled out the paper form with the information of her date of birth and death. Does it usually take this long for a answer?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It sure shouldn’t take this long, no. My suggestion is to send another copy of the inquiry and the cancelled checks directly to the office of the Commissioner of Social Security — with a copy to the constituent affairs aide in the office of your member of Congress. You can find out who your Congress member is at this website.

  22. Crystal says:

    I cannot find any info on my ggrandmother. my gmother seems to know nothing of her mom except she was possibly adopted at some point. I can’t find her on a census until she was married. So I ordered the ss application info, (computer extract) thinking it would have all of the same info as the original but maybe I would get it faster. Now when I look at the ssa website it says the extract may not contain parent info. have you had this happen, and is there ever a reason as to why it wouldn’t? I did furnish a ssn when I requested it and she was born in 1895, (per ss death index).

    thanks for your help

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yep, I’ve had this happen, and the explanation is given right on the website: the SSA will redact all information about people who even MIGHT still be living. The SSA says: “We will not disclose information about any person in our records who is under 120 years old, except in those cases where we have acceptable proof of death (e.g., death certificate, obituary, newspaper article, or police report). Also, under our current policy, we do not release the parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless the parents’ are proven deceased, have a birth date more than 120 years ago, or the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age.” (See here.) This is why I don’t make SS-5 requests online any more. I always make them in writing and I include as much as I can to prove that the privacy policy should NOT apply.

      • Crystal says:

        So after about 6 weeks I got my computer print out that I requested from social security. You were right, it was a waste of my time and money. Although she would be 120 next month, they didn’t release anything other than a name, dob,& dod! I’m pretty sure I gave them more info than they sent me back. So onto plan B, I mailed off for a copy of the original application and enclosed a copy of the death certificate this time. I also ordered the AncestryDNA kit, we’ll see what I find! I do want to ask you a question though, do you know if all of the requested info on the application mandatory to request a social security number/card?

        Thanks again,

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          It certainly was possible for a card applicant to state that he or she did not know certain information (true four a foundling, for example), but it wasn’t common.

          • Crystal says:

            Thanks for your reply. I ask because I was told at some point maybe around the age of 11 or so she may have been taken in by another family. I can’t find anything on her. I know she was old enough to know the correct info but it seems like she had no contact with her family at all after being married in 1913. So I was just wondering if she would of had to give the info to the SSD or if “unknown” was an acceptable answer.

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            The real problem is that the information she provided did not have to be verified. A cousin of my grandfather listed her grandparents as her parents (to avoid admitting she was illegitimate). So use the information as a clue, not as if it were Gospel!

          • Crystal says:

            I will take anything I can get! I’m just hoping there is something, anything at all to go on. thanks again!

  23. Pingback: DigiRoots ///// Genealogy and Technology, explored. ///// It’s Christmas in July! Ancestry releases Social Security Applications and Claims Index

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  25. Paula says:

    I’ve just received my first numident printout, and I’m curious about the ETB code. For this individual, it’s 1. He registered for social security in 06/1949. Do you happen to know how the codes worked? I notice that on your sample application the first race blank was 1. I only have the printout. I thought that I was getting the actual copy of the application. The important part of this for my research is actually the race.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You should probably order the actual SS-5, at the higher fee, rather than the numident. The codes for the numident were white, negro and other.

  26. Jennifer says:

    Am I able to get information on my own ss application? If so, how do I obtain it? Thank you!!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Sure! You’re entitled under the Freedom of Information Act to your own information, so you can file a request for it. Make sure you can prove your own identity (I’d make the request in writing, sending a copy of my birth certificate along).

  27. Mary Ann Graham says:

    Is there a way to find out when a person changed their last name due to marriage?

  28. Thomas Wetten says:

    I ordered copies of 2 SS-5 forms online. One was for my great-grandmother, which I received after just 10 days. The other was for a great-granduncle, who was born 120 years ago, and died in 1961. It’s been a couple of months, and no result. The phone number that came with the other record is unusable due to full voicemail, as was another number it referred me to. No response via email either. Is this normal for online requests?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      These days there is no real “normal” — some SS5 forms are just taking a very long time, others seem to take no time at all. I would write to the FOIA office and ask about yours.

  29. Crystal says:

    I finally got the SS-5 I ordered and it actually has both parents listed (I was afraid it wouldn’t) however my gggrandmothers last name is very hard to make out. any suggestions on how to look her up with what I can make out and not a whole last name?


    • Shelly says:

      You can use an asterisk as a wildcard on Ancestry or Family Search. For example, if you search for Smi*, it will give you Smith, Smithson, Smiegel, and every other possible name that starts with Smi.

  30. Athena says:

    When requesting a SS-5, will it include any information about claims made over the years? I have very little info on my ggrandfather (just the info off my grandfather’s birth certificate) and found a SS record on ancestry with my ggrandfather’s exact name. He applied for SS in 1937 under the full name we have record of. There was a claim made in 1943 changing the first, middle and last name. Then in 1992 removing the middle name. I’m suspicious because the birth years are 10yrs apart from the name we know and the name listed on the claim in 1943. I’ve traced the new name and the parents listed on the SS record but it just doesn’t seem right. Did they require proof of identity back then or did they just go off the honor system?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      So, the SS-5 by definition is the application form for the initial social security number. It won’t have claims information. Proof of identity was far less a concern years ago, but became important only when a claim for benefits was made.

  31. Maxine (Stevens) Winchester says:

    I am up in the air about which one to order. My great granddad William Stevens was born 1882 died 1962. I know he was born over 130 yrs ago. So I just send a copy of his death certificate it says he’s 81 at time of death but no birth date. It lost his mom and dad but it mayb wrong. Help

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The death record should be enough since the issue isn’t so much the date of birth as the year — and even the SSA should be able to do the math (1962 – 81 years is 1881). But if you have any concern at all, you can include a copy of a census record that shows his age as well.

  32. Mary esparza says:

    My question i have a death certificate with my great gramz name as well as birth place and parents how would i be able to find out exact place she was born it just says az. She was born 1911 died 1995

  33. Kenny Behan says:

    I received a SS5 photocopy of a great grand uncle and it listed his SS number. I tried looking up his SS number in the SSDI hoping to see the last location of benefits sent to. The number isn’t in the SSDI and from my reading it seems his death wasn’t reported to the SSA.

    My hope is to locate where he died. Can I file a FOIA request for his last benefit location ? In the SSA Claims Index it lists the type of claim as Life Claim and in the Notes it lists a date of 06 Aug 1976 and his name in caps. How can I find out where he was receiving retirement benefits ?

    Thanks – Kenny

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You can certainly TRY an FOIA request for that information. I can’t tell you it’ll work, but there’s no reason not tro try — definitely an “everything to gain and nothing to lose” situation. The SSA FOIA web page is here and note the fees that could be involved.

  34. Jon Federman says:

    What a fantastic resource this blog is!

    I have some questions regarding foreign born people and their SS-5′s. Was there any requirement of specificity when listing place of birth for foreign-born applicants? For example, I know my grandfather was born in Poland – do you think he would have been required to list a city or town – or would “Poland” have been sufficient for someone born outside the US?

    Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      No legal requirement at all — my own great aunt who emigrated to the US in 1923 and registered for SS in 1951 simply listed her place of birth as Germany.

      • Jon Federman says:

        Thanks. Here’s hoping he was more specific. I would love to learn which city or town he was from in Poland, but it’s looking like I might never find the answer.

  35. Cherie Smith says:

    I am in the middle of filling out the SS-5 to get my great-grandmother’s application…I know from the 1900 census that she was born in May of 1884, but I do not have the day; I don’t know where she’s buried so I don’t have a tombstone go look at to get the date….she is not buried next to my great-grandfather, for some reason. Anyway, would it be a waste to pay the $29 to send in my request with a guessed day of birth (say, split the difference and enter ‘May 15th) ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you’re talking about paying $29, it means you don’t have a social security number for her. Do you know for sure whether she was ever registered with SSA? Checking the Social Security Death Index (free on Mocavo.com or for subscribers at Ancestry.com) and checking the later claims index at Ancestry (the database is called the “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007″) could help you narrow this down. Otherwise, I would NOT list a day of birth but just the month and year, and I would include every name she ever used (maiden, married, second marriage if any, etc.).

      • Cherie Smith says:

        That’s correct, I don’t have a SS# for her. I don’t know for sure that she was ever registered. Will I be charged for the search or refunded if they don’t find a record? I have an Ancestry.com account and have not been able to find any SS information there–the only records I’ve been able to locate were the 1900, 1910 and 1930 censuses. I tried to order the application without entering the day (just month and year–that was my first instinct) but the system wouldn’t let me. Very frustrating! I am so interested in gathering more information about her, and she is a complete enigma. I recently took Ancestry’s DNA test and found lost of 2nd-3rd cousins that we’d never heard of, before. I had my dad take the DNA test and these new relatives are his 1st cousins…much to our surprise we’ve discovered that my father’s father was not the genetic son of the man married to my great-grandmother (the woman I’m researching). I’m so afraid that the answers to so many of my questions have been lost to time.

        • Cherie Smith says:

          correction: I meant that I found LOTS of 2nd-3rd cousins, not “lost” of them.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          The $29 will not be refunded if there’s no record found. It’s a “you pays your money, you takes your chances” situation. You’ll have to consider whether she was likely to have registered to decide whether you think it’s worth trying. For that, see Getting that SSN and More SSN info.

  36. Allison Dempsey says:

    Thanks for all the info you have shared. I’m commenting because I am confused and frustrated by this process and wondering if you could shed any further light on the issue described below:

    Last month, while doing a general record search on Ancestry for my great-grandmother, I stumbled upon a record I had never seen before, the recently added (as I found out) Social Security Claims and Applications database. I was very excited, because it was the first time in a long time that I thought I might be able to see a tiny chink of light in the brick wall I always seem to hit when it comes to her…. According to my father, she had always refused to tell anyone when her birthday was (not even the general season, let alone the year), her parents’ (or any other family members’) names, nothing except that she came from County Cork. I could almost swear it would be easier to find information on the CIA, so little of a paper trail did this woman appear to leave and so common a name she had which would make a paper trail very difficult to narrow down in any case.

    Following the instructions on your blog, I filed an FOIA request on January 15th. I filed it online because the record I was seeking indicated a DOB of 1887, which more than meets the 120 year requirement. I paid the $29 for the microfilm printout of the original application using my credit card.

    I received something from the SSA just a few days ago. I was so excited when I saw they had gotten back to me so quickly but opened the enclosure to discover, much to my chagrin, that they had sent me not the microfilm printout I had paid extra money for, but the Numident, which, other than the actual SSN, provided me with no more information than I had from the Ancestry index… I double-checked my January credit card statement and the fees listed on the SSA website…. I had indeed been charged the fee for the original microfilm printout. I am confused and not a little aggravated… Does this mean they could not find the original record? If so, no such problem is noted in the cover letter. It just says “Enclosed is a computer-prepared statement, called a Numident printout, which you requested. This contains the personal identifying information given on Nellie L. Kelleher’s application for a Social Security number (SS-5).”, as well as a note on the explanatory code page “If you have any questions about the Numident printout, contact your local Social Security office.”

    Somehow I doubt that even had I the time to pop into my local Social Security office, they would be able to tell me why I was charged for one item and received another. Or whether the original microfilm even exists… Not without charging me $27 (since I now have the SSN) anyway. I also doubt that I would be able to file an appeal, since they didn’t exactly *deny* my request, just didn’t give me the type of information I was looking for. I’m not sure what to do or where to go from here.

    The reason I need the original is that I need to know the address she listed on her application. I was spurred on to search for her records based on a new Ancestry DNA match, predicted 2nd cousin (2nd-3rd range, extremely high confidence) to me and 2nd cousin (1st-2nd range, confidence extremely high) to my father. This woman’s grandmother, Margaret Lynch (Lynch being Nellie’s maiden name) is listed as being born in Co. Cork in 1893 and dying in upstate NY in 1974 – she could easily be the younger sister of my great-grandmother, whom we believed to have been born in the late 1880s and definitely died in the Bronx in 1968. If they were indeed sisters, then this match would be a second cousin to my father and a second cousin once removed to me, fitting right into the predicted range… Further, the parent names she has listed for Margaret are John J Lynch and Ellen Kelleker (a typo, perhaps?) with no sources attached in their tree. The SS Claims and Applications form that popped up for me was for Nellie Lynch Kelleher, born 9/22/1887 in County Cork, father named John Lynch, mother named Ellen Kelleher, type of claim listed as Original SSN in the Ancestry index. Notes: June 1964: Name listed as Nellie Lynch Kelleher. Indeed, on the Numident it lists the date the record was established in the SSA internal files as 06/XX/1964. This jumps out at me because her husband, James Kelleher, died June 6, 1964. Further, though it seemed strange to me, it may make a sort of sense if her mother’s maiden name turned out to be the same as the name she married into… You see, on all of the testing sites ( I am on Ancestry, 23andme, FTDNA, and GEDMatch) all but one of my Kelleher matches have referenced that their line of Kellehers comes from Macroom, Cork. Macroom is where we believed Nellie to be from, whereas we know my great grandfather James Kelleher, was from Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. If Nellie indeed had a Kelleher lineage in her own right, this could potentially demystify a lot of these matches that seemed to have the right name but the wrong place. Now that I have an actual SSN to work with, I can also see that the number, which begins with 063, is consistent with a NY State application, visiting for someone living in the Bronx.

    This constellation of coincidences was too much for me. I sent a message to this match, though I have yet to hear anything back.

    There is, of course, plenty of room for doubt. As far as my father knows, his grandmother never worked after she married (which was a full two decades before the advent of social security) and may or may not have ever officially naturalized as a citizen, and thus may never have had a reason to apply for a social security number of her own. My great-grandfather was not even issued a SSN himself until the 1957-1959 period, according to the SSDI… I’m guessing maybe because he worked for the Dept of Sanitation, given that he naturalized decades earlier? They did rent rooms out of their house, but I doubt they would have filed that income with the IRS. My father is also skeptical that any official record would be in the name “Nellie” rather than Ellen, for which he believes Nellie must have been a nickname. He can’t believe something official would sound so informal. This troubles me less than it does him – it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen official records in a (to our ears) nickname-y-sounding name (I have a first cousin twice removed whose name was officially recorded in both Ireland and the US as Ellie Kate), and to even my father’s knowledge, no one ever referred to her (and she never referred to herself) as Ellen in life. What few records mention her by name – 1920 census, 1930 census, James’s draft registration card – all say Nellie.

    Might a widowed homemaker have applied for her own SSN in 1964? Is that something that could have happened? Unfortunately James is listed in the SSDI but not the claims and applications index, so I cannot see records of claims made under his SSN. Nellie is not listed in the SSDI, so I cannot cross-reference that index for last-known-residence information. The only thing that I could think of that could give me a definitive answer was this original application, since I do know what her precise address was. And that is precise information that is missing from my correspondence with the SSA. Correspondence that oh so conveniently neglects to list any specific contact information for where in the bureaucratic morass of the SSA I can turn to ask why I received a Numident instead of the original microfilm printout for which I was charged.

    I apologize for the novel-length comment, I am just at my wits’ end. I feel I’ve come so close, but I don’t know how to proceed from here. What would you do?

    Thanks in advance for any answer at all you may be able to provide.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no place except the FOIA Office at SSA to ask any of those questions, but I would certainly do that.

  37. Mary Hermansen says:

    I just received form OA-701 for my grandfather. It shows the date he applied for SSN. [1944]
    He suffered a work related accident in 1948 which rendered him unable to work. Nine years later,[1957] at the age of 61, he died.
    Where can I get information that shows if my grandfather collected social Security DISIBILITY benefits?
    NOTE: I do know that he could only collect for a short time, 1956 to 1957.
    Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Your only hope is to file a Freedom of Information Act request — and don’t count on getting the information. Do keep in mind that social security disability benefits only began in 1956, and the likelihood is that he would have received state benefits more than federal benefits.

  38. Robert says:

    Has anyone tried sites like https://www.application-filing-service.com/ seems like it can save a lot of headache related to all the documents and ss-5 form.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      This is a private service that promises “value added” — which, I suspect, means “we’ll make you pay for this” and the site doesn’t appear to have a clue about people like genealogists who want SS-5 forms for others, rather than for themselves.

  39. Kim Clarke says:

    Is it possible to obtain a record of a deceased individual’s annual earnings as reported to SSA? I have SS-5 records for several ancestors and am curious about their economic situations during WWII. Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You can certainly make a Freedom of Information Act request for these records, but I suspect it would be denied on privacy grounds.

  40. Lisa says:

    I want to search for my birth father. When I went to do my marriage name change. I saw my father’s name listed. I wanted to copy that information so I can have something to look for him with but they didn’t let me. I don’t understand why. If that is my information. It should not be a problem for me to look at my own records. How can I get this document of my birth parents information from my social security records?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If this is on your SS5, you could try making an FOIA request (official request under the federal Freedom of Information Act) for it since it is a record pertaining to you.

  41. Marie says:

    I recieved my digital extract today in the mail for an ancestor born 124 years ago. I was very pleased to finally recieve this record until I realized that the names of the parents were missing. Was this a mistake on the part of the Social Security Administration, and if so, what should I do?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Two questions: (a) did you actually receive a digital extract (a form called a Numident) or the SS5 and (b) were the names there and blacked out or not there at all?

      • Marie says:

        I recieved a version that was not an image, it was a list of things on the record. The parents names had not been included.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          I’m afraid I’d need to see what you received to be able to suggest what to do, Marie. The description just isn’t enough. Feel free to take a photo of the document, even with your cellphone, and send it along. The email is legalgenealogist (at) gmail.com

          • Marie says:

            I checked, it says that it is a numident. So does this mean that Social Security withheld the names of this man’s parents, or did he simply not list them?

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            The Numident is not the same thing as the SS-5, and contains less information. It’s less expensive yes, but it doesn’t provide the same detail that the SS-5 does.

          • Marie says:

            So, should I order the SS-5? I could do that easily, I just hope that it pays off. You say that the parents’ names were required from the beginning, so I’m guessing that Social Security just didn’t include it on the numident. Is there an off chance that he may not have included his parents’ names? Anyways, once I go on the Social Security link you provided, I can just select the $27.00 version, right?

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            There aren’t any guarantees. The SS-5 might not include the parents’ names. But you’ll never know unless you order it. If it comes with any blacked out areas, you can immediately appeal (no cost, just a letter) since with his DOB being 124 years in the past, they should not redact the parents’ names.

          • Marie says:

            Ok. I will try to purchase the SS-5. There is no reason to believe that this particular man would not list his parents, right?

      • Marie says:

        I recieved a version that was not an image, it was a list of things on the record. The parents’ names had not been included.

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