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Just how good will the info be?

A great question came in yesterday from reader Jon Federman — and boy, does it need an answer everyone can see.

It has to do with the information recorded on the SS-5 — that application for a social security number that’s so important to so many of us in trying to track down family information.

It’s one document where we know the applicant was supposed to list critical information like date and place of birth and even the names of the parents.

It’s also one document that doesn’t come free: the current fee is $27 if you know the social security number and $29 if you don’t provide the number.1

It can take a long time, often months, between the time you make a request and the time the document comes in, and even if you do everything right, you may not get all the information you want because of privacy rules.2

So, Jon said, he had a big question before he spent the time and money to order a record:

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?

Now … any and all of us struggling to track our foreign-born relatives back to a town of origin can all wish the answer to Jon’s question was an unequivocal yes. Wouldn’t it be nice if each and every applicant had to list everything down to the street address of the birthplace?

But, alas, that simply wasn’t the case.

Yes, the application form called for the birthplace and, ultimately, for the city, county and state of birth.

But no, no matter what the form said, the Social Security Administration didn’t bounce an application where the foreign-born applicant didn’t list anything more than a country of birth.

I can say that with absolute certainty because I have an example in my own family:


My grandfather’s sister Elly simply listed Germany as her birthplace when she got her social security number in 1951.

So… Jon’s grandfather might have listed a city or district in Poland… but then again he might not have.

You pays your money and you takes your chances…


  1. See “FOIA Request Methods and Fees : Fees for Frequently Requested Records,” Social Security Administration ( : accessed 4 Jan 2016).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Ordering the SS-5,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 31 May 2013 ( : accessed 4 Jan 2016).
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