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Issues with that Social Security form

It’s one of the most useful documents there can be from a genealogical perspective –- and often one of the most frustrating to obtain.

It’s the SS-5, the application for a Social Security number that many of our more recent ancestors filled out starting in the 1930s to obtain the ubiquitous number we all use for so many reasons.

The document itself is worth its weight in gold because it was generally filled out by the person and contains specific genealogical information: name, date and place of birth, and the genealogical gold of the person’s identification of his or her parents.

This is a topic The Legal Genealogist has addressed more than once before, both as to ordering the SS-5 form1 and its likely contents.2

The reason is simple: since many of the earliest participants in the Social Security program were born before widespread recordation of births became a requirement in many US states, getting this evidence of the identification of parents is often well worth the time, effort and money. But there are certainly times when it’s harder than it should be.

Three recent reader questions point out the difficulties.

Case one: reader George had one of the most frustrating experiences of all with the Social Security Administration. He sent in his request for an ancestor’s SS-5 form and included the individual’s name and Social Security number and the persons he believed had been listed as parents. But his request was sent back, his check for the fee included, with a statement that “more information was required.”

The problem here, of course, is that there isn’t any more information that most of us can supply. We don’t know for sure who the parents were who were named, or date or place of birth, or other information that might help. But it’s also the case that more information shouldn’t be necessary. With the name and Social Security number, any clerk should be able to retrieve the SS-5 form. It may have been that the parents listed weren’t the ones George expected and that gave the clerk reason to pause.

So in George’s case, the best solution is the simplest solution: send the request in again with only the name and Social Security number and not including the parents’ names this time. Trying again when you know the document should be retrievable is often the way to go.

Case two: another reader knew the Social Security number but wasn’t certain of the name of the person for whom he was trying to obtain the SS-5 form. Although you’d think that the number itself would be all that would be necessary, in general the Social Security administration won’t make the effort to retrieve the form when a name is not provided.

In this case, the best solution — even though perhaps not the least expensive solution — is to make the request with the name that you think the person would have used when applying for the number. Provide any aliases you think may have been used and any variations in the spelling of the name. That may require more than one search, which is why it may not be the least expensive option. But it’s the likeliest means of coming up with the right SS-5 for the right person.

Case three: reader Nikki Walker found a reference to her second great-grandfather in an database entitled the “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.” but when she sent off for the SS-5 form for that second great grandfather, the response was that no record was found.

How could it be, she wondered, that his name could be listed in the index but they couldn’t find a form that he had filed?

The answer here is generally that the person is listed as the parent on a child’s application or as the spouse on someone else’s form — and never actually obtained a Social Security number of his or her own. In that case, the person certainly shows up in the index, but only as the parent or spouse. There won’t be an SS-5 for that person individually.

These aren’t the only issues involved in ordering an SS-5 form, of course, and many of the other issues are addressed in the earlier blog posts.

No, it isn’t always an easy matter to get this document. And sometimes it is impossible to get it at all. But whenever it is possible, it’s worth the effort and, with luck, the suggestions here will help.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Ordering the SS-5,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 31 May 2013 ( : accessed 2 Apr 2018), and ibid., “Ordering the SS-5: redux,” posted 6 Jan 2016.
  2. See ibid., “POB and the SS-5,” posted 5 Jan 2016.
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