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An alternative resource… but not as good

Genealogists want the best resource.

The one with the most information.

The one with — oh, just as one example — an ancestor’s signature.

The original record, however and whenever we can get our hands on it or the closest to the original we can get.

That’s why The Legal Genealogist loves the so-called SS-5 form, the Application for a Social Security Number. It’s an original record, usually filled out by the person applying for a Social Security number or at least reviewed and signed by that person.

And why the post here on Monday focused on how to use the new ordering system for getting photocopies of these records.1

And — sigh — it was only minutes after that post went live that folks started suggesting that it’s possible to get as much information from the free Numident database at the National Archives’ site Access to Archival Databases (AAD).

Um… no.

There’s nothing wrong with using that database… just understand that it’s not complete, not original, and even when your target person is included you may miss things like those signatures.

In other words, it’s just not as good.

Let’s start by understanding the difference between an SS-5 and a Numident. The SS-5 form itself is a person’s “original Application for a Social Security Card,” usually filled out by the person individually or at least reviewed and signed by that person. The “Numident” — short for “Numerical Identification” — is the Social Security Administration’s computer extract from those SS-5 forms. 2

In short, the SS-5 is the original; the Numident is a derivative second-generation database entry.

And what’s the difference?

Here’s my maternal grandfather’s SS-5.3

Clay SS5

And here’s my maternal grandmother’s Numident.4

Opal numident

No signature on that second one, is there? That alone makes it worth getting the original, if we can. And, of course, getting the original means not running the risk of data entry errors in the second-generation copy.

On top of that, there’s the problem of the records that aren’t there in the AAD database at all.

Anybody who didn’t have a verified death between 1936 and 2007 or who wouldn’t have been more than 110 years old by 31 December 2007? Not there.5

My maternal grandfather — born 1898, died 1970 — in the AAD? Not there.

My paternal grandfather’s cousin Elizabeth Marks — born 1880, died 1970? Not there.

My paternal grandfather’s sister Elly Froemke — born 1888, died 1964? Not there.

And for anyone who is there? No signatures. No indications of insertions or deletions. (There are tons on Elizabeth Marks’ SS-5.)

So use the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) for sure. In some cases it’ll give you the parents’ names we all want to see.

But don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that any derivative second-generation database entry is like getting the original.

It’s just not as good.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “It’s just not as good,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 18 Nov 2020).


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Ordering the SS-5: 2020 style,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Nov 2020 ( : accessed 18 Nov 2020).
  2. See “Request a copy of Deceased Person’s Original Application for a Social Security Card (SS-5) or Numident Record,” FOIA Request Methods and Fees, Social Security Administration ( : accessed 15 Nov 2020).
  3. Clay Rex Cottrell, SS no. (withheld for privacy), 22 June 1937, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. Opal Cottrell, SS no. (withheld for privacy), 15 March 1966, Numident, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.
  5. See “Frequently Asked Questions, Numerical Identification (NUMIDENT) Files, Updated May 15, 2020,” Access to Archival Databases (AAD), National Archives, ( : accessed 18 Nov 2020).
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