Select Page

Comments due on SS-5 access

As much as The Legal Genealogist tries to keep up with legal issues that impact genealogy, sometimes things sneak past. This is one of those that almost snuck past, so here’s a very late call to action:

We have until the end of the day tomorrow, Monday, November 13th, to comment on a truly boneheaded proposal by the National Archives to dramatically stall public access to the SS-5 forms created by the Social Security Administration (SSA): those applications for Social Security numbers that we all rely on as genealogical evidence for dates and places of birth, parentage and more for folks who were covered by the Social Security system starting as early as 1938.

It’s a hard proposal to read and understand, which is why it flew under the radar for so long. In essence, it says nobody has to make these forms readily available — without a request under the Freedom of Information Act and the likelihood of redaction of critical information — until the year 2092.

You read that right.


When we’ll all be long gone.

Call to action image by Dall-E

In a nutshell … SSA says it’s too hard to make these records fully available now, so rather than trying to find a way to make them as available as possible, the National Archives proposal simply caves and says fine, we’ll just leave these in a system where they’re really hard to get to.

So… here are the major problems with the proposed delay in transferring these records from the Social Security Administration to the National Archives as outlined by the Association of Professional Genealogists:

Delay: The current proposal does not transfer any of these records until 2092. Given the vital importance of SS-5s in genealogical research, such a delay is unreasonable.

Access: The cumbersome process of obtaining SS-5s through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and SSA’s redactions severely limit researchers.

Historical Importance: SS-5s are one of the few records with self-reported parental details, vital for research.

Stated Rationale: The justification of SSA’s business needs doesn’t hold since these are digital records accessible to both NARA and SSA.

Preservation Concerns: SSA has previously faced challenges in maintaining the quality and preservation of these records.

We all acknowledge that there are privacy and logistical concerns in getting these records from SSA to the National Archives. But those problems can be overcome or at least the impact mitigated:

Leverage Technology: Use artificial intelligence to automate the indexing of SS-5s, aiding in efficient and timely transfers.

Immediate Accession with Restrictions: Allow access to specific records upon request until full indexing is possible.

Redaction: Consider masking only the Social Security Numbers for immediate public access, with potential future unmasking.

Alternative Compromises: Immediate transfer of older SS-5s or the transfer of each digitized microfilm individually.

Advocate for a 100-Year Rule: Pressuring SSA for an accelerated timeline would allow earlier access.

Assured Preservation: Even if immediate public access isn’t granted, ensuring that the records are stored safely under NARA’s care is paramount.

That’s the basic argument, and we need the community to step up and say so. Public comments can be submitted at, and that’s where you can also read the full proposal. And you can read the letter submitted by APG on the issue here.

There’s no good reason for all SS-5s to stay behind the FOIA wall until 2092. But if we don’t speak up, that’s exactly what will happen.

So comment, please, by the end of the day, tomorrow, Monday, November 13.

Access to records is up to us.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Deadline: tomorrow!,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 12 Nov 2023).

Image by Dall-E, AI-generated 12 Nov 2023.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email