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When we don’t get what we asked for

Reader Barbara Dottino had an unpleasant surprise when she asked the U.S. Social Security Administration for a copy of a relative’s SS-5 form.

She wanted a copy of the original application for a Social Security number. But that’s not what Barbara received in response to her request: “I recently requested an SS-5 and they sent me an OAC-790,” she wrote. “On this document it indicates that the original SS-5 was sent to PC on 5/29/1969. Where is PC? I thought the SS-5 would show her parents names, etc. They indicated that this is all that available. How can that be if the original was sent to PC?”

OA-C790

Ouch. That can be really bad news. Let’s break this down.

First off, a quick reminder about the SS-5. Remember, that’s the application for a Social Security number we all had to file — or our parents filed for us — that lists genealogically-significant information including the person’s 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, the date the form was filled out and a signature.1 So this is always something we want, and we get this by filing a request with the Social Security Administration and paying a fee.

What we get in response to a request, however, can vary. That SS-5 form may not be available in all cases. There are, in fact, four possibilities in terms of what the SSA sends us:

• A copy of the SS-5 itself;

• A copy of what’s called a Numident for the individual;

• A copy of the OA-C790 form for the person; or

Sigh… A statement that they don’t have a record at all.

Now, obviously, the best result is that we get the SS-5 form, either in full or with some redactions that we can then dispute under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The Numident form is the next best. It’s an electronic abstract that’s supposed to contain all of the information used at the time someone applied for a Social Security card. It’s not as good as the SS-5 because (a) it’s not the original and (b) for those born before 1910, information like the names of the parents is often not included.

And not all Numident records are SS-5 abstracts: these can also include abstracts of claims or death entries which often don’t have as much detail.2 In reality, we can probably get the same information that’s on the Numident from the National Archives — do a search at the Archives’ Access to Archival Databases series for SSA records. But there are cases where the original SS-5 doesn’t survive — it wasn’t microfilmed or can’t be found — and the Numident is the next best.

The third option is the one that Barbara got — and, as you can see from the image above, The Legal Genealogist understands the frustration. That image is my own grandmother’s form OA-C790, Request for E/R Action. And it has that same language about the original being sent to PC with claim.

So… here’s the deal:

Form OA-C790 gets its name from an old – now unused – set of form for retirement or “Old Age”. … In general, this form is an approval of benefits to a surviving spouse or, if no surviving spouse, to the beneficiary. … Years ago, all claims had to be reviewed in one of six Payment Centers (PC), in order to ensure accuracy… In order to control against setting up duplicate claim folders in the program centers (and possible duplicate payments), the original SS-5 was included with the claim material (that is, the application, the earnings record of the individual, and necessary proofs and documentation). Payment would not be made unless the SS-5 was in the claims folder in the (PC). … any claim file in the PCs that had reached a certain age without being accessed was eventually destroyed.3

So we get this when all that survives in the records of the SSA is an electronic abstract of information entered on a form kept when the original SS-5 was sent to an old Payment Center — and never got microfilmed or retained.

Now some OA-C790 forms are better than others. At least we get some of the info we want. In my grandmother’s case, we still get her name (Cottrell, Opal E.), her birthdate (08-21-1898), the date of her application (02-22-1966); her father’s name (Jasper C Robertson) and mother’s maiden name (Eula Baird), plus her birthplace (Eagle Lake Texas). So every single entry on the form we do get needs to be carefully noted.

The hitch, of course, is that not all forms will name the parents — and that’s the piece we want the most.

That’s the short and long of it: the OA-C790 isn’t what we hope for when we ask for a copy of an SS-5 form. But sometimes it’s all that survives.

And it’s better than nothing.

Even if it still hurts when we don’t get what we asked for.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The unavailable SS-5,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 15 Feb 2024).

SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Ordering the SS-5: 2024 style,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Jan 2024 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 15 Feb 2024).
  2. See U.S. National Archives, Access to Archival Databases (AAD), “Frequently Asked Questions: Numerical Identification (NUMIDENT) Files,” 17 Dec 2018 (https://aad.archives.gov/aad/ : accessed 15 Feb 2024), PDF at 2.
  3. Yigal Rechtman, Social Security Adminstration & Genealogy, “Q. 2.8: What is form OA-C790 (aka OAC-790) and how should it be read?,” Rechtman.com (https://rechtman.com/ : accessed 15 Feb 2024).
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