News From Terre Haute, Indiana


December 4, 2011

GENEALOGY: Death Index helps when searching

Many of us use the Social Security Death Index when searching for relatives who died recently, or at least in the second half of the 20th century. The information on the SSDI, which is available free online in several locations, lists the deceased person’s name, social security number, the state the person was living in when he/she applied for the Social Security card, the date of death, and the place of residence at death. This information is all very useful to the family researcher.

The Social Security Administration is involved in collecting the names of deceased holders of Social Security cards from various sources, such as relatives of the decedent, funeral homes, federal agencies, postal authorities, state death records, hospitals, and financial institutions. The SSA gathers this information to compile a Death Master File. The SSA does not directly place the DMF on line, but, under the Freedom of Information Act, the SSA is required to disclose the public DMF to members of the public. This is how web sites like Ancestry get the public Death Master File information for compiling the Social Security Death Index.

But starting last month, there was a change in the way that the Social Security Administration collects and uses source information for its Death Master File, which is going to affect the availability of records on the Social Security Death Index. The Social Security Administration has determined that it is no longer allowed to make public any information that it obtains from protected state death records. This is a new interpretation of the law, part of the Social Security Act. This means that entries on the Death Master File that were obtained only from a state death record will not be released as part of the public DMF, but will be kept private. These particular entries will no longer be made available through the Freedom of Information Act, and therefore will not appear on the Social Security Death Index on the various genealogy websites.

What does this change mean to us genealogists? Well, historically the public DMF contains about 89 million records. Due to this re-interpretation of the law, approximately 4.2 million of these records will be have to be removed from the public portion of the file. This means 4.2 million fewer entries will be on the SSDI, available to genealogists. In addition, the SSA will no longer be able release future information on every death. Any record obtained through protected state death records will not be released to the public on the DMF. This means about 1 million fewer entries annually will be added to the public DMF, and therefore 1 million fewer records per year will show up on the Social Security Death Index.


The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society will stage its annual meeting and holiday social on Dec. 12 at the Vigo County Public Library starting at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. This meeting is for members only. There will be no program, but Society business and elections will be conducted followed by holiday foods, gifts, games, and door prizes.


I am interested in finding copies of old reunion pictures of the Creal family and Havens family who lived in and around Burnett, Vigo County, Indiana, during the 1800s and early 1900s. My great grandfather was James Lewis Creal and my great grandmother was Amanda Havens Creal. Interested in any and all pictures of these two families. Contact Joan Singhurse, 12200 S. Singhurse St., Terre Haute, IN 47802, phone (812) 894-2172, or email

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    March 12, 2010