Stephen P. Morse
1. How does your SSDI website differ from the others that are out on the web?
My site doesn't perform the search for you because I don't have a
engine nor do I have a copy of the SSDI data. Instead I allow you
to link to existing sites that do perform the searches. And for
least one of them I provide added value (see question 11).
2. Why do you link to several different search engines for searching the SSDI?
Because no one search engine supports all the parameters. The Ancestry engine can do a sounds-like search on the last name, but it can't search for a partial first name of less than three characters. Same for the Rootsweb engine, but it can do two different kinds of sounds-like searches. The Lineages engine can search for a partial first name of any length but cannot do a sounds like search on the last name and supports very few other parameters. The Genealogy engine can do both a sounds-like search on the last name and a search for a partial first name of any length. The FamilyTreeLegends engine cannot search on a partial first name but it is the only one that can search on the age at death.
The FamilyTreeLegends engine and the Rootsweb engine are the only ones that can search on the place that the last benefit was paid. And the FamilyTreeLegends engine and the Lineages engine are the only ones that supports a range of years for birth and death.
So your choice of search engine would depend on the type of search that you want to perform. If you like, you can use one search engine for one search and then easily switch to another search engine for the next.
If I had to make a recommendation, it would be for RootsWeb Plus
3. Which search parameters are supported by which search engines?
I created the following chart back in 2002, so by 2010 it had
become hopelessly out of date. Thanks to Pamela Boyer Sayre for
(notes 1, 4)
for last name
|(note 2)||(note 2)||(note 2)
|last name optional||yes||yes||yes
|partial last name||at least
1st 3 chars
1st 3 chars
1st 3 chars
for first name
|first name optional||yes||yes||yes
|partial first name||at least
1st 3 chars
1st 3 chars
|birth date||yes||year only
||yes||yes||year only||year only||no||yes||yes||yes||year only
|death date||yes||year only
||yes||yes||year only||year only||no||month and
|range of years||no||yes||yes
|age at death||no||no||no
|range of ages||no||no||no
|soc sec number||yes||yes||no
|shows all matches||yes||yes||yes
||yes||yes||yes||only first 75||no||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|partial SS number||no||no||no
|10||10||10||75||10 (note 6)||20||variable||variable||25|
note 1: See question 11 for a discussion of RootsWeb
note 2: Finds similar names but does not use soundex. For example, searching for Mors will find Moore.
note 3: Can specify either a birth date or a death date but not both
note 4: No longer exists
note 5: Can omit either the second or third fields of social security number but not both
note 6: Can be increased to 25 or 50 after first search
note 7: Applies to first page of results only
4. What is soundex?
Soundex involves assigning a numeric code to a name based on its
Names that have similar pronunciations would be given the same code. A
soundex search would return all names having the same soundex code as
desired name. So such a search would return the all names that
match the desired name as well as all similar sounding names.
5. What is metaphone?
Metaphone is an alternate sounds-like search that is supported by
of the search engines. Unlike soundex which encodes on a
basis, metaphone encodes groups of letters. As such, it more
embodies the rules of English pronunciation.
6. My aunt died a few years ago but I can't find her record in the database. Is this a complete list of everyone who died?
When a person dies, the funeral home or the family sends in a form to notify the Social Security Administration about the death. Usually the person is entered in the SSDI database at that time. However every month the Social Security Administration runs a program to check for all death certificates issued that month. If it finds out about the death from this program prior to being notified about the death by the funeral home or family member, then the person's name will never appear in the SSDI. I know, this sounds very strange, and the logic behind it escapes me. But I have been told this by a Social Security employee, and I have no reason to doubt him.
Of course even if the proper notification was made to the Social
Administration, it might take a few months before the online versions
the SSDI database are updated to include that death.
7. My father died in 1950 and the Social Security Administration was notified punctually, but I can't find his record. Are the earlier records missing?
Many deaths in the 1950s are not in the SSDI because they were
in an old format. However you can obtain these records by calling
the Social Security Administration directly on their toll-free number
8. Are the databases used by the different search engines the same?
In theory the answer is yes since they all get their data from the
source -- namely the Social Security Administration. Of course
might be a different delay in the various search engines in when they
their database, so one might be more recent than another (see question
10 for more details). But that's only temporary. Other than
the updating, the only difference between the search engines is the
that they search on.
9. Once I find the record, how do I obtain the actual document?
You can obtain the original social security application by writing to the Social Security Administration at the following address:
Social Security AdministrationYou can obtain either a photocopy of the original application (currently $27, used to be only $7) or an abbreviated printout ($16).
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
10 How frequently is this data updated and how recent is it?
The Social Security Administration generates updates monthly.
Of course it's up to the individual search engine as to how frequently
they chose to update their database. To get an idea of how
each one does it, here is some empirical results based on searching for
SMITH at the date of this writing (May 19, 2005). The most recent
entries that I found for each search engine are as follows:
|Family Search||January 2005|
|Family Tree Legends||September 2003|
|Lineages||-- no longer online --|
|NE Ancestors||April 2005|
11. What is RootsWeb Plus?
As discussed in questions 2 and 3, no search engine is perfect. Each has a different flaw. RootsWeb Plus is my attempt to generate one search engine that combines the desirable features of all the others.
I used the RootsWeb search engine as my starting point. However RootsWeb has the following failings:
Requires at least three characters for a partial first name or partial last nameSo I developed my own software that modifies the behavior of the RootsWeb search engine in order to rectify the above defects. I call that RootsWeb Plus.
Does not allow you to search on a range of birth years or a range of death years
Does not allow you to search on age at death
Does not allow you to specify a foreign last residence
Does not allow you to specify the day of month for the death (does allow it for birth)
Does not allow you specify how many hits you want displayed per page
Does not display the age as part of the results
However a caveat is in order. The way my software searches on birth and death ranges is to do repeated searches for each year in the range. Same for partial first and last names of less than three characters. If you use too many of these features together, the number of repeated searches can get quite large and the time taken might get prohibitive. So use these combinations prudently.
[Second thoughts: Rootsweb started blocking my IP address so I am no longer able to offer RootsWeb Plus.]
-- Steve Morse