An SS-5, the application form used to enroll in the U.S. Social Security program, can be a great genealogical resource for learning more about ancestors who died after the year 1936. Before making an application for a copy of your ancestor's records, you should first locate them the Social Security Death Index.
What Can I Learn From a Social Security Application?
The SS-5 form generally includes the following information:
- Full name
- Full name at birth, including maiden name
- Present mailing address
- Age at last birthday
- Date of birth
- Place of birth (city, county, state)
- Father's full name
- Mother's full name, including maiden name
- Race as indicated by the applicant
- Whether the applicant had ever applied for Social Security or Railroad Retirement before
- Current employer's name and address
- Date signed
- Applicant's signature
Who is Eligible to Request a Copy of the SS-5?
As long as a person is deceased, the Social Security Administration will provide a copy of this Form SS-5 to anyone who makes a request under the Freedom of Information Act. They will also release this form to a living registrant (the person a Social Security Number belongs to), or anyone who has obtained a release-of-information statement signed by the person about whom the information is sought. To protect the privacy of living individuals, there are specific requirements for SS-5 requests involving "extreme age."
- The SSA will not provide a copy of the SS-5 or otherwise release information about any person who is under 120 years old unless you can provide acceptable proof of death (e.g., death certificate, obituary, newspaper article, or police report).
- The SSA will also redact (blackout) parents' names on an SS-5 application unless you can provide proof that the parents are deceased or both have a birth date more than 120 years ago. They will also release parents' names in cases where the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age. This restriction is, unfortunately, a bit tricky when your purpose of requesting the SS-5 is to learn the names of the parents.
How to Request a Copy of the SS-5
The easiest way to request a copy of the SS-5 form for your ancestor is to apply online through the Social Security Administration. A printable version of this SS-5 Application Form is also available for mail-in requests.
Alternatively, you can send (1) the person's name, (2) the person's Social Security Number (if known), and (3) either evidence of death or a release-of-information statement signed by the person about whom the information is sought, to:
Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
Mark both the envelope and its contents: "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST" or "INFORMATION REQUEST."
There is an application fee of $24 for mailed applications and $22 for online applications regardless of if the Social Security Number is known, and you must provide the person's full name, date, and place of birth, and names of parents. If you have a Social Security Number from family records or a death certificate but are unable to locate the individual in the SSDI, then it is strongly suggested that you include proof of death with your application, as it will likely be returned to you otherwise with that request. If the individual was born less than 120 years ago, you also need to include proof of death with your request.
The usual wait time for receiving a copy of a Social Security Application Form is six to eight weeks, so be prepared to be patient. Online applications are generally a bit quicker-often with a turnaround time of three to four weeks, although this may vary based on demand. Also, it is important to note that the online application system doesn't work if you need to provide proof of death.