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Five Minute Finds: Searching for Vital Records

Find A Grave

Find A Grave Index -- now incorporated into for hints and connections.  However, you also want to link out to the actual site, because additional information may be found there, too.

From the site:

Find the graves of ancestors, create virtual memorials, add 'virtual flowers' and
a note to a loved one's grave, etc.


Search for a cemetery

 • Add burial records

Social Security Death Index

Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014  [source:  Ancestry Library]

The Death Master File (DMF) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) currently contains over 89 million records and is updated weekly. The file is created from internal SSA records of deceased persons possessing social security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the SSA. Often this was done in connection with filing for death benefits by a family member, an attorney, a mortuary, etc. Each update of the DMF includes corrections to old data as well as additional names. [NOTE: If someone is missing from the list, it may be that the benefit was never requested, an error was made on the form requesting the benefit, or an error was made when entering the information into the SSDI.]

This file includes the following information on each decedent, if the data is available to the SSA:

  • Last name

  • First name

  • Social Security Number

  • State issued

  • Birth date

  • Death date

  • Last residence

  • Lump sum payment

The absence of a particular person in the SSDI is not proof this person is alive. Additionally, there is a possibility that incorrect records of death have been entered on the DMF. The Social Security Administration does not guarantee the accuracy of the file.


When you know the information, be as specific as possible to avoid a large of hits. (Large can be somewhere over a couple hundred or so.) If you are unable to find someone you are looking for, here are some things to try:

  • Change dates around (e.g. instead of searching for 5 Oct 1954 [10/5/54], search for 10 May 1954 [5/10/54])

  • Change years around (e.g. 1984 becomes 1948)

  • Use all other possible spellings of the name (and perhaps some that aren't so likely)

  • Switch last name and first name around

  • Try searching for a middle name as a first name

  • Even if you know a piece of information, try omitting it (e.g. if you know first and last name and death date, try leaving off the first name).

Click here for other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the SSDI