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The Social Security Administration is making changes to the public Death Master File—the
source of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that genealogists know and love to
use—that’ll impact your research.
Effective today, Nov. 1, the Death Master File will no longer contain “protected”
records the SSA receives from states. According to a notice from the National Technical
Information Service (NTIS), which disseminates the Death Master File, “Section 205(r)
of the Act prohibits SSA from disclosing state death records SSA receives through
its contracts with the states, except in limited circumstances.”
4.2 million of the 89 million deaths in the Death Master File will be removed, and
approximately 1 million fewer deaths will be added each year.
I’m working on getting clarification on when and where the removed deaths occurred,
and whether genealogy websites will have to remove those deaths from their current
versions of the SSDI.
Update: The records now in Ancestry.com’s version of the SSDI will stay, says
spokesperson Matthew Deighton. “The current records that we have on Ancestry.com will
remain unaffected,” he says. “We understand that we may receive fewer records from
the Social Security Administration, but it is not clear which record sets will be
impacted at this point. We recognize the importance of these databases to the family
history community and will do our best to minimize the impact of this to our users.
Ancestry.com will continue to monitor this situation.”
The changes are bad news for the genealogists who use the SSDI. Banks, employers and
others who use the public Death Master File for security reasons—for example, to see
whether an applicant is using a dead person’s SSN—will also undoubtedly be unhappy.
(So, the Death Master File actually helps prevent identity theft.) Medical researchers
use the database to track former patients and study subjects, too.
Here’s the full notice from the NTIS (it’s in a PDF linked
on this page):
We receive Death Master File (DMF) data from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
SSA receives death reports from various sources, including family members, funeral
homes, hospitals, and financial institutions.
Q: What change is SSA making to the Public DMF?
A: Effective November 1, 2011, the DMF data that we receive from SSA will no longer
contain protected state death records. Section 205(r) of the Act prohibits SSA from
disclosing state death records SSA receives through its contracts with the states,
except in limited circumstances. (Section 205r link – http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title02/0205.htm)
Q: How will this change affect the size of the Public DMF?
A: The historical Public DMF contains 89 million records. SSA will remove approximately
4.2 million records from this file and add about 1 million fewer records annually.
REMINDER: DMF users should always investigate and verify the death listed before taking
any adverse action against any individual.