Opinion

What you might not know about Social Security

With the advent of Social Security a valuable collection of resources eventually became available to genealogists. While most genealogists have used the Social Security (SS) Death Index, there are other resources you may not have realized exist.

The first genealogical asset associated with Social Security was the great influx of Delayed Birth Records. When my husband and I transcribed the Dover-Foxcroft vital records we were amazed at the sheer number of delayed births filed in the 1930s.

Maine had required reporting of vital records from 1892 but that law was apparently often ignored. With Social Security, people had to have a birth record to file for benefits or to obtain a number in order to get work. And, in the Great Depression with nearly half the country unemployed, those Social Security dollars were vital to survival.

When you’re researching you may find Delayed Births listed in a separate volume from other births or entered here and there where they could be squeezed onto a page among other records. It’s quite common to discover a delayed birth record in your family tree. My father, his siblings, and my maternal grandmother’s births were never recorded and had to be filed later in their lives.

The Death Index is the best known resource connected with Social Security. If you’ve never bothered to use this you definitely should. Here you will find a person’s name, birth and death date, place of last residence, and where the Social Security number was issued.

Many people neglect this last bit of information thinking it of little value. However, it helped me confirm that a man who lived and married in New York was really my great uncle from Connecticut. I assumed it was someone with the same name especially as the wife’s given name was different from the one known to the family. It was the SS record that led me to discover she used her middle name all her life except on official documents. With the death dates I was able to obtain death records from Connecticut where the couple had moved from New York.

Just as valuable are the SS applications themselves. You can purchase a copy for a fee. I purchased my maternal grandfather’s since there was confusion about where he was born and at various times family members listed three different towns as his birthplace. It was the copy of his Social Security application, filled out in his own hand that confirmed which of the three he considered his birthplace. The application helped me establish his parentage and break down a brick wall and the fee was well worth it.

Even if you’ve been using Social Security records for years you may be missing some of the associated information this resource can provide. While there’s a delay now in posting death information due to identity theft, these records are well worth using in your research. Often we need to revisit an old source to truly mine all the hidden gold among the data.

Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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