Bruce C., another frequent participant at our monthly genealogy programs, made me aware of a rather startling and unnerving development in the world of making a request to obtain a copy of a Social Security Application from within the Social Security Administration.
For genealogists, submitting a request to the Social Security Administration to obtain a copy of a person’s Social Security Application has often been the only way to discover new genealogical information about an ancestor. Such information had been impossible to obtain from other research, such as the maiden name of the mother of the person making the original application or perhaps discovering the actual town name of origin of the person making the application when that had been impossible to discover in any other research.
The SSA does not come cheap. You must spend $27 if you know the ancestor’s SSN or $29 if you do not.
You often obtained some great information in the past when you received the copy of the Social Security Application.
However, Bruce C. has made me aware that this appears to be changing in a very negative way for which spending your good, hard-earned money may get you absolutely nothing of value in return, especially the information about the parents of the person that made the original Social Security Application!!
I am including the text of what Bruce C. sent to me describing this developing dilemma. His text follows in Italics after the line separator. Bruce’s comments also include a link to some information from Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, a well-known professional genealogist. Don’t forget to look at her comments.
This turn of events is somewhat predictable related to how governmental agencies are taking very hard-line stances to protect the privacy of individuals going back over far too long of a time interval (120 years!) as in this case.
You may want to think about submitting this expensive request in the future knowing you may not receive back the most important part of information that would propel your research forward. You may just have to make your discoveries in other manners. It sounds like it is “roll up your sleeves” time and look for alternate sources than the SSA application.
Schaumburg Township District Library
Some of the group’s members may be aware that it is possible to order a copy of a deceased person’s original Social Security Application. The form for such a request is known as “SSA-711” and is available as PDF file from the SSA web site. This service costs $27 if you already know the person’s Social Security Number, or $29 if you don’t. But there is now a risk of wasting your money on this due to new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) restrictions. The document you receive may have the names of the parents of the individual deleted unless said parents were born more than 120 years ago. So if the names of the parents were why you ordered the document, you lose. Here is the complete statement of restrictions from their site:
“Please Note: We will not disclose information about any person in our records who is under 120 years old, except in those cases where we have acceptable proof of death (e.g., death certificate, obituary, newspaper article, or police report).
Also, under our current policy, we do not release the parents’ names on an SS-5 application unless the parents’ are proven deceased, have a birth date more than 120 years ago, or the number holder on the SS-5 is at least 100 years of age.”
So, for example, if you wanted to obtain a copy of the original SS-5 submitted by a person born in 1920, because you don’t know anything about the person’s parents, you won’t be able to learn that information because the SSA assumes the parents of that person are alive and most likely over 113 years old!
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak posted an article about this issue (which is how I found out about it) at: