In the United States, Social Security refers to the federal government sponsored retirement and disability insurance program. The original Social Security program was enacted in 1935.
Although individual Social Security records are confidential and not available to the public the US Government does release certain individual records shortly after an individual's death. These individual records can be found in the Social Security Death Index.
An individual record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) contains an individual's name, dates of birth and death, social security number and the state that originally issued the social security card to the individual.
The record also lists the zip code or city, county and state where the individual last resided and where the last social security benefit payment was sent before the individual's death.
By 2012 the SSDI contained records for approximately 90 million individuals and the number of individuals in the database continues to increase each day. Even though Social Security didn't begin until 1935 there are death records in the Social Security Death Index for many individuals who were born before 1900.
You can search the SSDI database online in many ways. For example, you might provide only an individual's name and year of birth for a search that might return the individual's date of death as well as some last residence information. With this discovered information you might be able to find an obituary for the deceased in a local newspaper.
You can also purchase a copy of any individual's SS-5 which is the application for a social security card. The SS-5 might provide the names of the individual's parents as well as the individual's residence at the time of the application.
See our Case Study-Social Security Death Index: Gill where we ordered an SS-5 and discovered additional information about an individual who applied for a card on May 1, 1940 - we learned the names of his wife, father and mother as well as his place of birth, home address and the name and address of his employer.
The Social Security Death Index is no longer online at rootsweb but you can search the Social Security Death Index online at ancestry.com.
In many cases you can find the death date of a deceased US citizen in the Social Security Death Index.
If you know a person's death date (or even just the death year) it is much easier to find obituary information for that individual.