In September, 2017, Reclaim The Records made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of what is colloquially called the Social Security Applications and Claims Index from the United States Social Security Administration. This request was one of the first two FOIA requests our organization had ever made under the federal law, rather than a state-level FOI law such as a state Sunshine Law.
This index is not the better-known Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which is also called the Social Security Death Master File (SSDMF). That database is updated once a week and currently has a three-year embargo for non-government users.
This index, the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, is more accurately known as “the NUMIDENT application (SS-5) files” (72,182,729 records), and “the NUMIDENT claim records files” (25,230,486 records). See this NARA document, bottom of page 2, for more information.
This database has been available on the commercial genealogy website Ancestry.com since about 2015. And it’s a really awesome and unique resource, full of parents’ names, maiden names, married names, etc.
That’s why we decided to liberate and publish the first FREE PUBLIC COPY, not behind a $300/year paywall. ?
The current estimated completion date for this request is July 13, 2018. We’ll update this page as the situation changes.
Here is the actual text of our FOIA request, filed in September 2017 through the MuckRock website:
To Whom It May Concern:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
I represent a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Reclaim The Records. We are an activist group of genealogists, historians, journalists, and open government advocates who acquire genealogical and archival data sets and images from government sources, often through the use of Freedom of Information laws. We then upload those records to the Internet, making them freely available to the public and returning them to the public domain.
We request a copy of a database that is commonly known as the “Social Security Applications and Claims Index”, although that may not be the exact name your agency uses for it internally. It is a database composed of information filed with the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process. It appears to include information from your NUMIDENT data, showing original data taken from SS-5 applications for Social Security Numbers (SSN), but it also includes claim information, including Life Claims and Death Claims, as well as Duplicate SSN requests. Database fields include fields such as name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, parents’ names, type of claim, and so on. This database would only contain information about people whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration or who would be more than 110 years old if still living.
Your agency has already provided a copy of this data to the commercial genealogy company Ancestry.com, in approximately 2015, and they have since made it available online here:
However, the full search results within that database are held behind the company’s paywall, and only visible to their logged-in subscribers. We are now requesting a copy of this database for our non-profit organization, so that we may post it online for free public use. While Ancestry appears to have posted a copy of this data for 1937-2007, we are requesting that our data set go up to the present day, or as recently as is available.
We would also like to recommend that your agency upload a copy of the file to the federal government’s open data portal, data.gov.
We request that this file be turned over to us in database format, as it already exists in a database. We would like to receive it on a portable USB drive, and we are willing to pay the costs for purchasing that drive and for its insured and trackable domestic shipping, as well as any fees associated with fulfilling this request. Please inform us of all fees in advance of fulfilling our order.
Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your timely response within twenty business days, as the statute requires.
State or Vital Records Jurisdiction: Nationwide
Government Agency: United States Social Security Administration
Record Type: Social Security Records
Record Years: 1936-2007, possibly later
Record Format: Index
Record Physical Format: Database
Number of Records (Estimated): about 72 million NUMIDENT applications (SS-5), about 25 million claim records