Climbing the Family Tree - with a Boost from Social Security

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Climbing the Family Tree - with a Boost from Social Security


Byline: Esther Hatfield District Manager, Elgin Social Security Office

On Sept. 16, 1620, John Tilley, his wife, Joan, and their daughter, Elizabeth, boarded a ship in Southhampton, England, and sailed west, landing three months later at a site that came to be known as Plymouth Rock.

The ship, of course, was the Mayflower. Elizabeth eventually married another Mayflower passenger, John Howland.

Nine generations later, one of their heirs, Elizabeth Pierce, married Courtland Butler, who was also the descendent of a Mayflower passenger.

Elizabeth and Courtland's grand-daughter, Flora Sheldon, married the owner of a railroad parts supply company in Columbus, Ohio. His name was Sam Bush. And their great-grandson would go on to become the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.

Tracing your family's history can be a fascinating hobby. And Social Security can help you dig through the roots and eventually climb the family tree.

Many genealogists and family historians already are familiar with resources and records available from the Social Security Administration.

For those who aren't, here is a thumbnail guide to the information you can get from Social Security's files.

But first, a note of caution: We are extremely concerned about privacy of individual records.

Except for officially authorized disclosures, we legally are required to keep records under lock and key for all living people.

So you never will be able to get any information from Social Security about your Aunt Sally or your long-lost Uncle Ned if they are still alive.

But if they're gone, there are several Social Security records you might be able to find.

Social Security death index: The Social Security Administration maintains a record called the "Death Master File."

This is a list of everyone who had a Social Security number for whom we received a death report.

However, we don't distribute the file directly to the public. The Department of Commerce does that, but it costs an arm and a leg (thousands of dollars) to get a copy!

Most genealogists obtain the file, usually billed as the "Social Security death index," through a variety of commercial sources that had previously purchased the file from the government.

For example, it's almost always included on a CD with genealogy software products. …

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