Social Security Applications: A Source for Finding the Names of Immigrants' Parents

by: Megan A. Smolenyak ©1995

So you've been lucky enough to find the village that your grandfather came from. Better still, the church records for the village have been filmed and are available through your local FHC. So you order the microfilm and look for the birth record of your grandfather. But what's this? There are three baby boys born with that same name within an 18 month period. Which one is your grandfather?

No matter how unusual your family name may be in the U.S., chances are it will be common in your village of origin. Add to this the fact that the same first names were generally used generation after generation, and you will get a taste of what it's like to search for a John Smith.

But there is a record you can obtain in the U.S. to help determine which is really your grandfather -- his Social Security application - Form SS-5. If the person you're searching for was alive and working sometime from 1937 on, there's a good chance there's an application on file for him (unfortunately, this is a less useful resource for women until recent decades when virtually everyone started to get a Social Security card).

This record is brief and doesn't contain much information, but it does contain the name of the applicant's parents (father's full name and mother's maiden name) and the applicants birth place which will allow you to determine which of the baby boys was your grandfather. Of course, you can sometimes obtain this information from the immigrant's death certificate, but it's frequently in error. Remember, the names contained in a death certificate are generally supplied by a surviving child who probably never met his grandparents or knew much of them. It's not unusual to find guesswork or simply blank lines on death certificates where the deceased's parents' names should be. What makes the Social Security application so valuable is the fact that the names of the parents are provided by the immigrant himself. As an added bonus, you get the applicant's signature.

You can request this document by writing to:

Social Security Administration
Office of Central Operations Genealogy
300 N. Greene St.
Baltimore, MD 21235

You can can check this out at

To the best of your ability, you must supply the person's full name, date and place of birth, date and documentation of death (it's a good idea to include a copy of the death certificate if you have it - if you have no death certificate, a copy of the print out from the SS Death Index should suffice [gg]), and their parent's full names. If you can also supply the Social Security number, the cost is $7.50 (as of a year or so ago -- may have gone up). This can often be found on the death certificate or through the Social Security Death Index. Without this information, the cost is $16.00 (also as of a year ago). Be patient, because three months seems to be a typical processing period.

If anyone has any updates or modifications to this information, please e-mail Megan. Thanks!

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