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# Wednesday, 02 November 2011
SSA to Remove "Protected" Death Records From Death Master File
Posted by Diane

The Social Security Administration is making changes to the public Death Master File—the source of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that genealogists know and love to use—that’ll impact your research.

Effective today, Nov. 1, the Death Master File will no longer contain “protected” records the SSA receives from states. According to a notice from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which disseminates the Death Master File, “Section 205(r) of the Act prohibits SSA from disclosing state death records SSA receives through its contracts with the states, except in limited circumstances.”

4.2 million of the 89 million deaths in the Death Master File will be removed, and approximately 1 million fewer deaths will be added each year.

I’m working on getting clarification on when and where the removed deaths occurred, and whether genealogy websites will have to remove those deaths from their current versions of the SSDI.

Update: The records now in's version of the SSDI will stay, says spokesperson Matthew Deighton. "The current records that we have on will remain unaffected," he says. "We understand that we may receive fewer records from the Social Security Administration, but it is not clear which record sets will be impacted at this point. We recognize the importance of these databases to the family history community and will do our best to minimize the impact of this to our users. will continue to monitor this situation."

The changes are bad news for the genealogists who use the SSDI. Banks, employers and others who use the public Death Master File for security reasons—for example, to see whether an applicant is using a dead person’s SSN—will also undoubtedly be unhappy. (So, the Death Master File actually helps prevent identity theft.) Medical researchers use the database to track former patients and study subjects, too.

Here’s the full notice from the NTIS (it's in a PDF linked on this page):

We receive Death Master File (DMF) data from the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSA receives death reports from various sources, including family members, funeral homes, hospitals, and financial institutions.

Q: What change is SSA making to the Public DMF?
A: Effective November 1, 2011, the DMF data that we receive from SSA will no longer contain protected state death records. Section 205(r) of the Act prohibits SSA from disclosing state death records SSA receives through its contracts with the states, except in limited circumstances. (Section 205r link -

Q: How will this change affect the size of the Public DMF?
A: The historical Public DMF contains 89 million records. SSA will remove approximately 4.2 million records from this file and add about 1 million fewer records annually.

REMINDER: DMF users should always investigate and verify the death listed before taking any adverse action against any individual.

Vital Records
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 09:32:28 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [11]
Thursday, 03 November 2011 14:26:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
So what makes certain death records "protected" and how are those different from other death records in the index? This seems more like a paperwork issue than one that truly involves the records themselves.
Don B.
Thursday, 03 November 2011 14:33:21 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Thank you, Don B. I was just going to ask the same question. You just saved me from having to ask.
Esther L.
Esther Leonard
Thursday, 03 November 2011 19:59:24 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
hello- If the social security adminstration, a federal agency, is in charge of releasing the ssdi index, than it would appear that "protected records" are defined and determined by this agency. Therefore, what is the definition of a "protected death record," as defined by the social security admin?
james gross
james gross
Thursday, 03 November 2011 20:25:45 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Call me dense, but what's the purpose? These people are dead they don't require protection from the government.
Friday, 04 November 2011 01:32:31 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
I believe the "protected records" relates to records from states which have imposed time limits on the release of birth, marriage and or death records. Apparently recognizing that states have jurisdiction over vital records, the federal agency is prohibited from releasing death information if the state in which the death occurs and is documented has enacted privacy restrictions. Each state is different and may have no restriction on release of death records, while others may set a 75-year or 100-year restriction, similar to the 72-year federal restriction on release of U.S. census population schedules. This is the typical unintended (or maybe intended) consequence of ill-informed state legislators and members of the public who do not recognize the anti-fraud value of releasing death information to businesses and financial institutions as quickly as possible.
Bob Witherspoon
Friday, 04 November 2011 09:23:32 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
I have sought but have not received comment from the SSA.

To my understanding, the SSA considers protected records any "state death records SSA receives through its contracts with the states, except in limited circumstances." (see quote in post)

Death records that the SSA receives through other means (such as survivors seeking benefits) would then be included in the Death Master File.

Saturday, 05 November 2011 15:29:28 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Protected death notices received from states? What happened to the fact that states and the federal government must comply with the federally mandated Freedom of Information Act? This includes social security numbers which become "public property" once the person who is assigned the number is deceased. On top of which anything which is transmitted to either state or federal government agencies becomes public record. What I would like to see is the Social Security Agency get their records straight. For instance, my father died in Tyler Texas in 1998. Yet they have him receiving his last social security benefit in Raleigh, NC - where he moved from in 1997. His benefits went with him and he did report the move. Another example would be my paternal Grandmother- they have her dying in Florida but she actually died in Raleigh, NC in 1995 and again the move was reported to the Social Security Agency. The incorrect information does not help anyone- let alone genelaogists.
Mary N Triplett
Sunday, 06 November 2011 13:30:15 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Well I forwarded the information to my so called elected officials, wonder if I will get a comment back before I also pass.
Al Kinsey
Monday, 07 November 2011 03:00:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Come on, give the genealogists a break. The Freedom of Information Act protects all of us from the politans who want what they want and not what we want. Who do you think put us in the position that we are in today? Those politans who have nothing better to do than to spend taxpayers money vacationing in top dollar hotels, villas, etc and take personal plane flights and charge it back to the taxpayers. This also applies to their families.

They need to look in their own backyards and see who is doing their family history. When they need the information the same information we need on an ancestor, they will be able to get it, but we won't. Let's all contact our elected officials like Al Kinsey did and hopefully we too will get an answer before we pass on.

Marionetta Johns
Monday, 07 November 2011 09:04:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
The public listing of death records has always been the rule, originally to protect the heirs of an estate, and later the public from epidemics and fraud. When HIV/AIDS was a cause of death and became a national problem, states sealed the cause of death from the public. The very notion of vital statistics was for the safety and protection of the public. If my medical or dental worker died from this cause, I want to know to make sure I was not accidentally infected since it can take years for the virus to appear.
The dead don't need the protection of privacy, secrecy becomes a public health problem. The healthy and living do have a right to know and take safe action.
Genealogists use the records to locate census records and other family clues, how can this be a privacy concern?
Monday, 07 November 2011 10:07:03 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
It is very aggravating to see these changes being implemented. I have had discussions with my representatives here in Tennessee on why the state feels the need to "protect" the privacy of deceased individuals. Our state has a 50 year restriction on the release of the original document though they will provide some data verification of the record but you are not allowed to see the original document. It makes no sense to me to protect the dead from the public and perhaps the change being implemented to the SSDI will lead to a national uprising by genealogists to contact their state representatives to have these restrictions lifted. I'm not holding my breath but it will take some type of movement at the grass roots level to effect these changes. My representatives were supportive of my position but as one told me, there was no interest by his fellow legislatures in this cause.
Eric Head
Comments are closed.