Changes to the Public Death Master File (DMF) and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)

Effective today, 01 November 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) changed its policy on what records it will use as source material for adding new entries in the Public Death Master File (DMF) which, in turn, is used to create the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

The Agency decided that it can no longer use state death records to add new entries to the DMF.  Furthermore, the SSA will remove approximately 4.2 million records currently on the SSDI because those entries were made based on information from state death records.  I have reproduced a fact sheet about the change later in this post.

The SSA made this decision based on the Social Security Laws, specifically those laws described in Sec. 205 [42 U.S.C. 405].  Basically, the law says that information on state death certificates may be used to correct information already in the DMF, but may not be used for any other purpose, including adding new entries to the DMF.

The SSA will continue to compile the DMF from a variety of sources including death reports from family members, funeral homes, hospitals, Federal agencies, postal authorities and financial institutions.  However, state death certificates which currently generate about 1 million entries in the DMF and SSDI every year will no longer be used.

Use of Death Certificates to Correct Program Information

(r)(1) The Commissioner of Social Security shall undertake to establish a program under which—

(r)(1)(A) States (or political subdivisions thereof) voluntarily contract with the Commissioner of Social Security to furnish the Commissioner of Social Security periodically with information (in a form established by the Commissioner of Social Security in consultation with the States) concerning individuals with respect to whom death certificates (or equivalent documents maintained by the States or subdivisions) have been officially filed with them; and

(r)(1)(B) there will be (i) a comparison of such information on such individuals with information on such individuals in the records being used in the administration of this Act, (ii) validation of the results of such comparisons, and (iii) corrections in such records to accurately reflect the status of such individuals.

(r)(6) Information furnished to the Commissioner of Social Security under this subsection may not be used for any purpose other than the purpose described in this subsection and is exempt from disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code, and from the requirements of section 552a of such title.

Fact Sheet: Change to the Public Death Master File (DMF)

Q: What is the Public Death Master File (DMF)?
A: The Public DMF is a file of all deaths reported to SSA from sources other than States, beginning around 1936. It is not a complete file of all deaths and we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the DMF. The absence of a particular person on this file is not proof that the individual is alive. Further, in rare instances it is possible for the record of a person who is not deceased to be included erroneously in the DMF.

Q: When and why did we create the Public DMF?
A: We created the Public DMF in 1980 as a result of a 1978 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in the Federal District Court by Ronald Perholtz. We make the Public DMF available through an agreement with the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which is a part of the Department of Commerce.

Q: Where does SSA get its death records?
A: We receive death reports from family members, funeral homes, hospitals, States, Federal agencies, postal authorities and financial institutions.

Q: What change is SSA making to the Public DMF?
A: We began disclosing certain state records on the Public DMF in 2002. After review of the Public DMF, we have determined that we can no longer disclose protected State records. Section 205(r) of the Social Security Act prohibits SSA from disclosing State death records we receive through our contracts with the States, except in limited circumstances. Therefore, we cannot legally share those State records on the Public DMF. (Section 205r link –

Q: When will this change be effective?
A: November 1, 2011.

Q: How will this change affect the size of the Public DMF?
A: In 2010, we shared approximately 2.8 million death records, including updates or changes, on the Public DMF. We expect that yearly number to decrease by approximately 1 million. In addition, our historical Public DMF contains 89 million records. We expect that number to decrease by approximately 4.2 million records.

Q: How will customers of the Public DMF be notified of the change?
A: NTIS will send a letter to their customers notifying them in advance of the change.

Q: How will the change affect Federal agencies?
A: The law allows SSA to share all death records, including State records, with agencies that pay federally funded benefits. This change will not affect the Internal Revenue Service, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and some other Federal agencies. NTIS will notify the 18 Federal agencies that currently purchase the Public DMF about the change. Those agencies, and others, may contact us to determine whether they may qualify under the law to get all SSA’s death records.

Q: Are there other ways for the public to get death data?
A: Yes, State vital statistics offices are the first point of collection for death data.

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15 Responses to Changes to the Public Death Master File (DMF) and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)

  1. Jasia says:

    I’m speechless. I honestly don’t know how to respond to this. How are we just hearing about this now?

  2. Federal bureaucracy at work? I can’t believe we haven’t heard about this until now either, Jasia. Thank you, Steve, for keeping us informed.

  3. NJ GILBERT says:

    We as taxpayers, need to have information, before change takes place.
    What happen to public comment and public hearings?
    This is the USA , right??????

    • Mark Scott says:

      Unfortunately, it sounds like the SSA didn’t have much choice in the matter since their decision was based on a statutory requirement and not a policy change. If it had been a policy change then we could legitimately complain there was no time for public comment. Since it was related to a statute, the time for comment would have been while that law was being debated. I don’t like it anymore than you do.

  4. S. Neal says:

    I knew that Counties will no longer let us have this info. My sister died “suddenly” several months ago. Her daughters would not tell me why she died. Fresno county said I needed to sent them a NOTIZED letter as to WHY? I wanted her death certicate ALSO I have to indict my relationship to the decease? As I was not close enough to get one. ONLY HER IMMEDIATE FAMILY would be allow to get it.
    I also noticed it was already on the death index however her daughter (who never had a close relationship with her) had given the “WRONG BIRTH DATE” on her certificate.
    She lied about dates and names for years. I see many alternate names on internet for her. Some legal some not. She was a person who would steal you ID and had over 20 that the family knew about.
    Banks tell us that people are going into the banks and closing accounts based on these certificates. I don’t believe that, but was told by one bank that this has happened.
    Use hers Pamela (O’NEIL)-IVIE-HEREFORD-KAIN she might have used yours.

    • Betty Wheeler Boot says:

      Interested in seeking missing birth grandmother’s death record.

    • Mary says:

      Reply to S. Neal:

      Fresno County is in California. California allows siblings of the deceased to acquire death certificates. However, you do have to submit a notarized statement of your relationship, but you do not have to tell them why you want the certificate.

      • Mary says:

        My previous comment involves non-informational, certified copies of a death certificate [these are certified copies that do not have the words “informational copy” or “not valid to establish identy” stamped across the front]. California issues only certified copies of death certificates. Anyone can request an informational copy of a death certificate, which will have “not valid to establish identy” or “informational copy only” stamped on the front.

  5. Pingback: Social Security Administration (SSA) changed the Death Master File (SSDI); #Genealogy, #Sources | Stanczyk – Internet Muse

  6. Pingback: Social Security Administration Makes Changes to the DMF and SSDI :: Black Belt Genealogy News

  7. John Kracha says:

    I agree with Mark Scott’s comments. This ruling was not that of the Agency but was required through the separate actions of several state legislative bodies. It’s the bureaucracy that’s killing us! Legislators are supposed to be there serving the public not to make a occupation by writing new legislation. We are being deprived of factual information.

  8. Pingback: Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is now restricted | Private Investigator Blog - Public Records, Internet Search - PI Buzz

  9. t.stevens says:

    These files are a mess..they list the wrong place of death and once it’s there it goes all over the whole intenet….even the mormons use this crappy info. I have tried for 4 yrs, since my husband died to have his info changed to the correct location..NOT HAPPENING! What do I have to do try to sue these morons?

    • Steve says:

      The Public Death Master File and the Social Security Death Index do not list the place of death. These databases do, however, list the zip code of the address of record, that is, the zip code of the most recent address that the Social Security Administration had on file while the person was still living. For example, my Aunt Helen died in Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, Schenectady County, New York. The zip code for her address of record in the databases, however, is 12019, the zip code for Ballston Lake, Saratoga County, New York.

  10. I am in charge of a tumor registry that has been tracking patients since 1987. Since 1998 I have routinely checked SSDI online to identify people who had passed away over the previous year. I was shocked this year to find that I no longer have any access to SSDI. Today I found that NTIS has apparently outsourced SSDI “Death master file” to Global Internet Management (GIM) who charges $1000 a year to access this public information. I understand the state legislature’s involvement per this article, but who, in the Fed Govt is responsible for the outsourcing? Sam Johnson? I very much look forward to hearing from you.

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