SS-5: Worth It?

Filed in On The Hunt, Resources by on 5 December 2012 3 Comments

There are a thousand ways to spend money in genealogy research. Since the majority of us are not fabulously wealthy, we budget our dollars wisely. Today I’d like to give you a look at the SS-5. What is it, what’s in it and ultimately, is it worth it.

The SS-5 Form is an individual’s initial application for a social security number. The major elements of genealogical interest include: full name, date and place of birth, father’s name and mother’s maiden name. The image below is my grandfather’s application.

SS-5 for Charles G Cassity

Charles Gordon Cassity Application for Social Security Number [1]

You can see this form is chock full of details. However, only Cassity’s address and place of employ are primary information – things to which he had direct, personal knowledge. The birth and parent data are all secondary information. The Genealogical Proof Standard asserts, rightly I believe, that we cannot attest to the particulars of our own birth. Those of us who have worked adoptive or illegitimate lineages can tell you, the folks who raise you are not automatically your parents!

“Just because the cat has her kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.”

–George Peppard playing Thomas Banacek.

Where sources exist with more primary information, such as birth certificates or baptismal records, the SS-5 is an expensive investment for little return. I wouldn’t recommend it as the first place to direct your limited dollars. When those other sources don’t exist, it can be a good alternative.

The cost per form is $27.00 and can be ordered online at:

Rorey Cathcart
Copyright (c) 5 December 2012

URL for this post:

1)  Charles Gordon Cassity, SS no. 434-05-6568, 5 December 1936, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore, Maryland.


About the Author ()

Professional genealogist and lecturer. Located in Charleston County, SC. Special research interests in South Carolina, Southern States, Irish Heritage and Migratory Patterns. Researcher for Genealogy Roadshow on PBS seasons two and three.

Comments (3)

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  1. Hi Rorey excellent post and a great argument “against” ordering the SS-5!

    I must confess that when I started my family research years ago in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I made it a practice to order the SS-5 for my files because they were only $7 a pop at that time. But the $27 they charge today stops me in my tracks every time I thought about ordering one last year.

    So besides the usual birth, death, selective service registration, and marriage certificates, what other document(s) would you say would be worth and affordable to go after (and I’m talking about a doc or app that an ancestor would have completed and signed)?

    • Liv – I’ve kicked myself plenty of times for not ordering SS-5’s when they were still $7!

      Military pensions, service records and other files from NARA can be terribly expensive. $60 for a large file. They can be well worth the price – especially when brick walls are involved. Where available, baptismal records can be an amazing resource. Chasing the witnesses/sponsors has led to real breakthroughs for me. I’d also suggest digging into cemetery plot deeds in addition to other interment records. No matter how little information a cemetery might have, they usually have some record of who purchased a plot and when.

      Researching on a budget means trying to get the most bang for your buck. I recommend making use of interlibrary loan to bring in microfilm collections from participating libraries and archives for newspapers, probate, tax records, etc. Second, order microfilms of the same along with BMD records through to your local Family History Center. Most of the probate or deed records we see are the clerk’s copy. Some will have the kind of original signature you are hoping for, some will not.

      Sometimes we have to get creative. You may need to look for your target ancestor as a witness rather than the subject of a particular document to get that original signature.

      Happy Hunting!

      • THANK YOU so much for this information. You are so right about the NARA files being terribly expensive. I just sent them $70 to have a military file of an ancestor “reconstructed” and sent to me — OUCH! That just means that I will be packing a lunch everyday to work for the next couple of weeks to cover the cost of that file – LOL!

        You know I have not been researching baptismal records as consistently as I should. So thank you for reminding me about those records. I think one of the reasons I stopped researching those is because some of the Black churches that my ancestors attend so long ago have burned down, or just no longer exist today. But that isn’t the case with all of my ancestors, so I will definitely be getting back on track with my research in those records.

        Funny you should mention cemetery plots . . . I just received my first cemetery plot deed this past week and it was filled with some cool information that led me to other ancestors who have been buried in nearby plots. So I will be doing more research for cemetery deeds as well.

        Again Rorey, thank you so much for all of these suggestions. I will definitely be taking advantage of everything you’ve shared. Take care!

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