Interpreting fields of the Social Security Death Index

+3 votes

My stepmother-in-law's uncle has an SSDI entry that seems to be at odds with his obituary in the New York Times, specifically on the place of death. There's an old post here on G2G that claims that the "last place of residence" field is actually the address where the death benefit was sent, but that still doesn't really help explain it, unless there was a marital separation that I don't know about. Does anybody have any ideas for why a man who lived and died in New York City would have the ZIP code for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on his SSDI entry?

I've gone so far as to do some online stalking of his children, and as far as I can tell, in 1974 one of them was in New York (Columbia University), the other in Washington, DC. His brothers were in Hungary, his niece was in New York, his nephew and his former brother-in-law were in Massachusetts, and everyone else was already dead. Who or what am I missing?

WikiTree profile: László Miskolczy
in Genealogy Help by J Palotay G2G6 Mach 6 (61.7k points)
Sometimes the place of death is different than where they lived because they may have died in an institution, such as a nursing home or hospital. However, I am not sure that would apply in your case because it seems weird to go to Pennsylvania when there are plenty of institutions of every sort in New York. A death certificate is a much better source; too bad we can't always find one!

The NY Times obituary names the Manhattan hospital where he died, so the SSDI can't be reporting a nursing home or hospital's address.

I've now found the fact that one child ended up operating a B&B in Bethlehem, but as far as I can tell, it only started in the 1980s.

His wife's SSDI entry has the same confusion, with New York for the "State", and this time Northampton, PA (18015) for the last residence. The date of that one (1996) works with the B&B, but what about their other offspring? (Where do they send the death benefit if there's no spouse and multiple kids?)

FWIW, here are the current zip code boundaries in Bethlehem, PA...probably have changed little if at all for a smallish town since the '70s. The gray-blue area is 18018, and the larger green swatch is 18015.

J, the obituary indicates that he died in Roosevelt Hospital (which is in New York City), but it ALSO says he lived at an address, which is an apartment building in Manhattan that is not very far from Roosevelt Hospital.

If a child inherited his home in Bethlehem, he/she may well have turned it into a bed and breakfast place.

Someone is either listed in the Social Security record as the beneficiary or the executor of his will would inform Social Security where to send the death benefit.

It looks to me--with no real evidence to back it up--that the B&B was the Wydnor Hall Bed & Breakfast (3612 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem, PA) right? If so, I'm sure you found this fascinating item: There are a number of items in that auction that are definitely Miskolczy-related, including Laszlo's framed 1922 diploma from Technical University in Budapest (you can view it without the frame here). Images of these items are currently downloadable, but since the auction ended months ago I don't know how long they will remain online.

From the listing info, I'm gathering that the B&B owners bought the property in 1986 and converted into a bed & breakfast at that time. It was "an 18th-century property that was once part of a 90 acre estate," and included "original paintings from 19th c. Hungary." Any bets that B&B was not directly associated with Miskolczy descendants, but that the estate was the Miskolczy family's and had been there for decades prior? Some of the artwork seems to be by Laszlo's brother, Ferenc. Perhaps some Northampton County, Pennsylvania property tax records could turn something up definitively.

Apropos of nothing, but I wonder if your Laszlo is related to Gabor B.L. Miskolczy, June 15, 1933 - July 23, 2012, Carlisle, Massachusetts. Note in the obit: "He leaves...first cousins...M.E. and Kristina Taylor of Bethlehem, PA and many other dear friends and relatives." Some of the artwork in the B&B auction is by Kristina Miskolczy...I assume the Mrs. M.E. Taylor.

If so, this is quite the family. Gabor's father was a well-known neuropsychiatrist and, divorced, his mother remarried to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the 1937 Nobel Laureate who discovered Vitamin C. Gabe himself was the first full-time employee of Thermo Electron Corporation, then a start-up in a garage in Massachusetts, today Thermo Fisher Scientific, a $24 billion company with 70,000 employees and, in our genetic genealogy testing world, the only direct competition to Illumina. Being the DNA nerd that I am, I just had to throw that in there.  cool

Edited to add: Nope; I was wrong. The B&B was in the family. Looks like it was owned and operated by the aforementioned Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, formally acquired in March 1986. It stayed in the family, in one form or another, until just last July.

Yes, Gabor is related, but given that the stepmother-in-law J mentioned is still alive, I don't want to detail exactly how... but it gets even more complicated in the who married whom department. (And yes, Albert is The Famous Relative in family parlance.)

Okay. Dunno why I'm having so much fun with this. I have other things that need doin'. But if the former Wydnor Hall Bed & Breakfast really is the former-former Miskolczy estate, it's currently listed for $450K. 3612 Old Philadelphia Pike, Lower Saucon Township, PA 18015. Built in 1820 the "historic stone home has 5 car detached garage & a stone guest cottage. Main house has 6 bedrooms, each with its own full bath. There is a Private Master Suite with Sitting Room on the 1st floor and private staircase going up to the Master Bedroom with full bath. Cottage has living room, full bath, and bedroom. A total of 7 bedrooms and 7.5 bathrooms. Main house boasts a beautiful large foyer, large living room w/ fireplace, dining room w/ fireplace, den/office, 2 kitchens (one with breakfast area, one commercial kitchen with walk-in refrigerator), Beautiful Sunroom to relax in."

The lot size is 72,745 square feet. There are 45 photos at the listing. So, J...should we start forwarding your mail? wink

Edison, Gábor was a thoroughly fun guy. He lived in Concord, and he would come to dinner at his sister's place in Woods Hole still dressed as a minuteman after the Rev War reenactments. His sister's second marriage was to my father-in-law Andrew Szent-Györgyi, who was Albert's much younger first cousin. (Yeah, it sounds incestuous, but isn't actually. And no, I don't do biographies, how could you tell?)

I believe the B&B was purchased by László's offspring, jointly with second spouse, who was acquired after László's death (the obituary still has the first one). So it's not a Miskolczy estate, it just has some stuff that passed down from that family. (Dunno why I'm redacting facts about the living like this; what little I know mostly comes from publicly-findable obituaries and such.)

But yeah, my stepmother-in-law's entire family probably qualifies as Notable. I just don't have the energy or willpower to apply the project's frou-frou to all of their profiles.

5 Answers

+6 votes
The death location on the SSDI has nothing to do with place of death, and shouldn't be used as a death location.  For example, my father died in California, but my mother received his benefit in Arizona.  He never lived nor died in Arizona, but she moved there after his death, so that's why Arizona is listed.
by Anonymous Brasel G2G2 (3.0k points)
Even if someone only briefly lived in a location, it might be used as the location where the death benefit was sent.
+6 votes

J, there are 3 separate data items in that record that are of interest here:

State: New York
Last Place of Residence: Pennsylvania
Previous Residence Postal Code: 18018

The state is the one he lived in when he first registered for Social Security.  When you do that, you are issued a number and a card that proves you are entitled to work in the United States.  So … he was living in New York state when he first applied for that.

Your residence is supposed to be updated in your Social Security record any time you move.  The last residence is the most recently listed one, which would certainly equate to where they sent the last payment if you were retired and collecting Social Security payments.  It is not necessarily where they sent a death benefit - that would be sent to whoever the beneficiary was - obviously, they don't send that to the person who just died!

The previous residence zipcode is not necessarily in the same state as your last residence - it is where you moved from when you moved to the last residence.  In this case, Bethlehem is in Pennsylvania, but his last residence could have been in a different place that is also in Pennsylvania.

It is possible that he moved to New York and did not update his Social Security record, but not very likely - at his age, he would have been receiving benefits (monthly payments), so I'm sure he would have kept his address in their records up to date.

What I think is most likely is something entirely different than an error - I think he probably had two residences - one in Manhattan (part of New York City) and a vacation home, probably in or near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where he spent weekends, holidays, or whenever he just wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  My guess would be that he received he Social Security payments there.  Just don't ask me to try to prove any of this, please!!!

by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (911k points)
+4 votes

I think the two location fields (not counting "State Issued") in the SSDI cause continued confusion because they simply aren't that precise. And not all the records even have both those fields.

If there is a "Last Benefit Information" field, that supposedly indicates either of: 1) the last known place of residence or, 2) where the final lump sum distribution was mailed. In the latter case, that would often be to the executor of an estate, if there was one formally named, and that might have no bearing at all on the typical residence address or the place of death. It could easily be an adult child who lives in a different state.

Here's an excerpt of what Ancestry's FAQ about the SSDI says regarding "Last Residence Location": "The last place where the person was last known to be living when the benefit was applied for (City, County, State). While 77% of the records contain Last Residence information, a total of 19% do not contain any Last Residence information. While we believe that the majority of this information is correct, there have been reports of incorrect cities being associated with various zip codes. Also, since ZIP codes are subject to change over time, please be sure to verify city names with other sources before relying heavily upon them in further research efforts."

The emphasis is mine. I take that to mean the last location of the last benefit applied for, whether that was the actual death benefit or simply a change-of-address submittal for regular retirement benefits. If the executor--call it an adult child--was living in Bethlehem, PA and applied for the death benefit in the father's name from there, with that return address, that might explain the geographic dislocation.

BTW, "18018" is a valid zip code in Bethlehem, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Six zip codes cover the entire town, from 18015-18018, then 18020 and 18025 (this last is the only one in Lehigh County).

Edited to add: I kinda like Gaile's guess that the Bethlehem address could have been a second home. Sixty-eight miles as the crow flies from New York City. Could be! smiley

by Edison Williams G2G6 Pilot (313k points)
Edison, I'm personally familiar with both places.  There are many people who live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and commute to work in Manhattan.  This man was an architect, and apparently a very successful one - it would be hard to believe that his only home was a Manhattan apartment!
Yeppers. See uptopic. I'm pretty sure we found the estate in Bethlehem. Evidently, at some point, it encompassed 90 acres just east and north of what is today the Walter J. Dealtrey Memorial Highway (Hwy 78).
I know 18018 is Bethlehem and perfectly valid. I was thinking that maybe it was a typo in the SSDI, and the most straightforward candidate for what it could be a typo _for_ is 10818, which is not valid. If you swap 8s for 0s and 1s, then you can get some valid Manhattan codes, including the one for the Empire State Building, but none of them match the places given in the obituary.
+2 votes

As with ALL data fields on source documentation, the phrase "last place of residence" should be interpreted as just it states, the deceased's last place of residence, or the location of the deceased's home, at the time of his/her death. That phrase should not be considered as "place of death" unless the location is specifically identified as such in the record or unless we have supporting documentation that the deceased died at home.

Hopefully we can all agree that residence/home does not mean a temporary location at which the deceased happened to be when he/she died.wink

We should train ourselves to resist the temptationdevil to presume beyond what is stated in a record.

edit: This is, as always, my opinion: the data field should say what it means and it should mean what it says!!wink

by Lindy Jones G2G6 Pilot (218k points)
edited by Lindy Jones
My problem is that the newspaper obituary gives not only the hospital, but also his home address -- both in Manhattan. So Bethlehem just doesn't compute.
I see no problem since the SSDI data does not give the place of death (that would be too easy!).

To verify the place of death, you would need the death certificate.
+4 votes
I can tell you from personal experience how mistakes are made.  When my mother died, in California, I went to the mortuary to fill out the documents.  I was interviewed.  The actual documents were never put in front of me.  The mortuary representative asked for my mother's final address.  I thought she was asking for my mother's business address, and as I had handled her affairs for many years, I gave my own address.  She had not lived with me, but until I saw the final document, I did not realize the error.

Edit:  I was both surprised and disappointed that that happened to me after all my years of genealogical research.  It brought home the reality that the informants have other things on their minds when providing the information.  There is so much to do, and the least important may be going home to look up the birthplace of the relative's parents (for example).
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (433k points)
edited by Julie Kelts

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