Skip directly to local search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options
CDC Home

National Death Index

National Death Index graphic

Contact NDI Staff:
  • Division of Vital Statistics
    National Center for Health Statistics
    3311 Toledo Road, Room 7316
    Hyattsville, MD 20782
  • (301) 458-4444
Contact CDC/NCHS:
  • National Center for Health Statistics
    3311 Toledo Rd
    Hyattsville, MD 20782
  • 1 (800) 232-4636
  • Contact CDC–INFO

User's Guide


Table of Contents


If you would like to receive an e-mail attachment containing a draft of the entire User's Guide, please send an email to to request the draft.


Chapter 1

How to Use the National Death Index (NDI): Steps in the Process

  1. Download the NDI Application Form from the NDI website. (Allow approximately two to three months for your application to be reviewed and approved.)
  2. To make the application process smoother, please call NDI staff on 301-458-4444 before completing the application form.
  3. Email your unsigned NDI Application Form to (This submission does not need to be accompanied by a copy of your IRB approval document.)
  4. NDI staff will respond by emailing your assigned NDI number. Then, in about a week NDI staff will let you know whether your application might need revisions before you submit your final application.
  5. Express mail your final, signed NDI Application Form and IRB approval to NCHS. Email us at or call 301-458-4444 to confirm that we received your package. 
  6. Your application will be mailed to a 12-member panel for review and comment.
  7. While your application is being reviewed, you can begin preparing your study subjects’ records for submission on a CD. Carefully follow the specifications in Chapter 2 of this User’s Guide. (Note: We require that you password protect your files using any self-decrypting software, such as PointSec, PGP, or WinZip. Call us if you need to make other arrangements for transmitting your data.)
  8. You will receive a letter of approval and a blank NDI Transmittal Form when your application is approved.
  9. Express mail your CD’s containing file(s) of study subjects’ records to NCHS. Include a separate NDI Transmittal Form for each file, a Worksheet for Calculating NDI Charges, and your check or purchase order. Then email us your  express mail tracking number and your password to open your files.
  10. NDI staff will express mail a password protected CD containing your NDI search results in about two weeks. Your original CD will be returned in the same package.
  11. Assess your results to identify the true matches using your own assessment criteria and/or the suggested NDI assessment criteria. You also have the option of purchasing death certificates directly from the state vital statistics offices—for all true matches or just for those matches you feel are questionable.
  12. If additional NDI searches are needed in the future for the same study or project, first mail NCHS a signed NDI Repeat Request Form. (You will receive a new Repeat Request Form each time you receive your NDI results.) As soon as you receive a letter approving your repeat request (usually within 2 weeks), you may submit your new files for an NDI search.

NOTE: Whenever you have questions, please call us on 301-458-4444 or email us at When emailing, always include your phone number and assigned NDI number.


Chapter 2

Preparing Your Records:  Record Layout and Coding Specifications

  1. Records of study subjects must be created in a standard TEXT FILE (flat file) format.
  2. Each record must contain exactly 100 positions (containing letters, numbers or blanks) and should have a carriage return at the end.
  3. To be eligible for an NDI search, each record must contain at least one of the following combinations of data items:
  5. Each data element must be put in its specified positions. See EXHIBIT 1 for sample user records in the required record layout.
  6. Refer to EXHIBIT 2 for the file format and coding specifications for each data element.
  7. Coding instructions for NAMES appear in EXHIBIT 2A.
  8. State codes appear in EXHIBIT 2B.
  9. An NDI TRANSMITTAL FORM must accompany each file submitted for an NDI search.  A blank NDI Transmittal Form(s) containing your assigned NDI search numbers will be sent to you with the letter approving your NDI search.
  10. Only submit your records on a CD-ROM. If you put more than one file on the CD or diskette, it is helpful to use your assigned NDI numbers in your file names. Also print your assigned NDI numbers on the outside of your CD. We require that you password protect your file(s) using  any self-decrypting software.
  11. Express mail your files(s), Transmittal Form, fee worksheet, and  check or purchase order to:
    National Center for Health Statistics
    3311 Toledo Road, Room 7318
    Hyattsville, MD 20782
    Phone: 301-458-4444
  12. E-mail to confirm that your file(s) was received. Include your NDI number, the date the file was sent, and your express mail tracking number. If your file(s) is password protected, Also include your password(s) to open your files(s).


Exhibit 1:  NDI User Records, Sample Format

Create in a standard format text file, 100 positions per record, with no tabs, commas or other delimiters.

NDI User Record


Positions of NDI Data Items

Select one of the items below for more information on a specific Data Element in a NDI User Record


Exhibit 2 - NDI User File Format and Coding Specifications


1. Name of Person in the Study Group    
  • See EXHIBIT 3 for instructions for coding surnames, first names, and middle initials.

  • Both LAST name and FIRST name must be provided or the record will automatically be rejected unless the record contains a Social Security Number, a date of birth and a sex code. An initial in the FIRST name field is permitted.  (See minimum NDI eligibility requirements.)

Last Name 1-20 Alpha, left justified
First Name 21-35 Alpha, left justified
Middle Initial 36 Alpha or blank
2. Social Security Number 37-45 Numeric or blank
  • Must have 9 digits.

  • If less than 9 or partial number, skip the field.

  • If more than 9 digits, enter the first 9 digits.

  • If two Social Security numbers are available, create a second submission record.

  • If the number is unknown or not provided, leave the field blank.

  • If SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER is not provided, the MONTH and YEAR OF BIRTH and FIRST AND LAST NAME must be provided or the record will automatically be rejected.  (See minimum NDI eligibility requirements.)

3. Date of Birth    
  • The months of January-September and the days 1-9 must have leading zeros.

  • If either MONTH or YEAR of BIRTH is not provided, the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER and FIRST AND LAST NAME must be provided or the record will automatically be rejected.  (See minimum NDI eligibility requirements.)

  • If only a person?s YEAR of BIRTH is known, you should consider the merits of preparing 12 duplicate records, one for each possible MONTH of BIRTH. This is especially important when the SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER is not known.

  • There is no charge for duplicate records.

Month 46-47 January 01
February 02
March 03
April 04
May 05
June 06
July 07
August 08
September 09
October 10
November 11
December 12
Unknown or not stated blank or 99


48-49 01-31
Unknown or
not stated
blank or 99
Year 50-53 1850 - 20xx
Blank if unknown
4. Father's Surname 54-71 Alpha, left justified or blank if unknown
  • Follow the coding instructions for 'surnames' as specified in EXHIBIT 3.

  • For females the provision of FATHER?S SURNAME is encouraged.

  • For males FATHER'S SURNAME is necessary only when it differs from LAST NAME.

5. Age at Death  
  • Code the ACTUAL age at death if it is already known. An estimated age at death may be used only when deaths for one year are being searched.

  • The 'unit' field identifies the type of units for which age at death is measured.

    Example: Age 65 years
    Unit = 0
    Number of Units = 65

    Example: Age 105 years
    Unit = 1
    Number of units = 05

    Example: Age 8 months
    Unit = 2
    Number of units =08

    Example: Age unknown
    Unit = blank or 9
    Number of units = blank or 99

Unit 72 Year: less than 100 0
Years: 100 or more 1
Months 2
Weeks 3
Days 4
Hours 5
Minutes 6
Age unknown blank or 9
Number of Units 73-74 Enter age 01-99
Age unknown blank or 99

6. Sex

75 Male 1 or M  
Female 2 or F
Unknown blank or 9
7. Race 76 White 1*

* White (includes Mexican, Puerto Rican and all Caucasian)

* Indian (includes American, Alaskan, Canadian, or Mexican Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut)

* Hawaiian (includes part Hawaiian)

* Other nonwhite (includes Cajun and Creole)

Black 2
Indian 3*
Chinese 4
Japanese 5
Hawaiian 6*
Other nonwhite 7*
Filipino 8
Other Asian or Pacific Islander 0
Unknown, not stated, or not classifiable blank or 9
8. Marital Status 77 Never married/single 1*

* Other Entries
Annulled 1
Separated 2
Common law marriage 2

Married 2*
Widowed 3
Divorced 4
Unknown blank or 9
9. State of Residence 78-79 ALPHA and/or NUMERIC codes
  • See EXHIBIT 4 for the ALPHA and/or NUMERIC codes which may be used.

  • Insert last known STATE of residence. If provided by the NDI user it will be matched against the State of residence as reported on the death certificate.

States 01-51
Puerto Rico 52
Virgin Islands 53
Guam 54
Canada 55
Cuba 56
Mexico 57
Remainder of World 59
Unknown blank or 99
10. State of Birth 80-81

(Same code structure as 'State of Residence' above)

  • See EXHIBIT 4 for the ALPHA and/or NUMERIC codes which may be used.

11. Control or Sequence Number (OPTIONAL) 82-91

Any combination of ALPHA/NUMERIC
If no numbers are assigned, leave this field BLANK.

  • This is an OPTIONAL field to assist NDI users in identifying the records they submit. Insert control (or ID) numbers assigned to persons in the study OR assign 'sequence numbers' based on the order that records appear on the file submitted to NCHS.

  • If duplicate or alias records are submitted, a flag could be put at the end of the Control Number (e.g., D1, D2, DUP1, or DUP2).

  • NOTE: NCHS will assign a sequence number whenever this field is left blank. The computer output will print the control or sequence number for each user record.


12. Optional User Data


Any combination of ALPHA/NUMBERIC
If this field is not used, leave it BLANK

  • This OPTIONAL field may be used for any additional information on study subjects. Examples of possible uses are:

  • Date or year of last contact (e.g., 011584 or just 1984)

  • To flag TEST RECORDS of known decedents (e.g., D or DEAD).

  • Coded information to identify special subgroups of study subjects

  • To flag DUPLICATE or ALIAS records

  • The NDI computer output will contain whatever the user decides to include in this field.

13. Blank Field 98-100    


Exhibit 3: Coding Instructions for Names


Surnames (last name and father's surname):
  1. If the entire surname will not fit in the 20 position field, truncate it.
  2. If the surname has a space or apostrophe following a prefix, such as Van Braun, Mac Pherson, O'Toole, or O'Mally, the NDI edit program will remove the space and the apostrophe between the prefix and the name.
  3. If more than one surname is given, separated by a space or hyphen, type each name in the surname field. The NDI edit program will remove the space or the hyphen.
  4. If a subject's full name appears to contain a MAIDEN name (for example, Jane Karen SMITH-Lee or Jane SMITH Lee), it is important for the maiden name also to be entered separately in the FATHER'S SURNAME field to enhance the possibility of a match. Listed below are suggestions of how user records may be prepared to cover the two different situations:

    • Example: Jane Karen SMITH-Lee
      Key-First name: JANE
      Middle initial: K
      Last name: SMITH-LEE
      Father's surname: SMITH
    • Example: Jane SMITH Lee Key-First name: JANE
      Middle initial: S
      Last name: LEE
      Father's surname: SMITH
  5. If more than one surname is given and you are uncertain as to which surname to put in the last name field, you should consider the merits of creating a duplicate or alias record(s), one record for each surname. This may enhance the effectiveness of the NDI file search, especially for records without Social Security numbers. You may want to flag such duplicate records by inserting codes of your own choosing in either the control number field (positions 82-91) or the optional user data field (positions 92-97).  NOTE: You are not charged for duplicate or alias records; however, please report them on your NDI Transmittal Form.
  6. Suffixes or generational identifiers such as II, III, Jr., or Sr. will be removed by the NDI edit program.
  7. For names such as Sister Mary Lawrence, enter LAWRENCE as the last name, SISTER MARY as the first name, and a BLANK for middle initial.


First names and middle initials:
  1. If the entire first name will not fit in the field, truncate it.
  2. If two first names and a middle name are given, type both first given names (with or without a space between each name) in the first name field and type the middle initial in the middle initial field (truncate).

    • Example: MARY ANN LOUISE Jones
      Key-First name: MARY ANN
      Middle initial: L
    • Example: MARY ANN Jones
      (Treat ANN as the middle name unless your records Indicate that ANN is part of the first name.)
      Key-First name: MARY
      Middle initial: A
  3. If a person (a) goes by two distinctly different first names, (b) has a first name and a nick name, or (c) uses the shortened form of a presumed legal name (for example, Bob for Robert, Liz for Elizabeth, Ben for Benjamin) you should consider the merits of creating duplicate or alias record(s), one record for each first name. This may enhance the matching effectiveness of the NDI file search, especially for records without Social Security numbers. You may want to flag such duplicate records by inserting codes of your own choosing in either the control number field (positions 82-91) or the optional user data field (positions 92-97).  NOTE: You are not charged for duplicate or alias records; however, please report them on your NDI Transmittal Form.
  4. If entries have a first initial and a middle name, enter an initial for the first name and an initial for middle name.
  5. If entries have multiple middle names or initials enter only the first initial (for example, Robert M.L. Jones: type 'M' as the middle initial and drop the 'L'.
  6. For infant deaths, names such as 'Baby Girl' Jones should be entered as Baby Girl for first name and Jones for last name.



Exhibit 4: State (or Foreign Country) of Residence, Birth and Death

State Alpha Code Numeric Code
Alabama AL 01
Alaska AK 02
Arizona AZ 03
Arkansas AR 04
California CA 05
Colorado CO 06
Connecticut CT 07
Delaware DE 08
District of Columbia DC 09
Florida FL 10
Georgia GA 11
Hawaii HI 12
Idaho ID 13
Illinois IL 14
Indiana IN 15
Iowa IA 16
Kansas KS 17
Kentucky KY 18
Louisiana LA 19
Maine ME 20
Maryland MD 21
Massachusetts MA 22
Michigan MI 23
Minnesota MN 24
Mississippi MS 25
Missouri MO 26
Montana MT 27
Nebraska NE 28
Nevada NV 29
New Hampshire NH 30
New Jersey NJ 31
New Mexico NM 32
New York NY 33
North Carolina NC 34
North Dakota ND 35
Ohio OH 36
Oklahoma OK 37
Oregon OR 38
Pennsylvania PA 39
Rhode Island RI 40
South Carolina SC 41
South Dakota SD 42
Tennessee TN 43
Texas TX 44
Utah UT 45
Vermont VT 46
Virginia VA 47
Washington WA 48
West Virginia WV 49
Wisconsin WI 50
Wyoming WY 51
Puerto Rico PR 52
Virgin Islands VI 53
Guam GU 54
Canada CN 55
Cuba CU 56
Mexico MX 57
Remainder of World RW 59
Unknown   99 The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC–INFO
A-Z Index
  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #