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How to Use the National Death Index: Steps in the Process

Step 1: Check your eligibility

  • Carefully read and use the eligibility requirements checklist below to self-evaluate whether your project meets the criteria required to access NDI data.

Before You Apply: Eligibility Requirements Checklist

Rules for obtaining NDI information

  • NDI data may not be used for genealogical, legal, or administrative purposes, etc.
  • NDI data may not be used for commercial purposes and/or to generate profit.
  • NDI data may not be sent/shared outside of USA territorial borders.
  • NDI data may only be used for public health and medical studies, PROVIDED that no actions are taken which may directly affect individuals or establishments as a result of their specific identification.
  • NDI data may not be re-released to others except as specified in item 5 of the NDI Sample Application Form [PDF – 688 KB].
  • All NDI applications need to be accompanied by a letter documenting either full IRB review, expedited IRB review, or exempt from IRB review status.
  • The NDI application review process takes approximately 2-3 months. For more details, see our Criteria to be Applied in Approving NDI Applications.
  • Requests to access the NDI electronic application may only be made by the Principal Investigator responsible for the project.

Checking your data: Basic criteria for approval

Do you have sufficient data variables to qualify for an NDI match?

The edit program rejects any user records not containing at least one of the following combinations of data items:


Do you have sufficient data variables to identify NDI matches for your records?

The NDI Retrieval Program is used to search the NDI file to determine whether a particular NDI death record qualifies as a possible record match with a particular user record. To qualify as a possible record match, user records must satisfy at least one of the following seven conditions or matching criteria, and the specified data items must agree on both records:

  1. Social Security number
    (Note: For a search to be performed on the nine digits of a Social Security number, the NDI user’s record must also contain EITHER a first and last name OR date of birth and sex; see preceding edit/reject criteria.)
  1. Exact month and +/- 1 year of birth, first and last name
  2. Exact month and +/- 1 year of birth, first and middle initials, last name
  3. Exact month and day of birth, first and last name
  4. Exact month and day of birth, first and middle initials, last name
  5. Exact month and year of birth, first name, father’s surname
  6. If the subject is female: Exact month and year of birth, first name, last name (on user’s record), and father’s surname (on NDI record)

Step 2: Request access to the electronic application

  • If your project meets the criteria, the next step is to request the electronic application by filling out the form below and clicking “submit”.
    REMINDER: Only the Principal Investigator of the project is eligible to request access to the application.

* Required field


By submitting this information, you are requesting access to a US Government owned computerized system. You will receive further information by email that will allow you to fill out an application for NDI access.

Step 3: Wait to hear from us

  • We will reach out to you with further instructions for accessing the electronic application form. This should take less than a week.
    Please note: Invitation to register will be sent from SAMS-No-Reply (CDC).
  • While you wait, you can download a PDF version of the NDI Sample Application Form [PDF – 688 KB] so you know what will be asked in the electronic version.
  • If you have not received an email from us within a week:
    • Please check your spam folder to ensure it did not get moved.
    • If you cannot find it, please contact NDI staff at (301) 458-4444 or by email at Please include your first and last name, email, and phone number used above.

Step 4: Submit the electronic application form

  • Once you have received the email, follow the instructions to log into the system. The email will also contain a user guide on how to fill out the application.
    • If questions arise as you are completing your electronic NDI Application Form, feel free to call NDI staff at (301) 458–4444 about any section of the form.
  • Once completed, submit the online application. The electronic system automatically assigns an NDI number to your application when you submit it.
  • You will receive an automated email to inform you of the NDI number.
  • NDI staff also receive an email to let them know a new application has been received along with the application number.

After NDI staff review your application for completeness, the application will be distributed to an independent NDI Advisory Board for review and comment.

Step 5: Prepare and send your files

  • While your application is being reviewed, you can begin preparing your study subjects’ records for submission. Carefully follow the specifications in Chapter 2 of the User’s Guide.
    • Note: We require that you password-protect your files using self-decrypting software, such as PointSec, PGP, or WinZip. You can use a CD or we have an sFTP site for upload/download. Email if you need to make other arrangements for transmitting your data.
  • Once your application is approved, an approval package will be sent via e-mail to the Principal Investigator or Project Director appearing on the application form. The package will include all documents needed to complete a search.
  • Send to NCHS (electronically or by overnight mail if a CD) your file(s) containing your study subjects’ records. At the same time, please also submit the following:
    • A separate NDI Transmittal Form for each file
    • A Worksheet for Calculating NDI Charges
    • The NDI accepts payments through credit cards, checks, and purchase orders. Credit card payments that do not exceed $24,999.99 can be accepted—contact NDI staff to arrange for such payments. ACH payments (these are direct withdrawals from your bank account) above the $24,999,99 ceiling can also be processed. Checks or purchase orders are not acceptable from federal agencies, but credit card payments can be accepted. We encourage federal agencies to pay via credit card if their cost is below that ceiling. Otherwise, federal agencies can also process a standard interagency agreement in advance of their NDI searches.
      • Note: Payment must be received by NCHS before we will send you the NDI search results. 

If you have sent your file(s) via overnight mail, please e-mail your tracking number and in a separate email send the password to open your encrypted file(s).

Note: Please make sure that anytime you are communicating with NDI staff to include your NDI (application) number in the email’s subject line and similarly, on the checks being sent by mail or with payments made online.

Step 6: Receive and assess your results

  • Within about two weeks after receiving your file(s), NDI staff will return your encrypted NDI search results and your original data files.
    • If you submitted your data via sFTP, it will be returned that way.
    • If you sent an encrypted CD, your results will also be on an encrypted CD returned by overnight mail, and NDI staff will e-mail you the tracking number.
    • The password to open your encrypted NDI files will be sent to you in a separate email.
  • Assess your results to identify the true matches using your own assessment criteria or the suggested NDI assessment criteria.
    • It is your responsibility to determine which, if any, of the possible NDI matches listed is the correct match.
    • You also have the option to purchase death certificates on your own directly from state vital statistics offices—for all true matches, or just to adjudicate selected questionable matches.


  1. All applications approved prior to September 2020, must be entered and approved in the NDI Portal, before any additional searches can take place.
  2. If additional NDI repeated searches are needed, send an email with your approved NDI application number to to request that your application in the NDI Portal be unlocked for you to do the following:
    • Verify that there are no changes to the application that has been approved.
    • If required, update and upload the most recent IRB determination letter.
    • If required, update the Data Disposition expiration date.
    • Once all is verified, please submit your application.
    • You will receive an email, that will include all documents needed to complete a search.
  3. If you need to change the existing PI, please notify the NDI staff immediately and we will:
    • Provide instructions on how to create an account.
    • Once the PI creates his/her account, the NDI staff will reassign the NDI application to the new PI.

Note: Please make sure that anytime you are communicating with NDI staff to include your NDI (application) number in the email’s subject line and similarly, on the checks being sent by mail or with payments made online.