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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 only be used for public health and medical studies, PROVIDED that no actions are taken which may directly affect individuals or establishments.
  • NDI data may not be used for genealogical, legal, administrative purposes, commercial purposes and/or to generate profit.
  • NDI data may not be sent/shared outside of USA territorial borders.
  • May only be used for the study or project described in the approved NDI application.
  • NDI data may not be shared with anyone not approved by the NDI.
  • Evidence of a current IRB review is REQUIRED for all NDI applications. For questions about surveillance, please contact the NDI staff.
  • The NDI application review process takes approximately 2-3 months.
  • 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.

Please enter your email address.

* 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 [PDF – 52 KB].
    • 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.

Repeated searches (excluding reruns) of the NDI data:

Repeated searches (excluding reruns) of NDI data must be approved by the NDI staff, before any additional searches can take place, to ensure that no significant changes have taken place since the initial application was approved. Examples of significant changes include new principal investigator, funding source, another internal or external party receiving identifiable data, or adding follow-back investigation. Whenever additional repeated searches of the NDI data are needed, PI must send an email to for the application to be unlocked. The PI must verify within the NDI Portal that no significant changes have occurred, and if so, revise and submit appropriate documentation. All applicants must upload the most current IRB approval letter.

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.