20 CFR 404.303 and 404.703

SSR 75-14a

The claimant, attempting to establish entitlement to Old-Age Insurance Benefits, submitted numerous pieces of documentary evidence relative to his date of birth. The Social Security Administration initially established a date of birth based on the oldest and most convincing evidence submitted which resulted in a denial of benefits to the claimant. The Administrative Law Judge considering the testimony given at a hearing established an earlier date of birth based on many items of recent evidence supporting the claimant's allegation. The Appeals Council then reviewed the record. Held, the highest probative value is assigned to the documents recorded earliest and the date of birth established initially is upheld.

The general issue before the Appeals Council is whether the claimant is entitled to old-age insurance benefits. The specific issue is the claimant's date of birth as established by the evidence of record.

The claimant filed an application for old-age insurance benefits on May 9, 1973, alleging that he was born on January 26, 1910. The record contains the following documentary evidence relative to his date of birth:

United States Census Record January 1920 6 1913
Elementary School Record 10/8/23 1/20/13 1913
Jr. High School Record 1/25/30 1/20/13 1913
Application for Social Security Number 3/15/44 34, 1/26/10 1910
Application for Employment 8/9/48 1/26/10 1910
Enrollment for Group Life Insurance 11/28/48 1/26/10 1910
Certification of Marriage Record 2/13/62 50 1912
Voter's Registration 5/14/73 1/26/10 1910
Affidavits by his Aunt 5/9/73
Chauffeur's License 11/71 1/26/10 1910
Affidavit of Other having knowledge 9/24/74

The claimant was born in Georgia and no civil or religious records of his birth exist. He stated that his aunt and mother both told him he was born on January 26, 1910. He has used this date of birth consistently since 1944. Documentary evidence recorded prior to 1930 indicates that he was born in 1913 and such information was given by his parents. He contends that these documents are incorrect.

The record reveals that the evidence supporting the claimant's allegation consists of documents initiated by the claimant or affidavits from elderly persons. Although the Appeals Council does not question the good faith of the individuals who made statements on the claimant's behalf, such statements can be given little weight as they were recently made, are based solely on memory, and refer to events which occurred more than 50 years ago.

Concerning probative value of relative documents in considering proof of age, the question of whether or not the Secretary should give greater weight to recently obtained statements of aged persons concerning date of birth or should give greater weight to the documentary evidence of the earliest vintage has been considered many times. For example, in Finklestein v. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 221 F.Supp. 361, (WD Pa., 1963) a somewhat similar situation was presented, and the court held consistent with the common law as well as with the statutory law and regulations that written documents are superior to the memory of aged persons especially as to matters such as date of birth. In fact, we know of no serious dispute in legal commentaries to the general proposition that official documents are superior to the memory of events based upon recently obtained statements of such events which have occurred more than a half century earlier.

When evaluating evidence of a claimant's age, section 404.703(c) of Social Security Regulations No. 4 provides, in effect, that higher probative value will be assigned to those documents which were recorded earliest. The 1920 United States Census Record is the earliest record of the claimant's age and the information contained thereon was given by the claimant's parents and is corroborated by the October 8, 1923, Elementary School Record. Accordingly, the Council is of the opinion that these documents are superior to those statements based on memory.

It is the decision of the Appeals Court that the claimant's date of birth is January 26, 1913, and that he is entitled to old-age insurance benefits on the basis thereof, pursuant to his application filed on May 9, 1973. The decision of the administrative law judge is hereby modified.

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