Who Do You Think You Are?

Assuming that many of you who are interested in the PHMC and the Trails of History are also interested in your own history, I thought I’d use this space to make you aware of a recent development in genealogy research. Act 110 (which amends the Vital Statistics Law of 1953) has set in motion a partnership between the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, expanding access to birth and death records in the Commonwealth.

Birth records from 1906 and death records from 1906 to 1961 have been indexed and are searchable by name of individual and year of event. Under the new law, birth records will be made public 105 years after they were created, while death records will be open after 50 years, so new records will become available every year. (Prior to 1906, birth and death records were held by counties—more on that in a moment.) To request a record, you must first consult the relevant index to find the state file number. Access to the indices is free.

Sample of death index (state file number circled in red)

With the state file number, you have several options.

You can visit the State Archives Search Room, during regular business hours, and request to see the original records (the Archives will have the online indices available so you can do your initial search there if you haven’t before arriving). The Archives also has copies or microfilm of some pre-1906 records submitted by counties (you can find out more about that here.)

PHMC/PA State Archives

Or you can submit a research-by-mail request to the State Archives (check the website for info on fees for research and copies).

Or you can request a non-certified copy of the record from the Dept. of Health’s Division of Vital Records (application forms and mailing/payment instructions are here.)

The Division of Vital Records is currently working on a project to fully digitize and index the certificates to make them available online and searchable by more variables. Stay tuned!


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