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United States Gotoarrow.png Pennsylvania Gotoarrow.png Vital Records

Introduction to Vital Records

Vital Records consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths recorded on registers, certificates, and documents. United States Vital Records has additional research guidance on researching and using vital records. A copy or an extract of most original records can be purchased from the Pennsylvania Vital Records State Department of Health or the clerk of the orphans' court of the county where the event occurred. The Department of Health has birth and death certificates registered in Pennsylvania from 1906 to the present. For records prior to that date, contact the appropriate county. Marriage and divorce records are usually obtained from the courthouse in the county where the marriage license was issued or divorce decree was granted.

Contents

 
Vital Records Collage.JPG
  

Vital Records Reference Dates

Pennsylvania's civil records start the following years:


Birth County Marriages Death
Earliest 1852-54, 1893  1885, some in 1700s  1852-54, 1893 
Statewide Registration   January 1906   January 1906
General Compliance 1915
1915 


For Philadelphia City and County Records click here

Pennsylvania Birth, Marriage and Death Records Online

The following is a list of online resources useful for locating Pennsylvania Vital Records which consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths.  Most online resources for Pennsylvania Vital Records are indexes. After locating a person in an index always consult the original record to confirm the information in the index. Pennsylvania legislation allows access to statewide death records 50 years and older and statewide birth records 105 years and older. Indexes to the records are available at the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. Additional online records include those kept by the various counties or cities of Pennsylvania. These records generally cover births and deaths from 1893-1905, before the state began its vital records program in 1906. Births, deaths and marriages were also officially recorded by the counties between 1851-1855. County marriages are then recorded from 1885 to the present. Some exceptions include city births or deaths beginning in 1803--as in the case of Philadelphia--or the 1870's--as in the case of Reading and Pittsburgh. Also, some city, township, or borough vital records overlap the state records for several years as late as the 1940's.

Those websites without a search box can be searched per page by using the CTRL + F function.

If you are aware of other online databases, please feel free to add them.

Birth And Death Records

Statewide Records of Births and Deaths

Statewide registration of births and deaths began in January, 1906, and was generally complied with by 1915. You can obtain copies by writing to:

Division of Vital Statistics
State Department of Health

Health and Welfare Building
8th Floor West
625 Forster Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Telephone (877) 724-3258 (1-877-PA-HEALTH)
Birth and Death Indexes:Pennsylvania Department of Health

State your relationship to the individual you want information about and your reason. The current fees for obtaining copies of the state's records are available at the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or at Vitalrec.com. You can also write to the Division of Vital Statistics for current information.

Local Records of Births and Deaths

The Register of Wills in most counties kept records of births and deaths for the years 1852-1854.

Counties began registering births and deaths by 1893. Some counties (Chester, Cumberland, Fulton) and the City of Philadelphia began about 1873 or before. Birth and death registration continued until the state took over the responsibility in 1906.

Vital records were also kept by some of the larger cities. The Family History Library has birth and death records on microfilm for the cities of Altoona, Harrisburg, Johnstown, McKeesport, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton, Wilkinsburg, Williamsport, and York.

Other records include:

  • Old German Midwife's Records, 1791-1815. [1]The originals are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

The Family History Library has Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Births, Marriages, and Deaths on File at the State Archives, 1852-1854. [2]The Family History Library does not have 1852-1854 records for the counties of Blair, Clarion, Erie, Forest, Lehigh, Monroe, Montour, Philadelphia, Pike, Potter, and Union. Cameron, Lackawanna, and Snyder counties were formed after 1854.

  • Pennsylvania. Governor. Death Warrants, 1794-1873. [3]These records are warrants for the executions of convicted criminals. 
  • Funeral records issued by a funeral home include financial records (cost of casket, dressings, etc.), funeral cards given out at the time of the funeral, etc. These records usually give the name of the deceased, when and where buried, if shipped out to another funeral home, purchaser of cemetery plot, etc. The Family History Library has many records of funeral homes.
  • Complete Name Index to Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. [4]
  • Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. [5]This book contains church and cemetery records as well as birth dates, many from sources never before published, in the counties of Berks, Juniata, Lebanon, Northumberland, Snyder, and Union. An index to this is:
  • Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 3 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983. FHL Book 974.8 V2p. Includes most records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths published in those magazines.

Delayed Registration of Birth Records

Births before 1906 that were not registered at the time of the birth may have been registered beginning in 1941. To prove a birth, several witnesses were required to sign affidavits before the orphans' court which would then issue a birth certificate. Delayed registration of births began in various counties in different years, usually in 1941, and continued until about 1976.

The Registrar of Vital Statistics at the county seat. Write for information.

An example of delayed registration of births is Pennsylvania, Orphans' Court (Bucks County), Delayed Special Registration of Births and Index, 1941-1972. [6]

The Family History Library. Microfilm records are available for all counties EXCEPT Carbon, Chester, Lehigh, Monroe, Pike, and Union.

Marriage Records

Pennsylvania counties recorded few civil marriage records before 1885. As a general rule to obtain records, make applications to the Marriage License Clerk, County Courthouse, in the county where licenses were issued. However, many marriages before then will be found in church records.

Some earlier records have been published:

  • Pre-1810 - Record of Pennsylvania Marriages, Prior to 1810. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books (vol. 8 only) - free.[7]This was reprinted from Pennsylvania Archives, series 2, volumes 8 and 9, and is mostly from church records.
  • 1684-1689 - Marriage Register of Pennsylvania, 1684 to 1689. [8]This contains mainly Quaker records in Philadelphia.
  • 1742-1748 - "Pennsylvania Marriage Licenses, 1742-1748," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Dec 1742-May 1746: Vol. 39 (1915):176-185; Jun 1746-Dec 1747: Vol. 39 (1915):364-372; 1748: Vol. 39 (1915):434-439. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  • 1742-1790 - Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1790 [9]. Digital version at Google Books - free.
  • 1748-1752 - Jordan, Helen. "Pennsylvania Marriage Licenses, Issued by Governor Hamilton, 1748-1752," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Surnames A-H: Vol. 32 (1907):71-87; Surnames H-J: Vol. 32 (1907):233-236; Surnames J-M: Vol. 32 (1907):345; Surnames M-Y: Vol. 32 (1907):471-486. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  • 1755-1759 - List of Marriage Licenses Issued in the Secretary's Office From August 1755 through April 1759. [10]See the "Periodicals" page.
  • 1762-1768 - "Pennsylvania Marriage Licenses, 1762-1768," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 40 (1916):104-107; Vol. 40 (1916):208-221; Vol. 40 (1916):319-334; Vol. 40 (1916):436-457. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  • 1769-1776 - "Pennsylvania Marriage Licenses, 1769-1776," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 41 (1917):224-246; Vol. 41 (1917):334-358; Vol. 41 (1917):489-501. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  • 1784-1786 - Pennsylvania. Supreme Executive Council. Marriage Bonds, 1784-1786. [11]These records are alphabetically arranged by male applicant and are all at Philadelphia. They are probably the same records as those abstracted in Pennsylvania Archives, series 6, volume 6, pp. 285- 310.
  • 1885-1889 - Pennsylvania. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Marriage Records, 1885-1889. [12]The males are listed on the first film and the females on the second.

Many of these old articles have been republished in three volumes:

  • Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 3 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983. FHL Book 974.8 V2p. Includes most records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths published in those magazines.

Individual counties or cities such as Philadelphia have recorded marriages. Some cities began keeping records in the early 1800s. Counties which kept birth and death records for the years 1852-1854 usually kept marriage records for the same time period. Most counties began keeping marriage records in October 1885. You can obtain copies from the clerk of the orphans' court in the appropriate county.

The Family History Library has copies of many marriage records, usually from 1885 to 1920, Justice of the Peace records may contain marriages before 1885. The library has these records from the counties of Beaver, Centre, Chester, Columbia, Dauphin, Greene, Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery, Potter, and Somerset. For example see:

  • 1865-1927 - Potter County (Pennsylvania). Justice of the Peace. Records, 1865-1927. [13]This source contains summons, warrants, and marriages. It also includes typewritten indexes to the records and a separate typewritten index to marriages (1865-1896).
  • 1835-1839 - Bucks County (Pennsylvania). Justice of the Peace. Register of Marriages Performed by Lewis Swift, a Justice of the Peace of Bensalem Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1835-1839. [14]

Newspaper accounts of marriages and deaths are valuable sources for further research. The library has numerous newspaper accounts of vital records. Many obituary records have been abstracted in published books such as:

  • 1766-1787 - Scott, Kenneth. "Marriage Notices in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1766-1787," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 64 (1976):184-188. FHL Book 973 B2ng v. 64 (1976).
  • 1775-1783 - Abstracts (Mainly Deaths) From the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1775-1783 [15]See the Pennsylvania Newspapers page for more information.

Additional marriage records are in:

Gretna Greens. When an eloping Pennsylvania couple's marriage is not in their home county, search for it in alternate places like:[16][17]

Divorce Records

In Pennsylvania, divorce proceedings were usually kept by the court of common pleas. However, to obtain a record of divorce and it's proceedings, contact the Office of the Prothonotary in the county where the divorce was granted. For example, see:

  • Pennsylvania. Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia County). Divorce Docket, 1851-1874. [18]
  • Divorces Granted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from December 1785 until 1801, Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. [19]

Adoption Records

Adoption records for living persons: By law, Pennsylvania adoption records are confidential: "All adoption records, and other papers shall be withheld from inspection except upon a court order. The adoptee, who is at least 18 years of age, or the adoptee's adoptive parents, if the adoptee is under 18 years of age, may request of the court information concerning the natural parents that will not reveal their identity. Upon such a request of an adoptee who is 18 years of age, or the adoptive parents, if the adoptee is under 18 years of age, the court or the agency which placed the adoptee may attempt to contact the natural parents to obtain their consent to release of their identity. Information shall only be released about parents that agree to the disclosure" (23 Pa. C.S.A. 2905).

For more information on Pennsylvania adoption records contact:

  • Department of Public Welfare
    Office of Children Youth & Families
    P.O. Box 8018
    Harrisburg, PA 17105
    Phone: (717) 787-3672 
    FAX: (717) 787-9706
    Pennsylvania Department of Health [20]

    To review laws relating to Pennsylvania adoption research, see: Access Sumary and search for or scroll to Pennsylvania [21]

Additional Helps

Tips

  • Information listed on vital records is given by an informant.  Learn the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) of the record.  The closer the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) and whether or not the informant was present at the time of the event can help determine the accuracy of the information found on the record.
  • If you are unable to locate vital records recorded by governments, search for church records of christening, marriages, death or burial.  A family Bible may have been used to record births, marriages and deaths.
  • Privacy laws may restrict your access to some vital records.  Copies of some vital records recorded in the las 100 years may be unavailable to anyone except a direct relative.
  • Search for Vital Records in the Family Hisoty Library Catalog by using a Place Search and then choosing Vital Records.  Search for Pennsylvania to locate records filed by the State and then search the name of the county to locate records kept by the county.

Substitute Records

These links will take you to wiki pages describing alternate sources for birth, marriage and death records.

Pennsylvania Church Records Depending on the denomination, church records may contain information about birth, marriage and death.

Pennsylvania Cemetery Records Cemetery records are a rich source of birth and death information. These records may also reveal family relationships.

Pennsylvania Census Besides obituaries, local newspapers may contain birth and marriage announcements and death notices. Also check newspaper social columns for additional information.

Pennsylvania Newspapers Besides obituaries, local newspapers may contain birth and marriage announcements and death notices. Also check newspaper social columns for additional information.

Pennsylvania Military Records Military pension records can give birth, marriage and death information, In addition, soldiers' homes records can included this same information.

Pennsylvania Periodicals If no death record exists, probate records may be helpful in estimating when an individual has died. Probate records in the 20th Century often contain the exact death date.

Pennsylvania Probate Records If no death record exists, probate records may be helpful in estimating when an individual has died. Probate records in the 20th Century often contain the exact death date.

Pennsylvania History Local histories, family histories and biographies can all be sources of birth, marriage and death information. Often this information is found in county-level records or in surname searches of the Family History Library catalog. 

More Online Links

W.P.A. Inventory of Vital Records

You can learn more about the history and availability of vital records in Inventory of Vital Statistics within Each County. [22]This inventory also describes many available church records.

References

  1. Old German Midwife's Records, 1791-1815. (FHL Collection film 383294)
  2. Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Births, Marriages, and Deaths. (FHL Collectionfilms 1016403-408).
  3. Death Warrants, 1794-1873. (FHL Collection films 1016409-412)
  4. Santos, Carile. Complete Name Index to Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. (Family History Library (FHL Collection film 1597740 item 6.)
  5. Charles Adam Fisher. Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. Reprint of 1947 edition; Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979 (FHL Collection Book 974.8 V2fi; film 1597740 item 6.)
  6. Pennsylvania, Orphans' Court (Bucks County), Delayed Special Registration of Births and Index, 1941-1972 FHL Collection
  7. 2 vols. 1880. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1968. (FHL Collection Book 974.8 V2r; fiche 6049248-9.)
  8. Marriage Register of Pennsylvania, 1684 to 1689. (FHL film 20438 item 4.
  9. Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1790. 1968. Reprint, Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing, 1968. (FHL Book 974.8 V2n; film 823832 item 2. Includes marriage licenses (mostly 1744 to 1776). This was reprinted from Pennsylvania Archives, series 2, volume 2.
  10. Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 21 (1960): 312-27.
  11. Marriage Bonds, 1784-1786(FHL Collection films 1759094 item 1.)
  12. Marriage Records, 1885-1889 (FHL Collection film 1027957-958.)
  13. (FHL Collection film 1421828 items 1-2.)
  14. (FHL Collection film 20447 item 3.)
  15. Scott, Kenneth. Abstracts (Mainly Deaths) From the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1775-1783. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976. (FHL Collection Book 974.811 V4s.)
  16. Arlene H. Eakle, "Have you searched and searched for a marriage without finding it?" in Genealogy Blog at http://www.arleneeakle.com/wordpress/2007/02/19/have-you-searched-and-searched-for-the-marriage-without-finding-it/ (accessed 8 January 2011).
  17. Arlene H. Eakle, "Charles H. Browning and Your Genealogy" in Genealogy Blog at http://www.arleneeakle.com/wordpress/2007/11/30/charles-h-browning-and-your-genealogy/ (accessed 8 January 2011).
  18. Divorce Docket, 1851-1874. (FHL Collection film 963387-393.)
  19. Divorces Granted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from December 1785 until 1801, Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. Vol. 1, pp. 185-92. (FHL Collection Book 974.8 B2p v. 1; film 1698098 item 2.)
  20. Public Records Information. Pennsylvania Adoption Records. http://www.publicrecordsinfo.com/adoption_records/Pennsylvania_adoption_records.htm, 23 September 2010.
  21. U.S. Department of Human Services. Child Welfare Information Gateway: Access to Adoption Record: Summary of State Laws. http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/infoaccessapall.pdf, 3 September 2010. Information current through June 2009
  22. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Historical Records Survey, N.d. (FHL|283700|item}} Film 1016402.)

 

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