Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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Access the records: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915 .

Collection Time Period

Philadelphia has recorded deaths since 1803.

Record Description

The format of the records varies:

  • Registration of deaths, Board of Health, 1803–1915, exist in four formats: 1) Cemetery returns, 1803–1860, filed alphabetically by cemetery for each year (1803–1824), for each quarter (1825–1847), and for each week (1848–1860); 2) Death returns, 1860–June 30, 1890, filed alphabetically by cemetery name for each week; 3) Death certificates, July 1890–1903, filed by certificate number; 4) Death certificates, arranged by year and then by certificate number within each year.
  • Death registers, Board of Health, 1860–1903, are bound volumes with preprinted pages. The entries are filed chronologically.
  • Death records, Department of Public Health, 1834–1860, are bound volumes. The entries are filed by year and then by month.
  • Burial records, Department of Public Health, 1807–1840, are loose papers filed by death date.
  • Death records, General Hospital, 1866–1902, are bound volumes of preprinted forms and bound volumes of certificates, four to a page. The entries are filed chronologically.
  • Death registers, City Hospital, 1840-1896, are bound volumes with entries filed chronologically.
  • Death registers, Inspectors of the Jail and Penitentiary House, 1819–1914, are bound volumes.

Record Content

Philadelphia Death Record.jpg

Important genealogical information varies by record:

Death certificates, Bureau of Health, 1904–1915

  • Date of death and burial
  • Place of death, burial, and birth, as well as the birthplace of both parents
  • Name of the deceased, parents (if a minor), attending physician, and undertaker
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Residence of the undertaker
  • Ethnic group
  • Occupation
  • Former residence of the deceased

Death registers, Board of Health, 1860–1903

  • Death and burial dates
  • Place of death, burial, and birth
  • Name
  • Name of parents if the deceased was a minor
  • Age
  • Identifies the parents for deceased minors
  • Former residence
  • Race
  • Cause of death

Death records, Department of Public Health, 1834–1860

  • Death date
  • Death place
  • Name of the deceased and the physician
  • Age

Registration of deaths, Board of Health, 1803–1903

  • Death and burial dates
  • Place of death, burial, and birth
  • Name of the deceased, the attending physician, and the parents (if the deceased was a minor)
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Parents (if the deceased was a minor)
  • Residence
  • Race
  • Cause of death

Burial Records, Department of Public Health, 1807–1840

  • Death date
  • Burial place
  • Name
  • Age

Death records, general hospital, 1866–1902, death registers

  • Name
  • Color (W for White and B for Black)
  • Country of birth
  • Age
  • Death date
  • Cause of death

Death records, general hospital, 1866–1902, death certificates

  • Name
  • Color (usually White or Black)
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Married or single
  • Death date
  • Cause of death

Death registers, prison, 1819–1914

  • Name
  • Age
  • Death date
  • Prison where died
  • Cause of death

How to Use the Record

Begin your search by finding your ancestors in the index. Name indexes to deaths make it possible to access a specific record quickly. Remember that these indexes may contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings, misinterpretations, and optical character recognition errors if the information was scanned.

When searching the index it is helpful to know the following:

  • The place where the death occurred.
  • The name of the person at the time of death.
  • The approximate death date.

Use the locator information found in the index (such as page, entry, or certificate number) to locate your ancestor in the death records. Compare the information in the death record to what you already know about your ancestor to determine if this is the correct person. You may need to compare the information of more than one person to make this determination.

When you have located your ancestor’s death record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family. For example:

  • Use the birth date or age along with the place of birth to find or verify their birth records and parents' names.
  • Use the birth date or age along with the place of birth to find the family in census records.
  • Use the residence and names of the parents (if the deceased is a child) to locate church and land records.
  • Occupations listed can lead you to employment records or other types of records such as military records.
  • Use the parent’s birth places to find former residences and to establish a migration pattern for the family.
  • The name of the officiator is a clue to their religion or area of residence in the county.
  • The name of the undertaker or mortuary could lead you to funeral and cemetery records which often include the names and residences of other family members.
  • Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname, this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual.
  • Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives of the deceased who may have died or been buried in the same county or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.
  • When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.

If you are unable to find the ancestors you are looking for, try the following:

  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
  • Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.

Keep in mind:

  • The information in these records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the informant.
  • Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1800s.
  • There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record.

Record History

By Act of April 1, 1803, Philadelphia established its Board of Health, which began to record deaths and burials. In 1860 the city passed a law requiring that all births, marriages, and deaths within the city be recorded in a systematic way. The board became the Bureau of Health in 1899 and was placed under the Department of Public Health in 1903. In accordance with a new state law, the bureau began sending copies of death records to the state in 1906. The various collections cover those buried in the city of Philadelphia, including some out-of-city deaths. The same individual may be found in more than one collection.

Original images for the Philadelphia City Death Certificates are available on Historical Records (free) and also through the Philadelphia City Archives (fee).

Photocopies of Philadelphia death records 1803-1915, are available by writing to:

Philadelphia City Archives, 3101 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19104

Enclose $10.00 payment, check or money order, payable to CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, for each death record photocopy requested.

With your request include this information, found on the web pages for “Philadelphia City Civil Death and Burial Records.”

If the death occurred:

1803-June 1860 - Name of Deceased and date of death

July 1860-June 30, 1890 - Name of Deceased, date of death and cemetery name, if known

July 1890–1915 – Name of deceased, date of death, and certificate number (cn number)

You can access Pennsylvania death records, if available, prior to 1906 through the courthouse in the county where the person died. A list of courthouses is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Vital Records Web site. Cemetery and church records are more likely sources to be available for 18th and 19th century deaths and burials.

Why This Record Was Created

Deaths were recorded to better serve public health needs. They were also used in connection with the probate of wills and the administration of estates.

Record Reliability

Deaths were recorded to better serve public health needs. They were also used in connection with the probate of wills and the administration of estates.

Related Web Sites

This section of the article is incomplete. You can help FamilySearch Wiki by supplying links to related websites here.

Related Wiki Articles

Pennsylvania Vital Records

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Sources of Information for This Collection

"Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915," database, FamilySearch, from several organizations located in Philadelphia. Digital images of originals housed at the Philadelphia City Archives. Death records. FHL microfilm. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Department of Public Health. Burial records, 1807–1840 (Archival nos. Ph29A:1-26). Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Department of Public Health. Death records, 1834–1860. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Death registers, 1860–1903 (Archival no. 76.21). Philadelphia City Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Philadelphia General Hospital (Pennsylvania). Death records, 1866–1902 (Archival nos. 35.158, 65.60, 65.61). Philadelphia City Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Inspectors of the jail and penitentiary house. Death register, 1819–1914 (Archival no. 38.74). Philadelphia City Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • City Hospital (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). City Hospital Register, 1840-1896 (Archival nos. 37.17, 76.29). Philadelphia City Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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  • United States. Bureau of Census. 12th census, 1900, digital images, From Family Searc Internet ( Setpemper 29.2006), Arizona Territory, Maricopa, Township 1, East Gila, Salt River Base and Meridian; sheet 9B,line 71.
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