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Pennsylvania finally makes it to the party, 59 years late

Late last year, Senate Bill 361 passed and was signed into effect by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. The bill proposed an amendment to the Vital Statistics Law of 1953 in a much needed way. The amendment set the confidential status of birth and death records to expire and allow the records to become open to the public. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health began issuing its first public vital records for genealogical research, 59 years after the original vital records law took effect.

The new law has opened birth records from 105 years from the certificate issue and death records 50 years after the event. Unfortunately, the state only began it’s archival process in 1906, so no real amount of birth data will be available for quite some time to come. Death records from 1906 to 1961 are available now. Of course older records are not impossible to come by, but require the contacting or visiting of the county offices where the even occurred. As a note, only non-certified copies are available through the new state method.

Performing the search for records is relatively simple and only cost $3 dollars a copy. You are required to do a little bit of the leg work to find the exact record requests unlike other vital records searches that have a per search fee. Here’s a quick outline.

1) Download the appropriate application form. You will need a computer, PDF reading software and a printer. The public library has everything you need to perform this part if you do not have a computer, but chances are you are reading this on a computer. One form will only allow for one search.
Birth Application Form
Death Application Form

2) Visit the Department of Health webpage that list the complete indices of births and deaths available. Choose the link depending on what type of records you are searching for (birth or death). Then navigate to the year of the event and to the appropriate PDF file based on last name. Note, some files are rather large and the print quality is poor. When you find the correct name and date, make note of the number after the name. This is known as the “State File Number” and is generally four to six digits long. It is required in part 2 of the application form printed out earlier.
Searching for Birth Records: Birth Indices
Search for Death Records: Death Indices

3) Prepare a self addressed, stamped envelope to include with the application and a method of payment. Check or money order made payable to: Vital Records

4) After filling out the application form completely, mail the application, self addressed, stamped envelope and payment.
Division of Vital Records
ATTN: Public Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103

If you have questions regarding this process, contact the Division of Vital Records (724) 656-3100.