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Pennsylvania Vital Records

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United States > Pennsylvania

Statewide Records of Births and Deaths[edit | edit source]

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

101 South Mercer Street
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103
Telephone (724) 656-3100

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 You can also write to the Division of Vital Statistics for current information.

Local Records of Births and Deaths[edit | edit source]

The Register of Wills in most counties kept records of births and deaths for the years 1852-1854. The Family History Library has Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Births, Marriages, and Deaths on File at the State Archives, 1852-1854 (Family History Library films 1016403-8). The 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.

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 library has birth and death records on microfilm for the cities of Altoona, Harrisburg, Johnstown, McKeesport, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton, Wilkinsburg, Williamsport, and York.

For example:

Philadelphia County and City.

Digitized Records for Philadelphia Deaths 1803-1915 w/ original images

The Family History Library has over 1,000 microfilms, some of which are:

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Birth Registers, 1860-1903, For the City of Philadelphia. (On 56 Family History Library films beginning with 1289345.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Birth Returns, 1904-1915, Filed by Physician, Midwife, or Hospital. (On 197 Family History Library films beginning with 1373643.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Bureau of Health. Birth Index Cards, 1904-1915, for Philadelphia. (Family History Library films 1373643-817.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Department of Public Health. Burial Records, 1807-1840. (Family History Library films 381249-58.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Department of Public Health. Death Records, 1832-1860. (Family History Library films 381242-8.)

Pennsylvania Historical Survey. Work Projects Administration. Index to Registration of Deaths, City of Philadelphia, 1803-1860. (Family History Library films 978982-96.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Death Registers, 1860-1903. (On 54 Family History Library films beginning with 1289360.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Bureau of Health. Death Certificates, 1904-1915: Death Indexes, 1904-1915. (On 781 Family History Library films beginning with 1289374.)

With the consolidation of Philadelphia City and County in 1854, all vital records after 1854 are found on the level for Philadelphia City.

Other records include:

Old German Midwife's Records, 1791-1815. (Family History Library film 383294.) The originals are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Fayette County (Pennsylvania). Prothonotary. Birth Returns for Negroes and Mulattoes, 1788-1826: Includes Certificates of Registry Received from Other Counties 1785, 1803, 1805, 1807-1808 and Miscellaneous Papers 1823, 1830, n.d. (Family History Library film 1449141.) The library also has these records of varying dates for Adams, Centre, and Lancaster counties.

Pennsylvania. Governor. Death Warrants, 1794-1873. (Family History Library films 1016409-12.) These records are warrants for the executions of convicted criminals.

Bucks County (Pennsylvania). Coroner. Coroner's Views and Inquisitions, 1710-1906; Index, 1722-1946. (Family History Library films 941417-24.) Coroner's reports supply information on accidental or suspicious deaths.

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 library has many records of funeral homes. An example from Philadelphia is:

David H. Bowen and Son, Undertakers (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Funeral Records, 1845-1899. (On 13 Family History Library films beginning with 527812.)

Published records include:

Charles Adam Fisher. Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. Reprint of 1947 edition; Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979 (Family History Library book 974.8 V2fi; fiche 6101577.) 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:

Santos, Carile. Complete Name Index to Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. (Family History Library film 1597740 item 6.)

Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 3 vols. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983. (Family History Library book 974.8 V2p.) This contains most records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths published in those magazines.

Newspaper accounts of 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:

Scott, Kenneth. Abstracts (Mainly Deaths) From the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1775-1783. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976. (Family History Library book 974.8 A1 no. 87.) See the "Newspapers" section of this outline for more information.

Delayed Registration of Birth Records[edit | edit source]

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.

Delayed birth records are at:

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

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 (Family History Library films 927594-605).

Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

Pennsylvania recorded few civil marriage records before 1885. However, many marriages before then will be found in church records. The Family History Library has:

Marriage Register of Pennsylvania, 1684 to 1689. (Family History Library film 20438 item 4.) This contains mainly Quaker records in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania. Supreme Executive Council. Marriage Bonds, 1784-1786. (Family History Library films 1759093 item 2 through 1759094 item 1.) 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.

Pennsylvania. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Marriage Records, 1885-1889. (Family History Library films 1027957-8.) The males are listed on the first film and the females on the second.

Individual counties or cities 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, although some are earlier. For Philadelphia City and County, the library has:

Early Marriage Papers of Philadelphia County,1752- 1804. (Family History Library film 20438 item 8.)

Marriages in Philadelphia, 1808-1895. (Family History Library films 381275-8.)

Marriage Register of Philadelphia County, 1814 to 1839. (Family History Library film 20438 item 5.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Certificates of Marriages Before John Dennis, Alderman of Philadelphia, 1846-1852. (Family History Library film 20447 item 3.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Mayor. Marriage Records, 1857-1938. (Family History Library films 972954-6.)

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Marriage Returns, 1860-1885, Filed by Person Performing the Ceremony. (On 28 Family History Library films beginning with 1764889.) These records are returns of marriages arranged quarterly under the name of the person performing the marriage. They include the date of ceremony, the name, age, place of birth, and residence of parties involved; and the groom's occupation and race. The records are the source for:

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Board of Health. Marriage Register, 1860-1885. (On 7 Family History Library films beginning with 978997.) These films are difficult to read in many places.

Pennsylvania. Magistrate's Court (Philadelphia). Record of Marriages, 1880-1908, in Magistrate's Court No. 9. (Family History Library film 475647.)

Philadelphia County (Pennsylvania). Clerk of the Orphans' Court. Affidavit of Applicant for Marriage License 1885-1915; Index 1885-1916. (On 598 Family History Library films beginning with 1290579.)

Justice of the Peace records may contain marriages before 1885. The library has these records from the counties of Beaver, Chester, Dauphin, Greene, Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery, and Somerset. For example see:

Potter County (Pennsylvania). Justice of the Peace. Records, 1865-1927. (Family History Llibrary film 1421828.) This source contains summons, warrants, and marriages. It also includes typewritten indexes to the records and a separate typewritten index to marriages (1865-1896).

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. (Family History Library film 20447 item 3.)

Published records include the following:

Marriage licenses for 1742 to 1790 (mostly for 1744 to 1776) are in:

Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1790. 1968. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing, 1968. (Family History Library book 974.8 V2n; film 823832 item 2.) This was reprinted from Pennsylvania Archives, series 2, volume 2.

Additional marriage records are in:

List of Marriage Licenses Issued in the Secretary's Office From August 1755 through April 1759. Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 21 (1960): 312-27. See the "Periodicals" section of this outline.

Record of Pennsylvania Marriages, Prior to 1810. 2 vols. 1880. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1968. (Family History Library book 974.8 V2r; fiche 6049248-9.) This was reprinted from Pennsylvania Archives, series 2, volumes 8 and 9, and is mostly from church records.

Divorce Records[edit | edit source]

In Pennsylvania, divorce proceedings were usually kept by the court of common pleas. For example, see:

Pennsylvania. Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia County). Divorce Docket, 1851-1874. (Family History Library films 963387-93.)

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. (Family History Library book 974.8 B2p v. 1; film 1698098 item 2.)

Inventory of Vital Records[edit | edit source]

You can learn more about the history and availability of vital records in:

Inventory of Vital Statistics within Each County. Harrisburg, Pensylvania: Historical Records Survey, N.d. (Family History Library film 1016402.) This inventory also describes many available church records.