Friday, May 10, 2013

Pennsylvania Birth and Death Records

As some of you may be aware, Pennsylvania only recently has made some birth and death records available to the public. In the past, the unavailability of these records was a huge hindrance to genealogists but now all death records older than 50 years and all birth records older than 105 years are available to the public. At the moment, the system works by finding the record you want in the index available at the Pennsylvania Department of Health website and then filling out a request form for the full record using the details from the index. Some of the indices are strictly alphabetical, others are organized by Soundex. For those who might be new to genealogy, Soundex is a phonetic organization system and to navigate it, you merely type the surname you're looking for into a Soundex converter such as the one on RootsWeb and you'll get a code which will be listed on the index.

Each non-certified copy of a record costs $3, a very reasonable price in the genealogy world, but they can take several months to get back to you. My first order took 6 months. It dawned on me today that this may be because of their exciting deal with If you haven't heard already, the PA DOH made a deal with in August 2012 in which all the public birth and death records would be scanned by and made available on This is great news for those of us already subscribed to, not so great news for those who aren't. However, the good news for everyone is that after three years of the records availability on, they will be made available online to the public for FREE from the PA DOH. I know three years is a long wait but I get the impression the PA DOH did not want to put the cost and effort into scanning the records themselves so if it weren't for this deal, it might not have ever happened. They are letting do the work for them and in return, will have exclusivity of the records availability online for three years.

For those who aren't subscribers, it would probably be cheaper to keep using the mail order system through the PA DOH unless you're ordering a large batch of them. A monthly U.S. membership to is only $22.95 so if you think you'll wind up finding 8 or more records (which would be $24+ plus postage from the PA DOH), it would be cheaper to subscribe for one month and then cancel. Keep in mind, of course, you'll also have access to all of's U.S. records collections too so temporary access may be well worth it to get as many records as you can in that time. Additionally, keep in mind that many libraries provide access to so this is another option as well.

Anyway, my original point was that right now, are in the middle of scanning all these records in batches and while they are scanning, that batch is not available from the PA DOH. So if you're waiting 6 months for your records, it's probably because they are tied up being scanned. It's entirely possible that once they have all been scanned, it won't take as long to order one through the mail. Also good news for those sticking with the mail order system.

According to the PaHR-Access, the first batch of records will be available on sometime late this summer and all the records should be completed around early next year (they estimate February 2014). So now that I know when the records will be available on, I'm not going to order anymore records through the PA DOH, I can wait until August 2013/February 2014.

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