A Vital Link to the Past: Pennsylvania Birth and Death Certificates

Birth and death certificates are a genealogist’s best friends. They provide authoritative information about individuals (much more than just their dates of birth and death), and are the starting point for many exciting searches into family history. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health began recording birth and death certificates in 1906 (many of which are available online today). Since then, the department’s Vital Statistics division has recorded and preserved information about millions of Pennsylvanians. As you probably know from personal experience, birth and death records are extremely important in many situations.

It takes a lot of coordination and effort to record all of these births and deaths, and we should not forget the clerks and typists who were (and still are) the unsung heroes of this critical work. They make this wealth of historical information available to us today. Do you think you have the patience and skill to type out and organize hundreds and thousands of certificates each year? With no mistakes? That’s what these women did. Enjoy these Pennsylvania Vital Statistics office photographs taken in 1945 and description of the division written in 1955!

Reception Room

“The Division of Statistics and Records coordinates the functions of the Section of Vital Statistics and the Section of Statistical Methods. The Section of Vital Statistics is responsible for the collection, permanent binding, filing and indexing of records of birth, death, adoption, marriage, divorce, annulment of marriage and annulment of adoption.

Recording Room


Recording Room 2
Recording Room

Notifications of Birth Registration are forwarded to the mothers by the local registrars after the original birth certificate has been filed with the local registrar. The Section of Vital Statistics issues certifications of birth and death for the statutory fee of one dollar.

Index Room

A delayed registration of births may be filed without payment of a fee for births which occurred prior to 1906 when the Vital Statistics system was established in the Commonwealth. Delayed registrations are also filed for persons whose births were not recorded since the Vital Statistics system was established. Verification of Vital Statistics information is provided to Government Agencies, and copies of certificates are issued to members of the armed services or their dependents without payment of a fee. Information contained on birth and death certificates is microfilmed for statistical use by the National Office of Vital Statistics.

IBM and Statistical Room
I.B.M. and Statistical Room

The Section of Statistical Methods uses the registration data collected by the Division of Vital Statistics to tabulate Natality and Mortality information for the Commonwealth. Morbidity tabulations are also provided on a weekly basis. By the use of statistical machines health information is assembled in special quantative groupings which serves as a guide in planning and evaluating health programs. This information is published monthly in a publication entitled “Public Health Statistics for Pennsylvania.” Statistical information regarding the Public Health Program in the Commonwealth is available upon request to all those who have an interest in the health program of the Commonwealth.”

Photostat Room
Photostat Room

To learn more about Pennsylvania birth and death certificates, visit the PA Department of Health’s Vital Statistics website or the PA State Archives. All the photographs used in this post were found in the Pennsylvania State Archives, RG 11.22: Records of the Department of Health, Bureau of Health Communications Photographic File.


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