State and local county governments in Pennsylvania create vital records for each resident’s major life events. These life events include: birth, death, and marriage.
The term “Vital Records” is a contemporary one. Our ancestors used no such term. Vital records refers specifically to birth and death certificates created by Pennsylvania, and marriage licenses by local county governments. The state totals the vital records by county to create various vital statistics, such as deaths per year by cause of death. The statistical numbers of births, marriages, and deaths overall is of little interest to genealogists.
Vital records held by Pennsylvania become accessible to the public after specific periods of time. This is good news to family historians because anyone can request and use the publicly available records. See Birth Certificates and Death Certificates for more details.
Vital Record Research Tips
The challenge for family historians is the accuracy of any vital record certificates. We assume at first that these modern-looking records are completed with verified information. After all, they look so official on their forms and special paper! Unfortunately, vital records are plagued with unreliable data just like every other record used in research.
Make a Table of Conflicting Info
To deal with conflicting information, try making a table of the information that disagrees. No need to be fancy – a quick sketch on paper might be enough. Now ask yourself: How big are the differences? What explanations could there be? What additional information would help?
Use a Map to Locate the Family
Also try putting the locations on each vital record on a map. This can be an immense help if you are researching an unfamiliar area. Ask yourself questions such as: How far is the cemetery from place of death? Did the doctor come from far away to deliver the baby? Where did the informant live? Sometimes where something happens gives us what we need to find our next source.
Vital Records Changed Over Time
Pennsylvania, like all states, has unique characteristics to each of its vital records. Be sure to read up on the changes to know where to look for the time period you need.
We all wish that complete vital records started from day one in PA history. While we don’t have that, we do have a plethora of records we can use to substitute for those exact records.
This entry is part of the PA Ancestors Almanac. Follow the links at the bottom of the post to learn more about how to discover your ancestors in Pennsylvania.
Copyright ©2020, Denys Allen and PA Ancestors. All Rights Reserved.
Feel free to link to original article. For commercial use, please contact me.