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Pennsylvania: Local History & Genealogy Resource Guide

Vital Records

Based on the date of the vital event (birth, death, marriage, divorce), determine whether you are seeking a state, territory, county, or parish level record. If the record you are seeking has been digitized, you can access it online, through the projects described below. If it has not been digitized or if you need a certified copy, contact the appropriate state or county office to view the record.

Timeline of Vital Records

Adoption Records

County Note: Adoption records are sealed. Contact the Clerk of the Orphans' Court to determine the requirements for petitioning the court to open a sealed record.

State Note: The Pennsylvania Act 127 of 2016 authorizes the Department of Health to release non-certified copies of original birth records to an adopted individual or their lineal descendants. Original birth certificates were issued before an adoption and potentially list biological parents, birthnames, etc. You must meet the state restrictions in order to be eligible to submit a request.

Birth Records
Death Records

Note: Between 1852 and 1854, Pennsylvania made an early attempt to record births and deaths at the county level. In 1893, counties again took up the task of recording births and deaths. In 1906, the state took over and maintains these records to date.

Also Note: Pennsylvania also has "Delayed birth certificates" maintained at the county level. These were generally issued to people born before 1893, who lived long enough to be eligible for Social Security or other benefits that required proof of birth.

Marriage Records
  • State Level: 1743-1790, surviving Marriage Bonds (pledges to marry) published in Pennsylvania Archives, series 2, volume 2
  • County Level: 1852-1854, 1885 to present
    Generally maintained by: Clerk of Orphans' Court, often combined with Register of Wills

Note: Like birth and death records, an early effort to record marriages at the county level was made between 1852 and 1854. In 1885, the counties resumed this task and maintain these records to the present day.

Divorce Records
  • State Level: 1776-1847, Pennsylvania General Assembly Statutes at Large
  • State Level: 1785-1804, Pennsylvania Supreme Court
  • County Level: 1804 to present
    Generally maintained by: Prothonotary

Note: Most Pennsylvania divorces will be found at the county level beginning in 1804 and continuing to present day. However, early divorces may also be found in the records of the Pennsylvania General Assembly or Pennsylvania Supreme Court who had concurrent jurisdiction.

Online Resources for Vital Records

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Using Ancestry Library Edition for Pennsylvania

Begin your search through Ancestry's vast collections, by viewing the list designated as Pennsylvania records External. These include Pennsylvania birth and death certificates for the brief, early period of county level record keeping 1852-1854 as well as those maintained by the state beginning in 1906. State level records are released each year as the protected privacy period ends and the records are declared public.

Note: If you are a Pennsylvania resident, take advantage of the partnership between the Pennsylvania State Archives and to digitize family history records in the State Archives and make them available online. This partnership entitles Pennsylvanians free access to these collections. This access requires a free Pennsylvania account. To begin, go to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission External web site, enter your zip code in the form at the bottom of the page External, and follow the link to the Pennsylvania search page.

Using FamilySearch for Pennsylvania

FamilySearch provides useful state and county wikis that make excellent starting points for research. The Pennsylvania Wiki External includes links to each of its 67 counties.

FamilySearch has digitized many of its microfilms containing county courthouse records including birth, death, and marriage. Not all records have been indexed yet, so search engine results will NOT show you the full range of FamilySearch data. You must browse the FamilySearch catalog External listings for each county to view the full set of records available. The vast amount of accessible original records is well worth your time to explore.

Pennsylvania vital records that have been indexed and centralized into a database are:

  • Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950 External This collection includes civil marriage records created in Pennsylvania counties. The records include registers, affidavits and marriage licenses. In some instances, divorce records are recorded with marriages. Note that each county may have provided records for a particular range of years within the 1885-1950 time period. Not all counties are included in this database for that entire period. Check with the county courthouses that maintain the original records of interest to ensure a complete search.

Obtaining Copies of Vital Records

Contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Records to learn more about accessing state-level records and explore additional options for obtaining copies.

Published Vital Records

Below are selected print publications for statewide vital records. The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

To locate additional published materials, go to the Print Resources section of this guide for search tips on locating published county courthouse records, abstracts, and indexes that may aide you in locating original records at the county level.