Pennsylvania Vital Record Indexes and My Bleary Eyes...

Feb 14, 2012


Ok, I admit it. I'm tired this morning. My eyes feel like they have sand in them and I almost nodded off several times on the train heading into work.


You're laughing? You're laughing because you know! You're laughing because, you too, were one of the many thousands (I suspect) of Pennsylvania researchers who stayed up way too late last night searching through the newly released Pennsylvania Vital Records Birth and Death Indexes.


Ah, what an obsession we all share.


Having to wait until dinner and other necessary domestic chores were done, I didn't get to actually sit down and begin my search until a bit after 9 PM, and all I wanted to do was dive in. My first browse through various years started to get a bit disjointed, and when I found myself making notations on Post-It notes, I stopped and regrouped.


I went to's page of Genealogical Research Forms (Free) and printed a few "Research Calendars" then set about the research much more methodically, as well I knew I should have from the beginning....

PA Death Indexes - Research Calendar



Anyway, we each have our own techniques for research I suppose, and I chose to begin with the most recent death indexes; this choice was based on conversations I remember having with my grandparents about their first cousins and aunts and uncles. Many of the relatives they talked about were older and had passed away during the 1950's and 1960's, and I thought I might recognize some of their names.


I did.


I settled on searching four family surnames in each year, and cast my net wide - the families were mainly in Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties, and some branches used variant spellings of surnames (just to keep it interesting, hm?)



The PA Vital Records site explains to researchers that the indexes between 1920-1924 and 1930-1951 are soundexed, so surnames must be converted. Wow, a blast from the past...I used to know the Soundex coding by memory....but in any case, the PA Vital Records site provides us with the Russell Soundex code, and researchers can also access a Soundex Converter on Rootsweb online.


As the clock crept toward 12:40 AM, I began to think of a plan of, a Research Plan...


With no digital images yet of the actual certificates, and more records found that I want to view than I thought I might, and no idea when the digital images will be available (on Ancestry? on FamilySearch? we'll see how this shakes out eventually), I've decided on a course of action.


1958 Pennsylvania Death Indexes


Now that I know exact dates of death, this makes it a gazillion times easier to find obituaries. Most newspapers in the geographic areas in which I'm researching are not indexed (in later time periods), nor are they available on or the Library of Congress Chronicling America site, although they are available on microfilm at the local library. But until now, without dates, the idea of searching for an obit was daunting - like looking for the literal needle in the haystack.


While waiting for the digital images (or at least until the demand on the PA Archives and Vital Records Department subsides), I can also search for probate records in the Register of Wills for each county. And if an obit indicates a cemetery, I can pursue that also for other family members.


Doing each of these preliminary steps should help me narrow down and prioritize which of the death certificates would most likely be related to my family lines, so they'll be on my order list first.


Maybe I'll search a few more death indexes during lunch. If I don't nod off at my desk first...