Early Christmas Gift to Pennsylvania Genealogists

Dec 19, 2011


Early Christmas Gift to Pennsylvania Genealogists


Pennsylvania genealogists have been campaigning for several years to institute changes to the vital records access laws. On Tuesday December 15th, 2011 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed four bills into law; one of them was SB – 361, which will allow family researchers greater access to Pennsylvania vital records.


A grassroots organization founded by Tim Gruber during the summer of 2007, now known as People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access, or Pa-HR Access, gathered steam over the last few years as supporters with a vested interest nationwide, particularly within the genealogical community, began to petition the Pennsylvania legislature for more reasonable and less antiquated access to PA vital records. Pa-HR Access has worked consistently to keep the PA Senate and House aware of the shortcomings of vital records access.


Finally, someone in the Pennsylvania legislature listened!


On February 1, 2011 Senator Robert D. Robbins (Of Mercer, part Crawford and part Lawrence Counties) introduced SB-361 into the Senate, which amended the Vital Statistics Law of 1953 to require the following:


  • Birth records to be considered public records 100 years from the date of birth
  • Death records to be considered public records 50 years from the date of death
  • Requires the State Archives to maintain the disclosed records.


During the course of its legislative journey, the bill was threatened with several unnecessary amendments, and unfortunately a change was made to the bill relating to birth records dating back 100 years, for which access was amended to 105 years in the bill.


The legislation is scheduled to take effect 60 days after being signed into law by Governor Corbett, so it is expected access to the records will happen sometime during February 2012.


The Fiscal Note written by House Appropriations Committee member Kathy Vranicar and dated November 22, 2011, states “The PA Historical and Museum Commission has a license agreement with Ancestry.com to digitize and index records at no cost to the state; PHMC anticipates Ancestry.com would make digitization of these birth/death records a high priority; once digitized, the records would become available to the public in the search room of the State Archives as well as to subscribers to Ancestry.com services; and after 3 years, the records would also become available on the PHMC website.”


Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) already has a license agreement with Ancestry.com so it makes sense that Ancestry will digitize and make searchable the birth and death records. (see free, indexed, access to Pennsylvania Marriage Records, 1885 – 1889 on Ancestry.com).


So what, exactly, does this mean for genealogists searching for information about their Pennsylvania ancestors?


The current process for obtaining birth and death records from the state of Pennsylvania is cumbersome, to say the least. And while the check accompanying your records request is cashed fairly quickly,  the wait time for receiving a copy of a birth or death record (if it’s found!) approaches the time period of months; waiting 6 to 8 months out of a year is not unheard of.


Depending on how quickly Ancestry can have the records scanned and made available, it’s very possible Spring of 2012 will offer Pennsylvania genealogists a windfall of information access about their ancestors – Pennsylvania birth records for 1906 & 1907, Pennsylvania death records for 1906 through 1962, AND the NARA 1940 census release expected on 2 April 2012.


It’ll be like genealogical Christmas right into 2012!



(Photo: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett with Senator Robert D. Robbins.)