Please note that the PaHR-Access website was moved this website as
of February 1st, 2014 . Let us know if any of the links do not work
People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (PaHR-Access) www.pahr-access.org
We are a grassroots effort to have Pennsylvania make its older state birth and death certificates available online
Thank you for helping us succeed in changing Pennsylvania law to make birth certificates over 105 years old and death certificates more than 50 years old become open records. Our mission is nearly complete as Ancestry.com has, as of April 18th, 2014, started to have these records online. When all the records are online Pennsylvania will have gone from being one of the most restricted to one of the better states when it came to accessing these records. Without your help we would still be stuck with the old extremely restricted access and wishing it were different!
This website had been completely changed and updated to reflect the new Vital Records Law Senate Bill 361 (Act 110 of 2011) signed into law Dec 15th, 2011 and went into effect February 13th, 2012. It has been once again changed in April 2014 to reflect the fact that the records are now online courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives through Ancestry.com. See Our Goal and Frequently Asked Questions for more on all of these changes.
- Our Goal (accessing the records on Ancestry)
Our Goal: (also see FAQ)
Our main goal all along has been to have Pennsylvania state death certificates after 50 years and possibly birth certificates after 100 years become open records and AVAILABLE ONLINE. We completed the first phase of our goal when Pennsylvania Vital Records Bill SB-361 (Act 110 of 2011) went into effect law on February 13th, 2012 and made all death certificates over 50 years old and birth certificates over 105 years old open records (the latter figure was part of a compromise). The new law also transfers the certificates to the Pennsylvania State Archives as they become open records year each. The completion of the second phase of our goal started when Ancestry.com put the first batch of records online as of April 18th, 2014. Our goal will be totally complete when all the records are online, and after three years on Ancestry, be available for free to all on the Pennsylvania State Archives website. This is the overall schedule for the records to be on Ancestry:
April 18, 2014 - Ancestry.com has put the first batch of death records online (1906-1924).
June 24, 2014 -
second batch of
death records online
October 24, 2014 - Ancestry.com has put the third patch of death records online (1945-63).
March 2015 – birth certificates (1906)
Pennsylvania residents (and only Pennsylvania residents) have free access to this particular database as they do with other Pennsylvania State Archives records already scanned and made available online by Ancestry. Free access for Pennsylvania residents is accomplished by registering online at no cost through this link: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/. Pennsylvania residents that already have a subscription to Ancestry do not need to do anything as long as they continue to have a subscription to Ancestry. Out of state residents do need a subscription to Ancestry to access these records. However, many libraries and research centers everywhere provide free access to Ancestry.
With the records in an online database it is now possible to search for an open record birth or death certificate using various bits of data such as by the first name, surname, date or place of birth or death, and/or parents' names including mother's maiden name. This is most valuable to researchers who do not know when or where the person died or even what their surname was when they died or how it was actually spelled. Keep in mind that many names are misspelled on the original certificates and the data is only as good as the informant's knowledge of the person. For instance if they misspelled names, gave the wrong parents' names, date or place of birth, etc it will be that way on the certificates. The most reliable information will be the place and date of death.
Aside from obvious mistakes by Ancestry in indexing, to which there are quite a few - such as writing Schuyler County instead of Schuylkill County, the most notable problem (and in fairness to Ancestry) is in reading the handwriting and mistakes on the certificates themselves such as indicating the date of birth the same as date of death even though the person, for example, is listed as 89 years old or listing the informant's parents' names instead of the deceased's. Most of the indexing mistakes involve very easily confusing the lower case n with u, r with s, a with o, upper case L with S, etc (keep this in mind while you search). Because of this problem a person like Nathan Kostenbauder is misindexed as Nachau Kostercande or David Hahn as Dovul Helm. Since this database will eventually be handed over to the Pennsylvania State Archives and to help other researchers find who they are looking for, please correct any and all mistakes you see if you can. However, in doing so please be sure your correction is true and accurate.
Here are some techniques to help you to find who you are looking for. While the settings on Ancestry for exact, similar, phonetic and soundex can help you can also use the wildcards * and ? in a name. An asterisk is a substitute for one or more letters and a question mark is a substitute for one letter. For example "ph?l*" covers all the spellings of Philip, Phillip, Philipp, Philippe, Philippina, etc and "s*n*der" covers all spellings of Schneider, Snyder and anything in between. While using wildcards can be very helpful, it can sometimes also give you many names you're not interested in just as with soundex. Also remember you do not have to fill in every category or part of the search engine. You can leave off the either the first or last name, birth or death date, location, etc. You can even search by just the father's name or mother's maiden name. For example you can enter just the person's first name, location of death, approximate years of birth or death and father's first name.
As part of getting better access some people would like to see an online index of deaths less than 50 years old. This however might require another change in the law. But in addition to benefiting genealogical and historical research it would also help to stop identity theft of the deceased by making it easier to verify deaths, the same purpose as the Social Security Death Index. For a better understanding of this issue please read Frequently Asked Questions. Others would also like to see better access to adoption records which are sealed literally indefinitely no matter how long ago the adoption took place. At the very least adoption records should become open records after 100 years. Organizations like the Adoption Congress are working on improving access to adoption records in Pennsylvania. Aside from adoption records in general and birth and death records that are not open records very few Pennsylvania records are not open to the public.
PaHR-Access (People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access) is strictly a grassroots organization started in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania in August of 2007. It was first known as People for Better Access to Pennsylvania Historical Records (PBAPHR). The name change took place in early November 2007 to allow for a more pronounceable acronym (i.e. par-access).
We are ordinary people who literally want to have better access to Pennsylvania's historical records. Our main concern is Pennsylvania state birth and death certificates. There are no membership dues merely the willingness to help in this effort. PaHR-Access is not affiliated with any political, commercial, institutional or religious organization whatsoever. Website contents designed and composed by Tim Gruber with input from Dale Berger and others. If you have any questions or concerns please contact our spokesperson:
We would enjoy hearing from you
December 1, 2007
(updated October 24, 2014)