Search Public Records
Where can I search for free public records?
Third-party websites offer an alternative by simplifying the search for specific types of vital records. These services are not geographically restricted and can be helpful for research. Be aware, that the accuracy of data on third-party sites might not match the official government records. Therefore, it is recommended to consult the original records held by the state for the most reliable information.
Are Pennsylvania Vital Records Open to the Public?
Pennsylvania’s vital records are generally open to the public. However, access to these records depends on age and the record type. Birth records become public after 105 years, while death records are available after 50 years. Pennsylvania archives can provide a valuable resource for those researching family history or seeking specific information. However, reviewing these records may require significant time investment.
To find a record on a third-party website, the person requesting must provide the following information:
- The location of the record you’re looking for, including the city, county, or state where it was recorded.
- The name of the person on record, if it is not a minor.
How to Verify if Your Vital Record is Official
To verify that you possess an official certified copy of a birth, death, or marriage certificate, you can compare the appearance with the certified records from the issuing county or municipality in Pennsylvania. Each jurisdiction may have distinct designs for each type of vital record. Certified copies are typically required for legal purposes and can be easily distinguished from informational copies, often displaying a stamp or notice such as “Informational, Not a Valid Document to Establish Identity.”
What Are the Differences between Authorized Copies Versus Informational Copies?
Authorized (certified) copies of vital records are issued exclusively to individuals with a direct and tangible interest in the document. Authorized copies are recognized as legal documents suitable for official identification purposes. On the other hand, informational copies are not valid for establishing one’s identity.
Informational copies of birth or marriage certificates serve as non-certified replicas that individuals often use for personal record-keeping or genealogical purposes. Unlike official certified copies, these documents, sometimes called short-form, unofficial, “heirloom,” or “commemorative” certificates, are not recognized as legal documents and cannot be used for official transactions like establishing identity or applying for government benefits. In Pennsylvania, the State Archives provides a means for individuals to request such non-certified informational copies, but with specific historical limitations. Birth records become available after 105 years and death records after 50 years, reflecting a balance between public access to historical records and the protection of individual privacy.
In other cases, such as adoption, the Health Department issues non-certified original birth certificates to adoptees, acknowledging the unique circumstances surrounding access to personal records in adoption scenarios. It’s important to note that Pennsylvania does not require a notarized sworn statement when requesting an informational copy, simplifying the process for individuals seeking these records. This approach is consistent with the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), legislation that underscores the state’s commitment to transparency by granting citizens the right to inspect or obtain copies of public records, subject to certain exceptions and conditions.
Find more references regarding birth, death, and marriage certificates in the resources section.