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PA Vital Records – Your Help is Needed


[Editor’s Note: we received this request for assistance from fellow genealogist Michael McCormick who is involved with the PaHR-Access organization]

Help is needed in promoting legislation for better vital records access. People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (aka PaHR-Access) is an organization of people like you taking an active role in promoting access to Pennsylvania’s records. Since it was founded in 2007 by spokesman Tim Gruber the focus has been to make death certificates 50+ years old public record.

This month begins the new 2011-2012 legislative session for Pennsylvania. Right before the end of the 2009-2010 session the vital records bill passed the Pennsylvania Senate committee on Public Health & Welfare. It was well on its way to being voted on by the Senate. In the previous 3 years PaHR-Access has significantly increased awareness of the vital records access issue. As of this writing 464 organizations have officially endorsed PaHR-Access by sending letters to the appropriate legislators. Many of these organizations are Historical Societies.

Senator Robert D. Robbins of the Pennsylvania Senate is preparing to reintroduce his vital records bill. Before that happens Senator Robbins will gather cosponsors for this bill from among his fellow Senators. 15 Pennsylvania Senators are now cosponsors. Next the bill we be assigned a number (last session it was SB 683). The bill will then work its way back through the committees and the usual legislative process. Your help is requested to impress upon legislators the importance and urgency of this issue.

The current situation in Pennsylvania is much worse than most other states for vital records access. Because the records are not legally considered “public” they can not be put online via images or index. Only Pennsylvania Department of Health employees are permitted to search the records. Genealogical requests will not be expedited according to the website and are only accepted by mail. The expected wait time is listed as 4 months. Genealogists can not order a certificate for a client unless a letter is attached expressly stating the client’s wish for the genealogist to do so. Make sure you send everything properly in your request or you will not only fail to receive the certificate, you will be out of the $9 to $34 you sent for the search. Besides all this you will not likely know it until 4 months later.

The bill being proposed will make death certificates over 50 years old and birth certificates over 100 years old public record. It also requires that these certificates be moved to the Pennsylvania State Archives. Many of you will know from experience the difference between working with an archive and a health department. Moving the records to the archive will remove a significant burden off of the Pennsylvania Department of Health in processing genealogical requests they are clearly not able to expedite. Making them public will mean that a public index could be made. They could eventually be put online. The options we genealogists are used to for accessing vital records would come into reach.

The support of genealogists everywhere is needed.

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©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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