Pennsylvania Records

In the past, I spent considerable time looking for a Pennsylvanina marriage record. With an extensive state history, I was certain the record existed. Frustrated with dead ends, I turned to the state's history for answers.

When we think about Pennsylvania, we are encouraged by the hope of a treasure trove of ancestral records and vital statistics. After all, in 1643 ,only thirty-six years after the first settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, the Swedes settled on the Delaware River. With history dating this far back, the expectation of vital statistics is high, but the reality is very different. As you search for Pennsylvania records, it is useful to know important vital statistic documentation years. This will save you valuable time searching for nonexistent records.

With most colonies chartered, I had incorrectly assumed the same in Pennsylvania. We all know William Penn played a significant role in the state's formation, but did you know his Admiral father was granted the land by King Charles II of England? The severely indebted King Charles owed Admiral Penn 10,000 sterling pounds and did not have the means to pay him. Rather than a charter or 10,000 pounds, Pennsylvania was given as a provincial grant. This grant would allow the Penn's rule of the land and the opportunity to establish order. Unfortunately, order didn't include the requirement for vital records until the mid-1850s..

William Penn received the land grant in 1681, but it took 157 years to establish a state constitution (1838). Fourteen years later (1852), Pennsylvania counties began recording birth, death, and marriage records. It was not mandatory, and the practice continued until 1855. Before this period, churches kept records. Some denominations kept better records than others, and access to some of the denominational records today is dependent upon the current ecclesiastical authorities.

In 1874 ,a new state constitution was ratified, and by 1885, counties were required to keep marriage applications. Eleven years later (1885), counties were required to keep marriage licenses. In 1893, counties again began collecting birth and death records voluntarily. In 1906, the state began collecting the birth and death records. In 1985, the state closed access to original birth records, but began allowing access again in 2011. Access is based upon time.

One can see the state's recordkeeping commitment is a fairly recent practice. Here's the key: Understanding when Pennsylvania records became available will save you time, and if you are looking for an older Pennsylvania record, the local churches are the next best source.

William Penn

William Penn.png

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