Vital records are crucial to genealogy research, yet they can be very elusive, particularly prior to state or county mandated recording, which typically didn’t happen until the 20th Century.
Lucky for us there’s a short cut in a three-volume series called Pennsylvania Vital Records (published Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983). With one exception, this series comprises all articles on births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths ever published in two leading Pennsylvania periodicals – The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine – the first through 1935 when it discontinued genealogical contributions; the second through 1980.
I’ll give you just a sampling of some of the titles you’ll find in the series to give you an idea of what treasures lie within.
- Obituary Notices of Pennsylvania Soldiers of the Revolution
- Midwife’s Records 1816-1828, Montgomery County
- Inscriptions on Gravestones in St. Peter’s Episcopal Churchard, East Whitleland, Chester County
- Marriage Bonds of Bucks County, 1772-1785
- Divorces Granted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from December 1785 to 1801
- Records of Morovian Church, York, PA 1911
The church records extend from Quakers to Presbyterians to Dutch and German Reformed. Further there are records kept privately by many ministers which extend beyond the conventional b, m, & d records.
Marriage records include local justices of the peace. One uniquely Pennsylvanian institution is the Orphans Court, where you’ll also find marriage records and more.
Not to be overlooked are newspaper extracts from the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Philadelphia Evening Post. You’ll find obits, public sale advertisements, lists of letters languishing in post offices and notices of runaway apprentices.
Finding the records
Each volume has a self-contained every name index, which is invaluable in finding the records for your ancestor. However, I can go one better. The three volumes have been uploaded in limited search form on HathiTrust! That means you can search the documents just like you would use Google. Type in your ancestor’s name and hit “search.” (Remember to try all spelling variations.) If the name is found, you will get a count of how many times it appears in the volume. Then click “find in a library,” enter your zip code, and you will get the library nearest you to obtain the actual book.
You can find and search the series on HathiTrust here:
- Pennsylvania Vital Records Volume 1
- Pennsylvania Vital Records Volume 2
- Pennsylvania Vital Records Volume 3
As an aside, the Midwest Genealogy Center has the complete set among its circulating collection.
No one book or collection can be the answer to your every vital record dreams, but this is a nice series, that if the research winds are at your back you may just find what you’re looking for.