Pennsylvania research just got easier, thanks to the release of Pennsylvania, Death Certificates 1906-1924. This collection contains more than 2.4 million records and has images of the actual death certificates.
Statewide registration of births and deaths began on 1 January 1906. This collection of death certificates currently runs through the end of 1924 (later records will eventually be added to this collection).
Here is the death certificate of Joe Boyer, a racecar driver who died after a crash at Altoona Speedway:
This gives us good reminders about using death certificates:
- People don’t always die where they lived. Joe resided in Detroit, Michigan and died in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
- Information is only as good as the informant’s knowledge. The informant on Joe’s death certificate was W. F. Holliday. Who is he (or she)? Would he have known who Joe’s parents were and where they were born? For that matter, would he have known Joe’s birthdate and where he was born?
- Information can be imprecise. Death certificates often list where the deceased was buried. In this case, his burial place is listed simply as “Detroit, Mich.”
Even with what might be fuzzy knowledge of the informant and a less-than-specific place of burial, this certificate gives us good clues for further research. We have an age and birth date. We have that he was a “Jr.” and that his father was Joseph Boyer, Sr. We can follow up with census records. It says that he was buried in Detroit, which helps us find his place of burial. (It turns out to be Woodlawn Cemetery. Here is his memorial page on FindAGrave.)
Of course, with the date and place of death, we can look for obituaries. Joe’s prominence as a race car driver – he won the 1924 Indianapolis 500 – means that there are numerous articles about him and his racing activities. Ironically, there’s an article about how he drove to Altoona for the race.
This new collection of death certificates is just one of numerous collections for Pennsylvania. Take a look at these other collections that can help you find your ancestor in the Keystone State.