Posted by Ancestry Team on April 18, 2014 in Collections, Research

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:

Joseph Boyer, Jr. death certificate
Joseph Boyer, Jr. death certificate

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.


  1. Cathy Transue

    HELP — Please be informed that the actual death certificates are not visible to those of us Pa residents who have a free account with through the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission at

    We can see the page that has the death certificate information listed of the person we searched for. But when we click on “view record/image” it goes to a sign-up page.

    Can you do something to make them visible to us just like the rest of the Pa. databases are to us Pa residents?

    Thank you,
    Cathy Roth Transue
    Langhorne, Pa

  2. Dannie


    May I respectfully suggest that you correct your first sentence. The collection is currently 1906-1924, not 1904-1924.

  3. Amy Johnson Crow

    Cathy – Thanks for alerting us to that. The issue has been resolved.

    Dannie — Thank you. That sentence has been corrected.

  4. rosejp2

    Thank you so much for getting these out there! My father’s entire family is from Pennsylvania, so you can imagine how painful it’s been trying to do anything much with his half of the tree. This helps immensely!

  5. Brian

    Just today I was working on a family member who emigrated from Ireland to PA in 1900, then I lost track of him after 1910. It turns out his death is listed in this collection in 1914.

  6. Janna

    Found an awesome lead for a dead end in my tree and a few several cert’s for my husbands side as well! Looking forward to when more PA records are published.

  7. Sue Caldwell

    This has already been sooooo helpful. Pennsylvania is one of the least friendly states for genealogy research, so I really appreciate it. Now I finally know what happened to my uncle, who nobody ever talked about, and I have some confirmation about a couple of other people in my tree. Thank you!

  8. Mike Schindler

    Ahh, I was just about ready to send away for a couple of my ancestors and now I don’t have to. I actually did not realize they would have that much information on the family in those years. This is a fantastic addition, and great news. Previously you could only see the names and dates of death.

    Thanks again Ancestry!

    Mike Schindler

  9. Jade

    The extracts as shown in search results have a huge number of mistakes in persons’ names as well as in place-names. The database was re-indexed rather than following the scheme of the existing index.

    This means that searchers will get best results if they already have a date and place of death for a target person, and can recognize the garbled entries.

    Given these mistakes, the name index is very often different from the index already posted by the PA Archives.

  10. rosejp2

    Hi Looper,

    From what I’ve heard, the next batch of Death Certificates (1925-1944) is tentatively scheduled for June, and the final batch is tentatively scheduled for November.

    I’ve seen various dates for the Birth Certificates, so I’ll leave that alone.

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