Monday, January 7, 2008

Pennsylvania Historical Records Access

Like many researchers, I have run up against the extremely difficult process of obtaining Pennsylvania death records. They are available only to direct descendants and you have to prove the relationship. If you don't know the death year and death location, the process becomes quite expensive ($34 for a 10-year search).

The People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (PaHR-Access) web site provides an excellent discussion about the present access problems and makes reasonable recommendations (essentially, open death records 50 years or older) to the state. There are sample letters for constituents to write to their state legislators and the governor.

The PaHR-Access web site describes the organization:

"PaHR-Access (People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access) is strictly a grassroots organization started in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania in August of 2007. It was first known as People for Better Access to Pennsylvania Historical Records (PBAPHR). The name change took place in early November 2007 to allow for a more pronounceable acronym (i.e. par-access).

"We are merely people who want to literally have better access to Pennsylvania's historical records. Our main concern is the restricted state death certificates. There are no membership dues merely the willingness to help in this effort. PaHR-Access is not affiliated with any political, institutional or religious organization."

Some have argued that having a death index and access to death certificates will cause an increase in identity theft. The PaHR-Access folks refute that argument in the discussion, and say that:

"The Social Security Death Master File (with names, dates, places and numbers, and better known as the Social Security Death Index), which is updated quarterly, is an online identity verification database used to thwart identity theft and fraud. We understand government agencies, banks, insurance and credit card companies use it all the time to verify deaths and to stop the misuse of a deceased person's Social Security number. Expanding our proposed database to include all of Pennsylvania's death records (but with the same limited public access as outlined above) could be used in a similar manner by law enforcement and government agencies. The Division of Vital Records would itself be able to fill requests using the expanded database.

"Having a database of Pennsylvania's death certificates would actually be in accordance with Federal Law 108-458, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the Social Security Administration and others, to award grants to States to assist them in computerizing their birth and death records, to develop the capability to match birth and death records within and among States, and to note the fact of death on birth certificates of deceased persons. This is done to stop a person from misusing the birth certificate of a deceased person."

If you are a Pennsylvania resident or researcher, please consider writing one or more letters to support this rational proposal to open Pennsylvania death records.

1 comment:

Fooferoo said...

I've been reading your archives and this post caught my attention. I've written for and received both birth and death certificates for PA without having to provide any more proof than my drivers license. I either was lucky or someone wasn't doing their job.

Alabama on the otherhand... 125 years after birth for a birth certificate...who came up with that?