Are Birth Records Public in Pennsylvania?
No. Birth records are not among records disclosed to the public under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law (the statutes authorizing public access to official government records). In Pennsylvania, the Vital Statistics Law of 1953 governs the release of vital records, including marriage, birth, fetal death, and death records. According to the law, members of the public only have access to Pennsylvania birth records (birth certificates and indices) when 105 years have passed from the date of birth. In other words, Pennsylvania considers birth records aged 105 years or older as "public birth records".
What are Birth Records in Pennsylvania?
A birth record in Pennsylvania is official legal documentation of the summary of a person's birth and proves that the birth occurred in Pennsylvania. A birth record qualifies an individual to obtain a birth certificate. A Pennsylvania birth certificate is printed on specialized security paper and contains a raised seal. It is a vital document that is used to prove identity in applications for a passport, employment, driver's license, social security card, and school enrollment.
Proper birth documentation is especially important to the government's efforts of effectively planning, delivering adequate services, and allocating resources across all development sectors. Birth records indexing in Pennsylvania started in 1906.
A Pennsylvania birth record contains:
- Date of birth
- Time of birth
- Place of birth
- Child's full name
- Mother's name
- Father's name
- Child's gender
- Type of birth
- Mother's marital status
- Birth registration number
Where to Find Public Birth Records in Pennsylvania
Interested persons can find Pennsylvania public birth records at the official government custodians' offices. However, ascertaining which office to contact or visit for a public birth record depends on whether the requester wishes to find a certified or uncertified copy.
For certified copies of Pennsylvania public birth records (birth records with a raised seal), one should reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Vital Record Division. This government source maintains all birth records from 1906 to the present and can issue certified copies of Pennsylvania public birth records after a written request. The office does not disseminate uncertified copies.
Individuals requiring non-certified copies of Pennsylvania public birth records, whose search years range from 1906 to 1916, can contact the Pennsylvania State Archives, a division within the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The PHMC also has Pennsylvania birth indexes for those years on its official website. Earlier public birth records (1893-1906) may be requested from the State Archives as well, but the agency only has records for some counties. In such cases, an individual can direct their inquiry to the courthouse of the county where the vital event occurred (from 1893 to 1906, the Clerks of Orphans' Court recorded births in Pennsylvania).
Moreover, individuals may find certified and uncertified copies of original Pennsylvania public birth records at a local archives office. Records maintained by the local archives may be older than what the Pennsylvania State Archives possesses. For instance, the City Archives of Philadelphia has public birth records from July 1860 to June 30, 1915. Local archives often provide walk-in services, but an appointment may be necessary to view records.
How to Find and Request Birth Records Online in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania birth records are not open to the public. Therefore, members of the public cannot look up birth records. The state allows eligible individuals to obtain birth records through its only authorized third-party online vendor. Placing birth record requests online is very convenient and offers a fast method of obtaining certified copies of birth records. The third-party online vendor's service is available seven days a week, 24 hours of the day. All major credit cards are accepted by the vendor. The online ordering service provider also allows requesters to choose between several delivery options. Note that delivery options may incur additional fees, depending on the requester's selection. Additional transaction fee also applies for the service provided exclusive of the statutory birth record copy fee.
Proof of identity is required before a request can be completed via the online ordering service. The status of requests can only be verified after two business days from the date requests were submitted. If the reason for a request is not listed in the online ordering drop-down box options, the requester is not eligible to place an order for that record online.
Persons who placed online orders for birth records and suffered a setback in obtaining the records must contact the third-party vendor directly for a resolution. Note that credit card transactions are not handled directly by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Such transactions are between the requester and the third-party service provider.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How to Get Birth Records in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania birth records are available to eligible requesters by mail or in person at local and state vital records offices upon payment of the appropriate fees and provision of valid identification. Pennsylvania considers the following valid identification:
- Pennsylvania Driver’s License
- Pennsylvania ID Card
- Driver’s license issued by another U.S. State
- Photo Identification Card issued by another U.S. State, jurisdiction, or territory
Expired IDs are not accepted. If a requester cannot provide a valid driver's license or other government-issued photo ID, two current documents verifying the name and current address of the requester may be provided. These include:
- Lease/Rental Agreement
- Utility Bill
- Vehicle Registration or insurance policy
- Tax Return/W-2 form
- Social Security Statement
- Bank or Credit Card Statement
The Division of Vital Records (DVR) grants a concession in limited circumstances for persons who cannot provide any of the required documents. In such instances, requesters must contact the state bureau of vital statistics for further assistance.
Requesters must provide as much information as possible when submitting a request for a birth record. This is to enable the Department of Health to locate the specific record promptly. If a requested record cannot be located, the requester will be issued a "No Record Certification of Birth".
Pennsylvania's Division of Vital Records offers a multi-year birth record search option for those who do not know the exact date of birth. An eligible applicant can request a search to have two to ten birth years alphabetically indexed for a fee.
How to Get Pennsylvania Birth Records in Person
All state vital records office locations in Pennsylvania provide walk-in services on weekdays to qualified individuals who wish to obtain a Pennsylvania birth record in person. Their locations are as follows:
Erie Public Office
1910 West 26th Street
Erie, PA 16508
Harrisburg Public Office
Forum Place, 1st Floor
555 Walnut Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101
New Castle Public Office
105 Nesbitt Road
New Castle, PA 16105
Philadelphia Public Office
110 North 8th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Pittsburgh Public Office
411 7th Avenue, Room 360
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Scranton Public Office
Scranton State Office Building, Room 112
100 Lackawanna Avenue
Scranton, PA 18503
Requesters may download an Application for a Birth Certificate from the Department of Health's official website. The Pennsylvania Birth Certificate Application Form is also available to be completed at any of the vital records locations.
Valid identification and payment in the form of a credit card, check, or money order made payable to "VITAL RECORDS" are required from each requester. Cash or credit card payments are not accepted.
How to Get Pennsylvania Birth Records by Mail
To obtain a Pennsylvania birth record by mail:
- Complete the Pennsylvania Birth Certificate Application Form or the Application for a Birth Certificate with Fees Waived Under the Disaster Declaration Form (If eligible)
- Include valid identification
- Include a check or money order made out to "VITAL RECORDS" for the exact amount of the order. Cash or credit cards are not accepted.
- Include a valid email address to receive notification that the application was received
- Submit completed and signed application, valid identification, and payment in mail to:
Division of Vital Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103
The address on the identification provided must match the mailing address provided in the application form. Persons living in a treatment facility, halfway house, or homeless shelter must enclose a letter on the organization's letterhead verifying that they are temporarily residing at their location and that their address may be used to receive the requested record.
Individuals who want to search for birth records from multiple years must complete the Application for Multi-year Search of Birth Records. Enclose completed application, proper fees, and valid government-issued photo ID to the mailing address of the Division of Vital Records.
Where Can I Find Birth Records in Pennsylvania?
Birth records in Pennsylvania are maintained by the Division of Vital Records, Department of Health. Birth record requests can be placed to any of the state's vital records offices. Information on birth records filed in Pennsylvania before 1906 (public birth records) may be obtained by contacting the appropriate Pennsylvania county courthouse. That is, the courthouse located where the vital event took place. All certified copies of birth records are issued by the Division of Vital Records, regardless of whether they are public birth records or not.
Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania?
An eligible applicant for a Pennsylvania birth certificate must be 18 years old or an emancipated minor and include the following:
- The person named on the record
- The spouse of the person named on the record
- The parent or stepparent of the person named on the record. Such persons must submit a marriage certificate as proof of relationship to the person named on the record
- A brother, sister, half-brother, or half-sister of the person named on the record
- A son or daughter of the person named on the record
- Stepson or stepdaughter of the person named on the record. Such persons must submit the parent's marriage certificate as proof of relationship.
- A grandparent or great-grandparent of the person named on the record
- Grandchild or great-grandchild of the person named on the record
- A person who has obtained the power of attorney
- An attorney or legal representative of the person named on the record
- If the person named on the record is deceased, a family member not listed above, who can provide a copy of the death certificate
Under Pennsylvania law, it is unlawful to obtain a birth record in the state under false pretenses.
How Much Does a Birth Certificate Cost in Pennsylvania?
In accordance with the Pennsylvania Administrative Code of 1929, a Pennsylvania birth certificate costs $20. An order placed online attracts an additional $10 service fee and other delivery fees if UPS overnight shipping service is selected. Pennsylvania offers a fee waiver for members of the United States Armed Forces. To qualify for this waiver, the requester or the requester's spouse (also extends to widow or widower if not remarried) must be in active service. An honorable discharge from service also qualifies such persons for a fee waiver.
Note that the fee is only waived when the request is for the registrant's birth record, the spouse's birth record, or the birth record of a dependent child. Supporting documentation will be required when applying for a fee waiver for a dependent child above the age of 18. Fee waivers only cover the cost of birth certificates and not service fees or UPS delivery fees. The armed forces fee waiver does not apply to genealogical requests.
A request to search multi-year birth records (two to ten years) alphabetically indexed costs $45. This is inclusive of the fee for one certification. Additional spans of two to ten years are indexed at a rate of $25.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania?
Birth records can be obtained within an hour when walk-in requests are made at any Public Office location of the Division of Vital Records. Online orders placed through Pennsylvania's third-party vendor requires an estimated 2-week processing time. Mail orders placed to the Division of Vital Records in New Castle requires an approximate 2-week processing time. However, processing times may vary for requests placed at other locations of the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records. Processing time may be delayed if provided information in a request is incomplete. Additional processing time may be required for applications involving:
- Genealogical requests (requests for birth records prior to 1906)
- Court orders
- Power of attorneys
How to Get a New Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, requests to modify, amend, or replace any Pennsylvania birth certificate are under the State Department of Health's jurisdiction. The state department, however, does not technically create a "new" birth certificate upon a modification request. Instead, the government agency prepares an amended certificate - which will be used for all ensuing requests for disclosure - and restricts access to the initial or original birth certificate except to the following people:
- A registrant who has attained the age of majority (18 years) and is not incompetent
- A registrant's parent, guardian, or legal representative
- By court order
Thus, one could regard the amended, updated, or replacement birth certificate as a new birth certificate.
Per the law, the Department of Health can amend a birth record in the following situations:
- After a change of parentage
- After a legal change of name
- After an adoption
- After legitimation
Those who can request an amended birth certificate in Pennsylvania include a registrant (of legal age and mentally competent), their parent, guardian, or legal representative. Except for adoption cases that require a different procedure, such persons must submit the following to the Department of Health:
- A notarized written application. Forms can be obtained from the DOH's official website.
- A legible photocopy of a valid government issued-ID (or two current documents that verify name and current address, such as a utility bill, pay stub, rental agreement, or bank statement)
- A $20 amendment fee in check or money order made payable to "VITAL RECORDS," except if the applicant satisfies the fee waiver requirements. For example:
- An applicant who (or whose spouse) is a member of the U.S. military or was honorably discharged from service.
- An applicant who returns an incorrect birth certificate within 45 days of receiving it.
- An applicant who returns the incorrect original birth certificate of an infant less than six months old.
- Supporting documentation: This differs by the type of modification. For example, if a court approves the change to the birth certificate, the requester must provide a certified copy of the court order. On the other hand, a copy of a Pennsylvania marriage certificate and a joint affidavit are required when the change is necessary to legitimize a birth registered as illegitimate. However, individuals requesting to correct a child's name, date of birth, or gender do not need to submit documentary evidence.
The DOH's supporting documentation requirements are specified on each application form.
Modification requests are submitted to the following address:
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Bureau of Health Statistics and Registries
ATTN: Birth Registry
555 Walnut Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101-1934
The DOH's standard processing time for birth record amendment requests ranges from 6 weeks to 44 weeks. Applicants are generally advised to provide complete and accurate information to expedite the processing time, as requests submitted with missing information or payment take longer.
After the Pennsylvania DOH amends a birth certificate, individuals can request a certified copy from the department - that is, if they did not already specify on the application form that they needed a copy of the updated birth certificate.
These statutes cover the amendment or replacement of birth certificates in Pennsylvania:
- Section 603 of the Pennsylvania Vital Statistics Law of 1953
- Title 28, Chapter 1, Section 1.3 of the Pennsylvania Code
- Title 23, Part III (Domestic Relations) of the Consolidated Statutes
- Title 54, Chapter 7 (Judicial Change of Name) of the Consolidated Statutes
Can You Find Pennsylvania Birth Certificates Online?
No. Pennsylvania birth certificates are closed records under state law. For this reason, the state or local vital records offices do not provide digital images of Pennsylvania birth certificates online. Qualified individuals can only place online orders for Pennsylvania birth certificates via the Department of Health’s authorized online vendor.
How to Expunge Your Birth Records in Pennsylvania
Expunging a record involves permanently removing it and making it inaccessible by anyone. Usually, this legal act is applied to criminal records following overturned convictions or pardons. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not allow the expungement of birth records.
How to Seal Your Birth Records in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, once the certificate of adoption reporting form has been accepted by the Department of Health, the department seals the adopted child's original birth record and creates a replacement birth record based upon the information filed on the form. Note that the certificate of adoption form reporting form is completed after an adoption decree has been issued by a court of competent jurisdiction in Pennsylvania. The court reports the form to the Pennsylvania DVR and the Office uses the information in the form to locate a child's original birth record.
The process of sealing the birth record is automatic and is carried out by the Pennsylvania DVR. Pennsylvania adoption records including original birth certificates have been sealed since 1984.
How to Unseal Your Birth Records in Pennsylvania
Until 2017, a pre-adoption birth record in Pennsylvania could only be obtained upon obtaining an order from a court of competent jurisdiction. However, a recent change in Pennsylvania adoption law (Act 127 of 2016) now allows adoptees to access original birth records if specific conditions are met.
To qualify to obtain a pre-adoption birth record, an adoptee:
- Must be 18 years of age or older
- Must have finished high school, possess a GED, or withdrawn legally from school
Under Pennsylvania law, the Division of Vital Records is authorized to issue only non-certified copies of the original birth record. A non-certified copy is a summary of the original records and includes the names and ages of the birth parents, date and county of the birth, and the name given to the child at birth. Pennsylvania also allows a birth parent to redact identifying information on the non-certified copy by filing a Name Redaction Request (NRR).
A redaction request may be filed or withdrawn at any time and does not extend beyond the death of a filing parent. A birth parent name redacted on the noncertified copy will be displayed as "NAME REDACTED". If the name of a birth parent was not recorded at the time of birth, the noncertified copy will be displayed as "NOT RECORDED". The Pennsylvania DVR is authorized to release only the non-certified copy of the original birth record even if an adoptee has been adopted multiple times.
In Pennsylvania, other than the adoptee, only lineal descendants such as the children, grandchildren of an adoptee can obtain a non-certified copy of a birth record. No other persons, including adopted parents or birth parents, or siblings are considered eligible.
To obtain an original birth record in Pennsylvania:
- Complete the Adoptee's Application for Noncertified Copy of Original Birth Record.
- Include a check or money order for the fee of $20 made payable to "VITAL RECORDS".
- Include a valid government-issued photo ID verifying the requester's name and current mailing address
- Mail completed application form, check or money order, and legible photocopy of valid identification to:
Department of Health
Division of Vital Records
Attn: Adoptee Applications
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103-1528
Completed Pennsylvania birth certificate applications received by the DVR will be processed within 45 days from the date of receipt. If the Division cannot locate a requested record, the DVR will issue a statement of no record found. Fees are non-refundable.
Who Signs Birth and Death Certificates in Pennsylvania?
According to Article IV, Section 401(a) of the Pennsylvania Vital Statistics Law of 1953, whenever a birth occurs in Pennsylvania, the physician or licensed midwife who attended to the birth is responsible for preparing, signing, and filing the birth certificate. If there was no attending physician or licensed midwife, the certificate should be signed by:
- The father;
- The mother (in the event of the father's absence, death, or disability);
- The person in charge of the premises or superintendent of the institution where the birth occurred (in the event of the mother's disability or death); or
- A person conversant with the birth facts and authorized by the local registrar (if all of the above-named persons are absent or suffered a disability).
Meanwhile, according to Article V, Section 502 of the Vital Statistics Law, Pennsylvania death certificates can be signed and certified by a physician, physician assistant, certified registered nurse practitioner, dentist, or coroner, depending on the circumstances of a death.
Specifically, the attending physician, physician assistant, or certified registered nurse practitioner has to sign a Pennsylvania death certificate after a death or fetal death. However, suppose the deceased was admitted to a dental service. In that case, the dentist who attended to the deceased during the last illness and who is a staff member of an approved hospital will sign the death certificate.
Notwithstanding, if the attending physician, certified registered nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or dentist is the deceased's immediate family member, another qualified physician, physician assistant, certified registered nurse practitioner, or dentist will be asked to sign. If the medical professional refuses to sign or is unavailable, the coroner of the county where the death occurred will be the certifier. Likewise, the law prohibits a coroner who is a decedent's immediate family from signing the death or fetal death certificate.
What is a Pennsylvania Birth Index?
A Pennsylvania birth index (sometimes called a Pennsylvania birth registry) provides basic details about births that occurred in the state, such as a child's full name, place of birth, date of birth, and the page number of the register in which the birth record may be found. Typically arranged chronologically by year or alphabetically by last name, a birth index is helpful to persons who wish to know where a birth took place or learn the file location of a record in an official government custodian's office.
Birth indices for earlier records of vital events in Pennsylvania may be accessed on the official websites of archives divisions - in most cases, for free. However, some city or county archives may require remittance to grant access. These agencies also provide walk-in services to individuals who wish to inspect Pennsylvania birth indexes for free.
For instance, individuals can visit the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) website to examine birth indices from 1906 to 1916. In the same way, a resident or other researcher can check the official websites of local archives for birth registries. Local archives divisions with online Pennsylvania birth indexes include the Philadelphia City Archives, Lancaster County Archives, and Chester County Archives.