(This article was previously published in Keystone Kuzzins, Vol. 42, no. 2, the quarterly bulletin of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research.)
In 2011, Pennsylvania State Senate Bill 361 was approved, amending the Vital Statistics Law of 1953, thereby granting public access to birth certificates for people born at least 105 years ago, and death certificates for anyone dead at least 50 years. Birth and death indices are published on the PA Department of Health Website and certified copies can be ordered from the Department of Vital Records in New Castle. However, effective 1 July 2013, non–certified copies, including those for genealogical purposes, are only available through the PA State Archives, and the turnaround time can be quite lengthy. Fortunately, Ancestry is endeavoring to digitize all of the public death records, and has recently published the images in a searchable database which, at present, covers the period of 1906–1924. Thank you Ancestry! The database, entitled appropriately enough “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates 1906–1924,” is projected to be complete through 1963 by the end of this year. Although Ancestry is a subscription site, Erie County public library patrons have free access to the site, and Pennsylvania residents can access Ancestry’s database via a free Pennsylvania account, which can be set up here.
Erie City newspapers, dating back to around 1822, have been microfilmed and can be viewed in the Heritage Room at the Blasco Public Library. An online index to the obituaries is searchable on the library’s website. As of today (May 9th) the index is current through 31 January 2014. Although the index is online, the obituaries themselves are not. That requires a visit to the library or, for a small fee, the library’s staff will send you an image of the published obituary.
Obituaries published in the Erie Times News can also be found online at Legacy.com here. The date range for Legacy’s archive is 30 January 2002 through present day.
Although rarely accessible online, other types of death records which shouldn’t be overlooked include: probate and other court records, church and cemetery records, coroner and police reports, funeral home records (often, when a funeral home closed, their records were transferred to another company, and may still be available), nursing home, asylum, and state hospital records (although many of these are restricted by privacy laws), and the periodicals and other publications of fraternal orders and organizations.