Birth information can be found in numerous places: church records, vital records, directories, biographies, family Bibles, newspapers, hospital and medical records, death certificates, cemeteries, tombstones, military service records, and censuses just to name a few. This research guide describes church and vital records only. For information about other types of records, see the other genealogy research guides. Some basic questions concerning birth records and the tools needed to answer them are:
What are the best short essays that describe church and public records?
- The Source. Social Science and History Department (SSH) 929.1072 So84e.
- The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. SSH 929.1072 G859r2.
- Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 1, introduction. SSH 929.3748 P384v.
When did the maintenance of birth records become required by law in the area of interest?
- Ancestry's Red Book. Use for U.S. vital records. Study the sections on vital records for the area of interest. For records of other countries, see a genealogical guide book for the country of interest in the Social Science and History Department. SSH 929.1072 R245b.
Before birth records became legally required in the area of interest, church records and Bible records are usually the best sources of birth information.
What church made a record of the birth or baptism?
Determine where the person lived, then see the lists of churches in local directories, guidebooks, and histories written around the time of interest. Also see denominational and individual church histories. These resources are available through keyword searching on the Free Library online catalog or by making inquiries at the Social Science and History Department reference desk.
- Historical Atlas of Religions in America. Education, Philosophy and Religion Department (EPR)/STX 277.3 G238h.
- Religion on the American Frontier, 1783-1840: a Collection of Source Materials, 4 vols.EPR/STX Baptists - 286 Sw36b. Congregationalists - 285.8 Sw36c. Methodists - 287.6 Sw36m. Presbyterians - 285.1 Sw36p.
- Places of Worship: Exploring their History. EPR/STX 291.6507 W722p. Good bibliography and lists of denominational resources.
Are the church records I need still in existence? If so, where are they?
Generally speaking, church records are accessible in the following formats: published records, microfilmed records, and original records. The older the church record, the more likely it will be published or microfilmed and located at a local historical or genealogical society or at a denominational religious archive. The more recent the church record, the more likely it will be in its original form and in the possession of the church where the event took place. Writing or calling local repositories may be the only way to determine if certain records exist and if they are accessible. The following documents list points of contact:
- The Genealogist's Address Book. SSH 929.1025 B444g.
- The Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States in Canada. SSH 906 Am31dh.
- The Source. SSH 929.1072 So84e.
- Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. EPR 206 Y32o.
- Other sources to check for published records are:
- A Survey of American Church Records. SSH/STX 016.9293 K635s.
- National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. Rare Book Department (RBD) 016.091 N213u.
- National Register of Microfilm Masters. SSH/STX 017 N213r.
What is the best way to find early Pennsylvania church records?
- Genealogist's Guide to Pennsylvania Records. SSH 929.1072 G286g. Lists the genealogical holdings of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) by Pennsylvania county as of the late 1970s - 1980s.
- Clint's Pennsylvania County Series, a series of books that list genealogical resources by Pennsylvania county. For example, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Area Key. SSH 929.3748 C617bu. Similar guides for most nearby Pennsylvania counties are also available.
- Guide to Genealogical and Historical Research in Pennsylvania lists genealogical resources by Pennsylvania county. SSH 016.9748 h671g3.
- An entire set of books, Pennsylvania Births, provides an outstanding index to births in southeast Pennsylvania. Philadelphia County is SSH 929.3748 H885p; other counties nearby.
Who is the custodian of public birth records for each of the United States, what do they have, and how do I contact them?
- Where to Write for Vital Records. Lists state vital record offices.
- International Vital Records Handbook has photocopyable forms that can be used to request vital records. SSH 929.3025 K32i3.
Who is the custodian of Philadelphia public birth records and how do I contact them?
- Birth records 1 Jul 1860 to 30 Jun 1915 are at The Philadelphia City Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 685-9401.
- Birth records after 30 Jun 1915 are available from The Division of Vital Records, 101 S. Mercer Street, PO Box 1528, New Castle, PA 16101. (724) 656-3100.
- Philadelphia birth records for the period 1 Jan 1906 to 30 Jun 1915 can be found at BOTH the Philadelphia City Archives and at the Division of Vital Records Office at New Castle.
Who is the custodian of public birth records for other Pennsylvania counties and how do I contact them?
- In general, the Division of Vital Records at New Castle has birth records for all counties since January 1906.
- At the county level there are many variations in birth record holdings both before 1906 and after. See Vital Records Information - Pennsylvania for a clearer picture of each county's holdings. In many cases, calling the county clerk may be the only way to get a clear picture.
How can I find adoption records?
The Vital Records Information link above provides information for the Pennsylvania Adoption Registry, or you may call the Pennsylvania Department of Health for information at (877) 724-3258. For a directory of now defunct orphanages throughout the United States and Canada see Adoption Agencies, Orphanages and Maternity Homes SSH 362.734 N596a. There are several guides to searching adoption records generally and for missing persons; ask for these at the SSH reference desk.
Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP)
- Ask for the guide Researching your Family History at the Parkway Central Library, a handout available at the Social Science and History Department reference desk.
- The Free Library does NOT have unpublished vital or church records.
- Call numbers for published birth records can be determined by making a subject search on the online catalog using the term REGISTERS, then scrolling down to see all of the entries.
- Bonds for the Support of Illegitimate Children and Other Indigent Persons, 1811-1859. SSH 929.3748 M71pg.
- When searching for early Catholic families, see the American Catholic Historical Society Records. There are cumulative indexes for vols. 1-31 and 32-41 that are especially useful. EPR/STX 206 Am3 (shelved as periodical).
The HSP is a great place to find early Pennsylvania church records, collections of Bible records, and other early material.
The GSP has many church records not available at HSP. Both libraries should be used. The annual indexes in Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine should be reviewed not only for surnames of interest, but also for headings such as Bible Records, Tombstone Inscriptions, Cemetery Returns, and other similar topics. FLP, GSP, and HSP have a complete run of the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine in paper form. The GSP has a 100 year index to the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine.
PAR does not make photocopies of birth records, registers, or returns. They will issue a certified typed transcript of the original record for a fee. PAR is the best place to find Philadelphia birth records from 1 Jul 1860 to 30 Jun 1915. Many of the midwife returns that provided the input for the birth registers are available at PAR.
The LDS collection is the largest collection of genealogical material in the world and is worldwide in scope. Numerous microfilm reels of church and public records are available for loan for a nominal fee. A guide for using this collection is available at all Family History Centers. Most of the PAR birth records described above are available from LDS. Generally speaking, anything that can be borrowed from LDS can be photocopied.