I wrote about my frustration with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in November 2012. The government's disregard for genealogical records availability was not so friendly.
I'm glad to report that it is changing. Pennsylvania is getting friendlier.
I waited five months for the copy of my great great grandmother's death certificate to arrive through the pay-to-play system that Pennsylvania has for obtaining hard copies.
Friday, I was delighted to discover that Ancestry.com had fulfilled the long-promised publishing of the Pennsylvania death records. The death certificates are now online, at least those from 1906 to 1924, and the digital scans are in high-resolution color to boot. See the same death certificate for Great Great Grandma Platt is below.
The records allowed me to search for many of the ancestors on my father's side who lived in Western Pennsylvania. Friday night saw a number of discoveries for the Platt Family Tree.
I found that my third great grandmother died of TB in 1912 at a state hospital. It wasn't her only ailment at age 86.
I confirmed family links that, until now, had lingering doubts. Catherine Rittenauer was, indeed, the wife of Jeremiah Smith. Multiple death certificates confirmed it. She also may have been born in Pennsylvania, not New Jersey as some Census takers put it.
I corrected death dates for some of my Smith relatives, discovering, for example, that an index search for David Smith, even in one county, can be off a year.
I figured out who the mystery woman was who is buried with my Merz great great grandparents in Pittsburgh. She was Mary (Coyne) Mogon, the first wife of their son-in-law Patrick.
One search yielded the fact that some of my hard-to-spell Rittenauer relatives switched to Wrightnour. That discovery could be a big one as John Spratt Wrightnour published a book in 1916 on the Ritenour family, of which he descended. I'm awaiting a West Coast library's scan of his 24-page book as I type this.
I could go on and on. It was a late, but productive night.
Since Pennsylvania collected the parents' names and their birth places on the death certificates, the clues to going further back are there. Plus, the whole thing is searchable by parents' last name, date of death, and more. Yes, I know data like this is suspect, but the hints are quite useful in the hunt.
For my viewpoint, this may be one of the best new items on Ancestry.com in a very long time.
A few key things to know: If you aren't an ancestry.com subscriber but do live in Pennsylvania, you can get free access online to the death certificates. Plus, the years 1925-1944 are expected to be published in June 2014 and the 1945-1963 group in November 2014.
Thanks to Ancestry.com for publishing these. Thanks, Pennsylvania, for allowing it to happen.