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Getting Started Census Records Obituaries

Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriage)

Birth certificates provide generally reliable information, but data will vary according to geographical location and era. The further back in time likely provides less information. Births were also recorded in registers, large volumes containing the names and birth dates of every person within a civil jurisdiction.

Death certificates provide information about the person’s age, place of death, occupation, cause of death, spouse's name, and some other relative's name. In the past, sometimes the ages were actually guessed and may not be accurate. Sometimes names are misspelled by those entering them. Be wary of inaccurate information, but realize that the data obtained provides a place to start.

Many states have begun putting their vital records online. Some are free, while others make those records through The cost for certificates at this site is governed by each individual state, but a typical cost is $10 to $15 per certificate. For the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Division of Vital Records maintains birth and death events that occur in Pennsylvania from 1906 to the present. Pennsylvania Death Certificates (1906-1963) are now searchable on From the 1890s - 1906, the Berks County Register of Wills office may have birth and death records of community members.

Marriage records provide the sometimes hard-to-find maiden name of the bride and open up another branch of the family tree. The marriage application may also include the ages, middle names, parents' names, current residences, and occupations of the bride and groom. Normally, a marriage application is valid for 60 days. The Berks County Register of Wills office maintains a register of all the local marriage applications from 1885 to the present including a searchable online index.