Wednesday, August 25, 2010

About a Pennsylvania Death Certificate

Two or three weeks ago I received as a gift (a surprising, wonderful, very exciting gift from a "new" distant relative) a copy of the Pennsylvania death certificate of my great-great-grandmother, Catherine Saylor Froman. I would like to post the death certificate along with a grave stone photo and some other information I've collected about her. But at the top of the page containing the death certificate are the words
"WARNING: It is illegal to duplicate this copy by photostat or photograph."
I have an ethical question: Since the warning doesn't specifically include "or by scanning" do you think that means they don't object to scans and they're not illegal? This particular certificate was printed on July 23, 2010, so this is not an old, outdated form. Since the form is new, wouldn't they include scanning in the wording if they didn't want people to make scanned copies?

I have a problem with Pennsylvania's tight hold on their death records, even the old ones and even to the point that indexes are not available. I also have a problem with their inability to find death certificates for ancestors when a name, date of death, and location of death are included with a request. I've received several "No Record Certificates of Death." These non-certificates of death almost seem like falsifications to me.

Despite my frustrations with their methods and means, I'd rather be legal than illegal.

Do any of you readers have thoughts about my scanning question? Legal or not?


  1. My very non-expert opinion is that they put those words on there so you can't make a copy for other purposes--they want you to buy more certificaters. People have to buy 15-20 copies at the time of a relative's death to provide to all the companies needing one. But for the purposes of sharing the image on a blog---I would think that's permissable.

  2. Interesting wording. I'd say the use of the word "Photostat" indicates this is taken straight out of some policy or even law that was written long before a scanner (or computer) existed. Based on the tight hold on records you described, it seems likely they really mean don't copy it in any way. (Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV.)

  3. I think it has two reasons. It is an official copy if you want to use it for purposes such as insurance and to prove someone died in relation to the estate.

    Second, PA makes $9.00 per copy and they hope if you want another you will send for it.

    I scanned mine, I am not up to nefarious deeds. I also paid the required $9.00 times ten certificates.

  4. Can you contact them for further clarification? (preferably in writing) Hard to imagine that they wouldn't allow you to scan it for personal/genealogical use, but you never know.

    Colorado seems to have a death grip (no pun intended) on their vital records as well.

  5. I should clarify my comment above. I didn't mean to imply that you shouldn't scan it for personal use (who would know anyway) but publishing the scanned copy is a different issue.

  6. I don't understand how any governmental office can lay copyright claim to a marriage, birth or death certificate. But probably the best thing to do would be to contact them as Karen said.

  7. As long as the copies of a certificate are not used for legal purposes it was and is legal to copy them. Only certified certificates can be used for legal purposes. The severe restrictions on Pennsylvania state death certificates have been lifted as of February 13th, 2012 when Act 110 of 2011 went into effect. All death certificates in Pennsylvania more than 50 years old are now open records.

  8. Tim, thanks for your clarification about the certificates (before they became public) and copying them. How grateful I am that PA opened access to the certificates! Hooray for Governor Corbett.


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