In my quest to find more about my family history, I have been forced to look beyond the internet. In particular I am looking for two people that died anytime from 1910 to 1920 in Pennsylvania (possibly, it could've also been NJ). Nevertheless, I looked through PA's death indices from this time, and I manage to find two candidates. However, their first names weren't listed, so I wasn't able to confirm them, and thus, I wish to be able to find full death certificates for the people in question to at least try and verify that they are the people that I'm looking for.

I will say that I am not asking for assistance finding these people beyond a few questions that I have, and in fact I do not live near PA, I just have a family line from around Philly and Camden.

I have found a request form at phmc.pa.gov in which I can list the limited amount of information that I found from the death index. However, although that form requires certificate numbers, the death index lists only state file numbers.

  1. What are the differences between certificate numbers and state file numbers?

  2. How may I get a certificate number from a state file number?

  3. Are birth certificate and death certificate numbers formatted the same?

Once again, I wouldn't like help finding these people, but rather, I would like some confusion to be cleared up, as I was not able to find much information about what I am asking.

1 Answer 1


In Pennsylvania, certificate numbers and state file numbers are the same thing. Each certificate is assigned a number based on the order they're processed, so lower-numbered certificates reflect births/deaths earlier in the year, and higher-numbered correspond to events later in the year. If you could identify the highest-numbered certificate for a given year, it would tell how how many births/deaths were registered that year. Each file contains one certificate per year for as many years as certificates have been filed, which is why you need both the year and the file/certificate number to avoid a search fee when requesting certificates.

Ancestry.com has images for Pennsylvania birth certificates from 1906-1913, and death certificates from 1906-1969. The downloadable indexes at phmc.pa.gov include births over 105 years ago (through 1917) and deaths over 50 years ago (through 1972). The state adds another year's worth of indexes every January. Ancestry's index doesn't appear to be drawn from the state's index files, so if you can't find something using Ancestry's index, you can try locating the certificate in question using the state's index, then searching on Ancestry using the certificate number.

Pennsylvania birth and death certificates include different information, so aren't formatted the same, if that's what you meant. Birth certificates include parents' names, ages, places of birth and residence, and occupations, as well as the number of previous children, and how many are still living (although some fields may not be filled in on all certificates).

Death certificates include cause(s) of death, usual residence, decedent's age, DOB/POB, marital status and occupation, as well as parents' names and birthplaces, informant's name (the person providing most of the information), the name of the funeral home, and the date/place of burial/cremation. Death certs, especially the earlier ones, may not include the decendent's full given name, if they commonly used their middle name, diminutive, or initials. The familial closeness of the informant may affect the completeness and accuracy of all of the above (e.g., the decedent's child may not know with certainty where their parent was born, let alone their grandparents). Pennsylvania death certificate forms have changed over time, with later versions including SSN, for example.

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