Upon returning home yesterday and checking my mail (postal mail…remember that?), I discovered mixed in amongst the bills and adverts, an envelope from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. When you send requests to Pennsylvania, you need to include a self-addressed stamped envelope for your record to be mailed to you. I noticed that the envelope was handwritten, and not by me, so of course I was curious.
Pennsylvania’s death records are closed – meaning there is no way to search an index for yourself, but rather you have to make a specific request, send your $9, and hope your information matches theirs, or you’ll get a $9 letter stating that they can’t find it. In other words, to learn all the juicy details your record might contain, you have to know most of them to begin with. Catch-22, vicious circle, you ask? Exactly, I answer.Here is a good opportunity to plug a group that is trying to gather as much support and influence as possible to change that, and open Pennsylvania’s death records: People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access. Check out their site, and support it if you like.
Back to the story: Could it be a letter thanking me for me generous support I’ve provided over the years with my staggering number of $9 “Can’t Find It” requests? Probably not. Was it a Cease and Desist request? I had recently (three months ago, which is still “recently” in PA vital request timetables) sent three requests for death certificates: one I received, the other was a “can’t find,” and I was still waiting for the third. But still, what was with the official envelope? By now, you are all probably thinking the same thing I thought to myself at the time: “Hey, I know. Open it, dummy.” So I did.
Inside was a copy of a death certificate that I had requested at least two years ago – maybe three, I can’t even remember now. Where in the world had this request been living for the past few years that it just now got noticed? I’m certain this is a new record for length of time between request and fulfillment. And get this – it wasn’t even for the right person!
I had requested a death certificate for a Lydia Snyder, died in Jefferson County, PA sometime after April 1910. I had tried several times to request a record for her without knowing the exact date and got the dreaded “can’t find it” letter each time. I paid a visit to the Reynoldsville Library and their wonderful microfilmed Reynoldsville Star collection. I knew she was alive and enumerated with her son in the 1910 census, so I did a page-by-page search starting with that date and going forward through almost a year of papers before I ran out of time. While I never did find her obituary, I found a number of other things of interest along the way, so it wasn’t a complete bust.
Eventually, I located an entry for Lydia Snyder in the Orphan’s Court Register’s Docket at the courthouse in Brookville: she died 8 Jan 1911. Excellent! I sent for the death certificate with the new information. Apparently, that wasn’t her. The Lydia (Zimmerman) Snyder I am looking for was born 19 Dec 1827, a daughter of Sebastian Zimmerman and Elizabeth Klock. The Liddie Snyder on the death certificate was born twenty years later, 4 Jan 1847, died in Ringgold Twp, not Winslow Twp, and was a daughter of Elias Powell and Lydia Hass.
So all these years of waiting for a record I had forgotten I even requested again, and now it’s back to the drawing board. If you are looking for the above-mentioned Lydia Powell Snyder, let me know, and I might be convinced to violate Pennsylvania law and send you a copy.