How can I see an original Pennsylvania birth certificate from the 1920s?
June 13, 2014 9:16 PM   Subscribe

My grandfather was born in Pennsylvania to Italian parents during the 1920s in Lackawanna County / Scranton. I was able to obtain a new birth certificate from the PA Dept of Vital Records, but the last name was misspelled. When I called about this, they could only tell me that the mis-spelling "was what it said on the birth certificate". How do I go about seeing the original to get the mistake corrected?

Although my family name contains a double "g", the certificate has a double "c" in their place. The way my family pronounces the name explains the error, but I'd really like to have it corrected.

I've managed to track down my great grandfather's immigration record & marriage license, my grandfather's marriage license, and my father's birth and marriage license (all from Pennsylvania). Every one of these documents spells the name correctly.
posted by NYC-BB to Law & Government (5 answers total)
Disclaimer: I know nothing about this other than what I just found on the web a moment ago, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Here is a page on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Health entitled "Guidelines to Correct Birth Certificates". It has instructions for several different categories of corrections. Most of these seem to be either for correcting your own birth certificate or that of a minor for whom you are responsible, and I would not be surprised if it were not legally possible to do what you're hoping to do.

However, at the bottom of the page, there's a catchall category which might be worth trying: "If a Correction to a Birth Certificate is not Addressed Above". It lists a phone number you can call to contact the Division of Vital Records about the situation.
posted by Flunkie at 11:11 PM on June 13, 2014

I'm guessing this is for Italian citizenship? Does your grandfather have any living siblings or other older relatives who can attest to his actual name? I seem to recall that was one option the Italian consulate would accept when there were name discrepancies.

Aside from that, I would try contacting the Dept of Vital Records and ask how you can view the original birth certificate. I'd also poke around genealogy specific forums where people might have more experience dealing with this. Even if you aren't after Italian citizenship, I'd check some of those websites out because this is a problem many people encounter when trying to obtain dual citizenship. You'll probably be able to find some people from PA who can provide solid answers

Finally, look up a local Mormon genealogy research facility. The Mormon Church has extraordinary resources at their disposal. They might have a copy of the original record on microfilm.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 11:15 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be prepared to hear the state say that it's not going to bother. The certificate is nearly 100 years old, he is deceased, I assume, and no one has been affected by the change in all this time.

Errors like this were very common.
posted by yclipse at 4:03 AM on June 14, 2014

It is possible they won't correct it. My uncle's name was spelled wrong on his Pennsylvania birth certificate back in the 1930s and he changed his name to match his birth certificate rather than correct it because it was easier.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:40 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

There may not be an original birth certificate. In some places there is a birth register which is a a document where information is recorded in columns, child's name, date of birth mother's name and so on. The certificate is an extract from that.

You may need to get a notary or other legal official type to certify that the birth certificate is that of the same person as on the other documents as it is possibly that they do not make changes to historical documents under any circumstances. For one thing, 100 years ago it was probably recorded in ink, on closely spaced lines leaving no room to add any additional information.

It's called a certificate because someone certified the information. It is possible that they can only change their record if the original certifying clerk re-certifies that they made an error

From their point of view the certificate may record a variant spelling and they feel it is valuable to preserve this. His school records might be found with the same spelling. For this reason they may not want to make changes, or may be barred from doing so.

However, I am only making guess here based on my office experience in Canada where sometimes have to issue certified extracts from the registers and things could be very different in Pennsylvania
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:40 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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