Pennsylvania Death Certificate of Peter Whitlock

Pennsylvania death certificates covering the 1906-1924 time frame were released online yesterday at Scanned in full color, they are available to Ancestry subscribers, and to Pennsylvania residents for no charge.

I am looking for the death certificate for one Peter Whitlock, a Civil War soldier who ties into my own New Jersey Carson line. He died in 1908 from lockjaw, possibly in Union County, Pennsylvania. I entered that information into the search form, and got zero hits.


I had an exact date of death for Peter Whitlock, so I decided to browse the collection instead. Fortunately, this collection can be browsed by year, and is arranged in order by certificate number.


I searched for roughly 30 minutes without finding his death certificate. From what I can tell, the certificates are batched as received by the state, so you might find a number of Luzerne County certificates, followed by those of another county, with more Luzerne County certificates after that. There were plenty of other death certificates I was interested in, so I quickly got lost in those for a time.

I decided to tackle this again today after speaking with a friend, who reminded me that the death certificate indices are online in a separate database. I quickly found the link to the indices at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Drilling down by year and then by the letter of the alphabet yielded a PDF file, which did not seem to be searchable. Nonetheless, I did find the correct page for Peter Whitlock’s entry.


The entry reads as follows:
Whitlock, Peter: 59352: Fayette Co.: June 25
The number 59352 following his name is the “State File Number” needed to locate the certificate on Ancestry. Further down on the Ancestry search form is an area that permits one to search by certificate number. I typed 59352 in the data field, and then checked the box to do an exact search.


This time, I received a total of 19 hits, which does seem a bit odd. The last entry on this list of results is the one of interest to me.


The reason I was initially unsuccessful in my search was likely because Peter Whitlock’s last name was indexed in this collection as WHITTOCK. Clicking the View Images icon on the right led me to the digitized death certificate.

Portion of the death certificate for Peter Whitlock on

Good luck researching in this incredible new record set!

Using the Wayback Machine

Locating, a website which has “vanished” from the Internet

Afrolumens Project by George Nagle

Now that Pennsylvania probate records have been made available online, it has rekindled my interest in tracking my Bigham and Richey lines from Drumore Twp., Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.

One thing I wanted to investigate further was information previously uncovered: both the Bigham and the Richey families of Lancaster County were slaveholders in the latter part of the 18th century. A note in my database reminded me that I had acquired this information from the Afrolumens Project, a website by George F. Nagle. This fantastic site once documented information on slavery in the state of Pennsylvania. Information previously obtained from had been transcribed data. Now I wanted to learn whether images of original documents had been posted online in the interim.

So, I typed in the URL (Uniform Resource Locator, i.e. web address) for the site into my Google Chrome browser and immediately noted a problem. The site couldn’t be found at
Other sites were still referencing Afrolumens, but nothing came up from Afrolumens. A little more sleuthing indicated that the site had been taken offline late 2007. How could that be? My research log indicated I had last accessed the site in November 2010. Even more sleuthing indicated the site went back online some time in 2009. Regardless, it was clearly unavailable today. That’s when I remembered something called the “Wayback Machine”.

The Wayback Machine is one part of the Internet Archive, a non-profit entity established in 1996 to build an Internet library. One of its stated goals is “to prevent the Internet…and other “born digital” materials from disappearing into the past”. [1] One way it does that is by making cached copies of crawled web pages available via the Wayback Machine. As of today, more than 150 billion web pages have been archived. [2]

While the Wayback Machine is an invaluable tool to assist in locating websites that are no longer available, it is not a complete snapshot of every page on every website from 1996 to the present. From the FAQ, it seems that there are four criteria which must be met before a website will appear in the Wayback Machine archive.

1.  The site must be publicly available (i.e. no user login required);
2.  The site must have been online a minimum of six months;
3.  The site must be well-linked to from other sites;
4.  Robots.txt must not exclude crawlers from indexing the site’s content. [3]

Another caveat to using the site is that it is not keyword searchable. You must know the URL to navigate the Wayback Machine at present. With that aside, let’s search for an archived copy of the Afrolumens website.

First, navigate to the Internet Archive website using your favorite web browser. Your result will look something like this:

Internet Archive Main Page

The web page is a bit busy, but you’ll find the Wayback Machine near the top, in the middle of the window.

Wayback Machine

Now, we’ll type in the last known URL for the Afrolumens site:

This is our result showing that the website was crawled by the Wayback Machine 103 times between 2002 and 2011. A calendar is displayed with the last year the site was crawled displayed first, in this case 2011. The selected year is shown in yellow on the timeline strip near the top of the screen. Each of the blue circles on the calendar below the timeline represents a website snapshot.

Afrolumens Crawls in 2011

Click on a blue circle to bring up the cached version of the website as it existed on that date. Here’s what the Afrolumens main page looked like on 22 Jul 2011:

From here, you can navigate to other available cached pages by clicking the arrows, or by placing your cursor directly in the timeline strip. However, I’m interested in learning whether images were ever uploaded to the “Slavery in Pennsylvania” section of the site, so that’s where I’ll go next. This is the resulting page:

Note that as we get deeper into the Afrolumens site hierarchy, there are less snapshots. This part of the site was only crawled 65 times, and this 25 Nov 2010 snapshot represents the last time this part of the the site was archived by the Wayback Machine. You’ll also note that some of the images are missing (probably linked to from another site). I’m interested in drilling down to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, so I need to click County index.

I continue to explore the archived site, but by this time it is apparent that no images of original records have been uploaded, as this cached image dates to the same time when I last visited the site and recorded the results of that search in my research log made in November 2010.

What sites will you explore using the Wayback Machine?


[1] Internet Archive >About IA: [ : last accessed 03 Jul 2012]
[2] [ : last accessed 03 Jul 2012]
[3] Internet Archive FAQ > [ : last accessed 03 Jul 2012]

Interlibrary Loan Saved Me $160

Wherein the author uses online tools to track down an elusive family history book

I am researching four different Porter families, three collateral and one direct. At least one of them (John Porter, ca. 1730-ca. 1804) had ties to Virginia, specifically Rockbridge County, and its predecessor counties: Augusta, Botetourt and Orange. So, when I learned of a Porter family history book from Rockbridge County, Virginia, I just had to have a look. Problem is, I’m in Washington state and I was unable to find the book locally. Enter WorldCat.

For those researchers unfamiliar with WorldCat, it is a network of more than 10,000 participating libraries world-wide and is arguably the largest online library catalog. It’s the first place to check if your local library doesn’t have an item. Not all libraries are linked into WorldCat, but it will give you an idea of just how widely available an item may be.

To use WorldCat, go to In my case, I know I’m looking for a book, so I selected the book tab first.

(Click on an image to enlarge it, then click your browser’s “back” button to return to the article.)

I entered my search terms…

…and got two hits. The top entry was the book I was after.

Clicking the title link will take you to a list of libraries that have the item arranged, by default, by libraries closest to your given location.

When I first conducted my search in 2011, two libraries in Utah showed up on the list as being closest to my home, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City being one of them. Since I was planning a trip to Utah in January 2012 for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I added the Porter book to my to-do list. Unfortunately, when I visited, the book was not on the shelf. Was it in use already on that early Saturday morning? I approached patrons in the first floor reading room. No one was using it. I approached the young man working the volunteer desk, who kindly offered that the book may have been removed for digitizing.

“But”, I countered, “your catalog says it’s available. Wouldn’t the catalog reflect the fact that it had been removed for digitization?” Initially, I allowed his answer to deter me on my quest.

However, each time I visited, I found myself increasingly anxious. After all, I had traveled hundreds of miles, and consulting the Porter book was at the top of my to-do list. Long story short, I (nicely) pestered a number of volunteers in the reading room over the next week about the book. They had no record of the book being removed for digitizing, so they ultimately declared the book “missing” – which is why you won’t find the Family History Library in the list of results on WorldCat.

How else to get my hands on a copy of that book? Perhaps I could find a copy on the used book market. I checked eBay, alibris, and AbeBooks, and struck out each time. Finally, I checked Amazon. Yup, they had it. One used copy – for $165.00!

I tried to rationalize spending $165.00 for a book I had never seen, that I wasn’t sure even contained information on my John Porter. I almost decided to pull the trigger, when I remembered Interlibrary Loan. Why not try that first? Although I had heard many libraries were doing away with interlibrary loan (ILL) due to funding cuts, I learned that my local library in Seattle was still offering the service for a mere $5.00. Considering the alternative, it was a bargain.

Seattle Public Library Interlibrary LoanThe Seattle Public Library (SPL) has made accessing items through ILL very straight-forward. You are able to fill out the form online, pay the $5.00 fee online via PayPal, and then when the book arrives, they send you a notice through e-mail. In my case, they advised it could take up to three weeks for the book to be received. I was pleasantly surprised when the book arrived in less than a week.

TIP: when ordering through ILL, if the St. Louis County Library shows up in your list of results as having an item note that fact, and the call number, in the ILL form.

The St. Louis County Library became the repository of the entire National Genealogical Society’s library collection in 2001, and by its very nature, books held in this special collection are available for loan.

A family history, William Porter, Jr. of Rockbridge County, Virginia (1740-1804)

As it turns out, I already had more information on John Porter of Rockbridge County, Virginia (brother of William Porter, Jr. in the title) than presented in the 1984 Porter book, so my $5.00 was well-spent indeed.