University of Pittsburgh Coroner Case File Project (and Wiki)

A good friend/colleague of mine shared the news with me about the The University of Pittsburgh Archive Services Center’s Coroner Case File Project. Here’s a brief summary as posted on their corresponding Wiki, which includes even more interesting details about the project.

Internship Project
Allegheny County Coroner Case File Records

In 1982 the Coroner’s Office of Allegheny County transferred inquest case records, 1887-1973, to the University of Pittsburgh. The inquest case records, referred to in this document as Coroner Case Files, are public records open to all, as affirmed by the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. The records were created by the Coroner’s Office to satisfy public law. Beyond the final inquest report, materials in the files may include eye-witness testimony, grand jury reports, physician notes, affidavits, press clippings and other documentation. As a whole, the information is valuable to researchers studying a variety of topics pertaining to societal and legal issues. It is imperative that the Coroner Case Files be rehoused in order to ensure their long-term preservation.

Beyond documenting the medical and legal proceedings of questionable deaths in Allegheny County for over a century, the files provide unique perspectives of nineteenth- and twentieth-century industrial dangers, urban problems, social values, diseases, and dislocations, as well as the state of medical knowledge and practice at the time. Though the files certainly contain evidence of sensational murders, they also portray ordinary and accidental deaths, many of which were related to work….

Since most of my relatives settled in the Pittsburgh area, and I have a “suspicious death” lurking in my paternal family tree, I am very excited about this project. I decided to use their formal “search” mechanism which is conducted a few times a month, and submitted a request using a special form.

There’s a $12.00 fee which covers copying and mailing of all relevant info. There are some exceptions to record availability: The records between 1933 and June 1938 are not in the Archives Service Center’s possession and are presumed to have been destroyed in 1982 prior to the transfer of this collection.

But, since the “probable murder” I am looking for occurred in 1916, I am hoping that I’ll have some luck. I am always intrigued when such great unusual resources turn up. It keeps genealogy interesting and proves that not all information is available online just yet. You always have to keep an eye out for those surprise sources!