"Keeper of the Civil Records" The word Prothonotary is Latin in origin and means "First Notary". This word dates back to Ecclesiastical Law as being the highest administrator of the Court of Rome and the First Notary, known as the Prelate of a body of 12 Notaries. Whenever a case was read for a trial, the Prothonotary would notify the Judges when to appear in Court to try a case.
When the English Court system was established, the Prothonotary acted as the chief administrator in the English Courts of the Kings Bench and Common Pleas. When our American Court system was established, we also adopted the same procedure as those being used by the English Courts. Every state in our United States has its own Clerk of the Common Pleas Court but very few are titled as Prothonotaries. Only Massachusetts, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania still have their Prothonotaries.
In Pennsylvania prior to 1790, the Prothonotary was the appointment of the General Assembly. From 1790 to 1838 it was the appointment of the Governor. Since 1839 it is an elective choice of its citizens. The Prothonotary has a tremendous responsibility in the operation of this office and rightfully should be an elected official by the choice of the electorate. It is a fee operating office and is self-supporting. All fees are turned over to the County Treasurer for use of the County government.
The Prothonotary has administrative control and responsibility for keeping and maintaining all official civil documents and records. All civil litigation is filed with the Prothonotary. All the records maintained by the Prothonotary are available to the public unless sealed by the Court.