Online resources are a must for genealogical researchers. This RecordClick genealogist has seen – and made – a good many “favorite” online genealogy lists. Usually at the top are FamilySearch and Ancestry however, their offerings, as vast as they are, may not have the desired information – and then a wall goes up. Researching online in the State of Pennsylvania is a good example.
The largest online databases for Pennsylvania on FamilySearch include:
- County Marriages, 1885-1950
- Philadelphia births, deaths, and marriages
- Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948
- Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalizations, 1795-1931, browse images
- Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994, browse images
There are some indexes for browsing images, but not for all volumes, and posting images is a work in progress. The Family History Library has a number of books and microfilms pertaining to Pennsylvania genealogy. Check the online catalog.
Ancestry.com offerings include:
- Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985
- Pennsylvania, Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1811
- Pennsylvania Founding Families, 1681-1911
These data bases are limited in their scope and the Church and Town Records, 1708-1985, while large, are not complete.
My favorite online Pennsylvania resources include:
- Any U.S. Census records
- Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records
- U.S. GenWeb Project
But wait, as the television ad might say, there’s more.
Pennsylvania family historians have a number of Keystone State genealogy resources to enhance the search. The five most encompassing are:
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania State Archives
- ARIAS (Archives Records Information Access System)
- Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Department of Health
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has in their collection many family papers including diaries, journals, and family trees. It is a major repository of information relating to the Pennsylvania founding families of Penn, Logan, Norris, Pemberton, Drinker, Shippen, Cadwalader, Chew, Biddle, and Powel. There are also tax records, church records (a number of which are online through a partnership with Ancestry), death and burial records, and newspapers. A digital history project has a number of documents of historical interest that have also been transcribed. Check out the online catalog.
The Pennsylvania State Archives is the best place to find where the various governmental records are held. There is an area explaining the various repositories for genealogists and community historians. As a rule of thumb, local records are kept at the local level. The state archives focuses on the records of the state government, although it does hold collections of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history, as well as microfilmed copies of many county records and some municipal records. A number of early land records have been digitized and are online. Other holdings include: coal mining records, prison records, railroad records for both the Pennsylvania Railroad and Penn Central Railroad. This includes genealogical information about individual railroad employees.
Archives Records Information Access System (ARIAS) is Pennsylvania’s Digital State Archives. It is a part of the State Archives and a good place for the family genealogist to search out military records. Databases available online include:
- Pennsylvania National Guard Veteran’s Card File, 1867-1921
- Civil War Veterans’ Card File
- Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File
- World War I Service Medal Application Cards
- Spanish American War Veterans’ Card File of United States Volunteers
- Mexican Border Campaign Veterans’ Card File
- Militia Officers Index Cards 1775-1800
In addition to these online records, others are in the process of being digitized.
The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania website works on two different levels – state and local.
The first is the state level. It contains statewide information and links. It is also the home of the Ruth Bitting Hamm Digital Library. Their digital databases include church record indexes and transcriptions from Berks, Carbon, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, and Snyder Counties. It also houses Pennsylvania County Repository Guides, court records from Philadelphia County including “Indigents, Miscreants, Madams and Madmen,” funeral home records and indexes from Philadelphia County, marriage indexes and licenses from Bucks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Northampton, and Philadelphia Counties, and a number of newspaper indexes and transcription. A membership in the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania is required to access many of the databases on the site.
The second level is more local. The society has divided the state into six sections. Each section lists the counties in that section complete with a map showing the townships in each county. Societies in each section and their resources are listed, as well. Information on repositories is included. Additionally, there are a number of databases.
Pennsylvania Department of Health is the repository for birth and death records. Indexes for birth certificates, 1906-1907, and death certificates, 1906-1962, are available online, but the site is not necessarily user friendly. The easiest way to access the index may be through the Pennsylvania State Archives website. The index page has the heading “Act 110 – Public Records.” The database is a PDF file of a computer printout. There is no search engine. If the year of death is not known, the search has to be made year by year.
Doing genealogical research in Pennsylvania can be a tad complicated and daunting. The expert genealogists at RecordClick can help. We are knowledgeable about the state, where records are located and how to access them. Genealogy researchers can help you organize your ancestor search information or prepare a special family history.