State Research Guide: Pennsylvania
Unlock the records of your Keystone State ancestors.
Long called the Keystone State by virtue of its central location in the original 13 Colonies, Pennsylvania also is central to the roots of many US families. Philadelphia was the largest city in British North America and by far the top port of entry into Colonial America. It remained one of the top five immigration ports well into the 20th century.

The Swedes were the first Europeans to settle permanently in the Keystone State in the 1640s. Although they came in small numbers, they were well-documented, especially in Peter Stebbins Craig's 1671 Census of the Delaware (Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania). Perhaps the most ethnically diverse Colony, Pennsylvania also became home to English, Welsh, Irish, Germans, Scots-Irish, Swiss and French Huguenots in the 1700s; and Slavs, Poles, Italians, Jews, Russians and Greeks in the late 1800s. Passenger arrival records (mainly for the 1800s) for Pennsylvania ports are available on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL) <> and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) <>. You also can search passenger lists in's < > US Deluxe Collection ($155.40 per year).

Conflict among Colonial powers left the region in British hands in 1681, when King Charles II chartered the land to William Penn, the son, heir and namesake of the British admiral to whom he owed a huge debt. The king dubbed the colony Pennsylvania (Latin for "Penn's Woods").