The full text of this article is available to Plus members only.
For full access to all of our articles, please Join
or Log In
Not a Plus Member?
Pennsylvania Records Details and Resources
Where to find Pennsylvania census records, immigration records, land records, maps, vital records and more.
Aside from what exists in the published Pennsylvania Archives series (free on historical records site Footnote http://www.footnote.com/documents/185749/pennsylvania_archives
), few vital records are extant before the mid-19th century. It wasn't until Jan. 1, 1906, that the state officially recorded birth and death records. From 1852 to 1854, the Register of Wills in each county recorded births, marriages and deaths, but records are not complete. According to the Pennsylvania State Archives website http://www.phmc.state.pa.us, the Clerk of the Orphan's Court in each county recorded vital records: births and deaths from 1893-1906 and marriages from 1885. Compliance varied by county. Because of the lack of civil registration in the 19th century, church records are the main source for vital information, especially for German and Quaker congregations.
Many types of records are available on the county level, including estate papers (wills, orphan court records, inventories, and affidavits of death); land records (deeds, mortgages, and tax records); and court records (criminal and civil cases, naturalization, and divorces).
Land records date from 1682. Transactions between individuals and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Deeds can also be found in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds for each county. The State Archives website states that a 1706 law required that, within six months, every deed or conveyance of real property had to be acknowledged by two witnesses before a justice of the peace or the recorder of deeds or his deputy.
Tax records are particularly good for Pennsylvania and can substitute for state census records and missing vital records. Every seven years, a taxpayer list known as the Septennial Census was compiled, but only a small percentage of the documents have survived. The information enumerated depends on the county and time period, but usually includes taxable inhabitants, freemen, and starting in 1800, details about slaves and occasionally the name of the owner. In addition to the Septennial Census, Pennsylvania counties compiled yearly tax rolls, available at county courthouses or historical societies. Tax records generally cover from the mid-1700s through the present day (in one form or another), depending upon the county. Many early county tax lists are in the published Pennsylvania Archives series.
The Pennsylvania State Archives has military papers from 1775 to 1985, but its website cautions that "most records of military service created prior to 1861 contain scant genealogical or descriptive data." A listing of pre-Civil War service is in the Pennsylvania Archives series. The State Archives has online information about service in various wars.
"Finding genealogical records depends on establishing an ancestor's place of residence in a particular county," says Jane Addams Clark of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. Many counties were carved out of the three original counties: Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. Also, the counties of Bedford, Cumberland, Westmoreland and Northumberland, served as mother counties for many western and northern counties.
The websites of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (GSP) http://www.genpa.org
and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) http://www.hsp.org
contain helpful information. Researchers can start their search in Philadelphia at either of these two major research libraries. Volunteers of the GSP have abstracted wills for Philadelphia County and other counties in southeastern Pennsylvania to create an every-name online index. Researchers can access the HSP catalog online as well. Peruse the collections of these institutions before proceeding to the county level. For western Pennsylvania, visit the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Blair County Genealogical Society in Hollidaysburg. Even these regional libraries do not cover all areas of this large state. Thus, you will need to look into the holdings of local public libraries and historical societies.
- Non-Population Census Schedules For Pennsylvania: Agricultural Schedules, 1850-1880 from the US Census Office (filmed by the National Archives, 1970)
- Declarations of Intentions, 1810-1932; Index, 1810-1887 from the Pennsylvania Court of Quarter Sessions (filmed by the Family History Library, 1974, 1991)
- Emigrants to Pennsylvania, 1641-1819: A Consolidation of Ship Passenger Lists from the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975)
- Immigrants to Pennsylvania, 1600's-1800's (Broderbund, 1999, CD-ROM)
- Index to the Names of 30,000 Immigrants -- German, Swiss, Dutch and French -- Into Pennsylvania, 1727-1776 by M.V. Koger (filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972)
- Names of Foreigners Who Took the Oath of Allegiance to the Province and State of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, with Foreign Arrivals, 1786-1808 by William Henry Egle (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967)
- Names of Persons Who Took the Oath of Allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania Between the Years 1777 and 1789 by Thompson Westcott (1865; Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965)
- Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Philadelphia, 1800-1819 by Elizabeth P. Bentley and Michael H. Tepper (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986)
- Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in The Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808 by Ralph Beaver Strassburger and William John Hinke (Pennsylvania German Society, 1934)
- Petitions for Naturalization 1793-1906; Indexes 1793-1930 from the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas (filmed by the Family History Library, 1974)
- Philadelphia Naturalization Records, and Index to Records of Aliens ‘Declarations of Intentions and/or Oaths of Allegiance, 1789-1880 by P. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer (Gale Research, 1982)
- Ship Passenger Lists, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1641-1825 by Carl Boyer (C. Boyer, 1980)
- The Trail of the Black Walnut by George Elmore Reaman (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993)
- Early Pennsylvania Land Records: Minutes of the Board of Property edited by William Henry Egle (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976)
- Pennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research by Donna Bingham Munger (Scholarly Resources, 1991)
- Susquehanna Company Papers, 11 vols., by Julian P. Boyd and Robert J. Taylor (Cornell University Press, 1962-71)
- Warrantees of Land in the Several Counties of the State of Pennsylvania, 1730-1898, 3 vols., edited by William Henry Egle (W.S. Ray, State Printer, 1897)
- Warrant Register, 1682-1950 from the Bureau of Land Records in Harrisburg, Pa. (filmed by the Family History Library, 1976)
- Warrants and Surveys of the Province of Pennsylvania Including the Three Lower Counties, 1759 by Allen Weinberg and Thomas E. Slatterly (City of Philadelphia, Department of Records, 1965)
- Atlas of Pennsylvania (Temple University, 1989)
- Atlas of the State of Pennsylvania: From Original Surveys and Various Loval Surveys revised and corrected by Joseph R. Bien (Julius Bein & Co., 1900)
- Descriptive List of the Map Collection in the Pennsylvania State Archives compiled by Martha L. Simonetti, edited by Donald H. Kent and Harry E. Whipkey (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1976)
- A Gazetteer of the State of Pennsylvania by Thomas F. Gordon (Philadelphia: T. Belknap, 1932)
- Historical Atlas and Chronology of County Boundaries, 1788-1980, vol. 1., edited by John H. Long (G.K. Hall, 1984)
- Historical Topographical Atlas of the State of Pennsylvania by H.F. Walling and O.W. Gray (1872; Bookmark, 1977)
- How Pennsylvania County Maps by William A. Russ Jr. (Pennsylvania Historical Association, 1966)
- Pennsylvania: Atlas of Historical County Boundaries by John H. Long (Charles Scribner's Sons, Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1996)
- Pennsylvania Gazetteer (American Historical Publications, 1989)
- Pennsylvania: Index to Topographic and Other Map Coverage from the United States Geological Survey (The Survey, ca. 1983)
- Pennsylvania Place Names by Abraham H. Espenschade (1925; Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970)
- Pennsylvania Postal History by John L. Kay and Chester M. Smith Jr. (Quarterman Publications, 1976)
- History of Pennsylvania Volunteers by Samuel P. Bates (State Printer, 1869-71)
- Muster Rolls of the Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of 1812-1814 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967)
- Officers and Soldiers in the Service of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1744-1764 by James B. Nolan (University of Pennsylvania, 1936)
- Pennsylvania and the War of 1812 by Harold L. Myers (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1964)
- Pennsylvania Archives, 138 vols., from the State of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1857-1914)
- Pennsylvania in the War of the Revolution, Battalions and Line 1775-1783 by John Blair Linn (State printer, 1880)
- Pennsylvania in the War with Mexico by Randy W. Hackenburg (White Mane Publishing Co., 1992)
- The Pennsylvania Line, Regimental Organization and Operations, 1776-1783 by John B. Trussell Jr. (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1977)
- Pennsylvania Military History: A Bibliography; Part II, The Civil War by Dan A. Nettling (US Army Military History Institute, 1992)
- Pennsylvania's Second Year at War: December 7, 1942-December 7, 1943 by S.K. Stevens, et al. (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1945)
- Record of Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Spanish-American War, 1898, 2nd edition, by Thomas J. Stewart (William Stanley Ray, 1901)
- Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York: Procured in Holland, England, and France edited by E.B. O'Callaghan (Weed, Parsons & Co., Print, 1853-1887)
- Guide to Records of the Court of Common Pleas, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1681-1900 by Lynn Ann Catanese (Chester County Historical Society, 1987)
- Guide to Records of the Court of Quarter Sessions, Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1681-1969 by Lynn Ann Catanese (Chester County Historical Society, 1988)
- Pennsylvania in the 1700's: An Index to Who Was There and Where by Donna Beers (D. Beers, 1998)
- Registrar's Book of Governor Keith's Court of Chancery of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1720-1735 (Pennsylvania Bar Association, 1941)
- Abstracts (Mainly Deaths) From the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1775-1783 by Kenneth Scott (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976)
- Catholic Vital Records of Central Pennsylvania, 4 vols., by Albert H. Ledoux (A.H. Ledoux, 1993-1996)
- Cemetery Records of Pennsylvania, 9 vols., (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1946-1968)
- Coroner's Views and Inquisitions, 1710-1906; Index, 1722-1946 from the Bucks County, Pa., Coroner (filmed by the Family History Library, 1973)
- Early Pennsylvania Births: 1675-1875 by Charles Adam Fisher (1947; Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979)
- Inventory of Vital Statistics Within Each County (Historical Records Survey)
- Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1790 (Reprint: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968)
- Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 3 vols., (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983)
Return to the main Pennsylvania page
From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book
, State Research Guides CD
and The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy
Recent Blog Posts »
Recent Articles »
Free Genealogy Downloads