About the Pennsylvania State Archives

Pennsylvania State Archives Tower, HarrisburgThe Pennsylvania State Archives is an important resource for scholars, historians, genealogists, and the public. Created in 1903 as the Division of Public Records in the State Library, it was combined in 1945 with the State Museum and the Pennsylvania Historical Commission to form the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). Officially designated as the Bureau of the Pennsylvania State Archives within the PHMC, the primary function of the Pennsylvania State Archives is to acquire, preserve and make available for study the permanently-valuable public records of the Commonwealth, with particular attention given to the records of state government. In fulfilling its general responsibility for the preservation of historic documents, the State Archives also collects private papers relevant to Pennsylvania history.

1681 CharterWhether exploring Pennsylvania's documentary heritage to learn about your family's past or seeking original manuscripts for a research project, you will discover a wealth of resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Included among our holdings are more than 235 million pages of documents and manuscripts; thirty thousand reels of microfilm containing some twenty-two million images of county deeds, wills, mortgages, estate papers, and assessment books; and over one million special collection items such as photographic prints and negatives, maps, postcards, posters, audio recordings, and motion picture films.

Among the treasures housed at the State Archives is the 1681 Charter from Great Britain's King Charles II to William Penn (read an article on how this document was conserved PDF file), the 1737 Walking Purchase, an 1857 photograph of the Horseshoe Curve, photographs of the ruins of Chambersburg taken in 1864, the 1878 Death Warrant for John J. Kehoe and a letter to Governor Duff relating to the 1948 Donora smog disaster.

For more detailed information on the history and mission of the Pennsylvania State Archives and the stories told by our holdings, we offer the following resources:

Discover Pennsylvania's Past, view the Pennsylvania State Archives brochure available for download (PDF file).

  • “A Treasure Trove of Historical Records: The Pennsylvania State Archives,” an article by Sharon Hernes Silverman published in Pennsylvania Heritage ® magazine. Part one (PDF, 91 K) part two (PDF, 120 K). (The article requires the Adobe Acrobat reader to be viewed or printed. The software is available free of charge from Adobe. If you are using a screen reader, Adobe also offers a free online document conversion service at http://access.adobe.com/.)
  • Documenting Pennsylvania's Past: The First Century of the Pennsylvania State Archives , a book for sale by PAbookstore.com, edited by archivist Willis L. Shirk, Jr.
  • Doc Heritage: Doc(umentary) Heritage is a teaching tool that presents images of historical documents from various time periods. Along with the images are narratives placing them in a regional, state, or national context, as well as transcriptions of each record if appropriate and helpful links for further research.
  • PA State Archives - About the Archives (PDF)