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Frequently Asked Questions at the Pennsylvania State Archives

Genealogy:

Do you have family surname files?
The Pennsylvania State Archives does not collect or compile family surname files or indexes. 

If I am just beginning my family research in Pennsylvania, where should I start?
Begin your family research by compiling oral family histories then visit a local genealogical library like the Genealogy room of the State Library or local or regional historical society. There you will usually find family name files, published family histories or published original records and indexes (i.e. tax records, ship lists, and church and cemetery records). If you need original documentation of family records visit your county courthouse (deeds, wills, tax records, estate papers etc.), State Archives (military records, microfilmed county records, and original 1906-1908 birth certificates and 1906-1963 death certificates), or the Division of Vital Records (birth and death records after 1906).

Do you have Census records?
The Pennsylvania State Archives has federal population census enumerations only for Pennsylvania for each of the decennial censuses between 1790 and 1930, with the exception of the 1890 census, which was destroyed in a fire in 1921. The State Archives staff does not search federal census records. To obtain copies of census records please contact the National Archives, Washington, D.C., 20408.

Where can I find Pennsylvania vital records? 
On January 1, 1906, birth and death records began to be officially recorded by the Commonwealth. Prior to 1906, records were not required to be maintained except in a few exceptional cases. During the years 1852 to 1854, the Register of Wills for each county was required by law to keep records and indexes of births, deaths and marriages. Copies from 49 of the 64 counties existing at that time are maintained at the Archives; however, returns are not inclusive for these years. There are no returns for Blair, Clarion, Clinton, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Fulton, Jefferson, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Pike, Potter, Sullivan, or Wyoming County. From 1893 to 1906, birth and death records were recorded and maintained by the Clerk of the Orphans Court at the various county courthouses; however, many individuals failed to comply with this law. The Clerk of the Orphans Court or the County Marriage License Clerk has kept marriage licenses since September 30, 1885. (Some vital records from this period may be reviewed on microfilm at the State Archives but State Archives staff cannot search them.)
County records, or unofficial sources such as newspaper files, church registers, family Bibles, and gravestone inscriptions must be used to obtain data for earlier years.

Original birth certificates for 1906-1908 and death certificates for 1906-1963 will be available at the State Archives. Death certificates dating 1906-1963 are available for free to Pennsylvania residents through Ancestry.com Pennsylvania. For certified copies of birth and death certificates, 1906-present, and for birth and death records that have not been transferred to the State Archives, contact the Division of Vital Records, P.O. Box 1528, 101 South Mercer Street, New Castle, PA; telephone: (724) 656-3100.

How can I access county court record information?
Aside from visiting the individual county courthouse, some court records from most of Pennsylvania's counties have been microfilmed and are available for viewing at the Archives.

Do you have tax records?
Most yearly tax rolls for Pennsylvania counties are available at the individual county courthouses or historical societies. However some have been microfilmed and are located at the Archives. Within each county, the records are arranged by township, then by the first letter of the taxpayer's last name but not further alphabetized. They are not indexed. While tax rolls generally do not include genealogical data and will not explain family relationships, they will provide information on the amount of land and personal property owned. They are useful for determining when someone came to a county, how long they resided there and when they left the county or died.

Does the Pennsylvania State Archives have old newspapers?
To locate obituaries or other topics, the State Library of Pennsylvania has an extensive collection of Pennsylvania newspapers.
The State Archives does not have copies of old newspapers except for a small amount of special collections microfilm in Manuscript Group 262.

Does the Pennsylvania State Archives have adoption papers?
The State Archives does not have access to adoption records. These are restricted according to Pennsylvania State law. Interested parties should contact the Clerk of the Orphans Court in the county where the adoption occurred.

Where do I find land records?

  • Land transactions between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and individual land purchasers are located in Record Group-17 Land Office Records. In order to successfully conduct research with the state land records the researcher must first identify the full name of the land purchaser, the applicant, the warrantee, or patentee; the county in which the land was owned; and the approximate date of the transaction. As a general rule, state land records are not going to provide extensive genealogical information about the purchasers of land, for example, personal data such as the person's nativity, age, marital status, or occupation. They can be used, however, to document the presence of a particular settler in a specific place at a given time, a good starting point to begin or continue a family history.
  • Another place to find transactions of land is the Office of the Recorder of Deeds within each county. The conveyance of land between two or more individuals is documented by the recording of a deed. The 1706 "act for the acknowledgment and recording of deeds" provided that within 6 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.

Where can I find military records?
Military records are found in several Record and Manuscript Groups. View our Military Records section for information on the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Pennsylvania National Guard, Spanish-American War, Mexican Border Campaign, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam Conflict.

Does the State Archives hold pension records for veterans of the Revolutionary War?
Yes. There is an online name index to Revolutionary War pension records at the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Where can I find records of coal miners?
The Pennsylvania State Archives has coal-related records of various types for the years 1886-1973, which document activities in both the anthracite and bituminous mine districts. A very limited number of coal mine personnel records are present in our collections, as well as a few collections relating to individual mining concerns. For a complete overview of the mining records housed at the Archives, visit our Coal Miners section under Genealogy.

Where I can I find cemetery records?
Cemetery records are usually found at local historical societies, libraries, or church or cemetery archives.

Does the State Archives hold records of indentured servants?
No, but an annotated bibliography of published sources containing such information is available.

PA State Archives - Research Guides - Frequently Asked Questions

If you need further assistance, you may contact an archivist at ra-statearchives@pa.gov