Access Archives: The Newsletter of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Winter 2014

Volume 14, Winter 2014

The above image shows a Pennsylvania Railroad I-1sa Decapod-type 2-10-0 freight steam locomotive pushing through a snow-filled cut, likely on the Elmira Branch, en route to coal docks in Sodus Point on Lake Ontario, New York. This image comes from the thousands of cubic feet of records held in MG-286, the Penn Central Railroad Collection, one of the largest and most frequently utilized manuscript groups (non-government-generated collections) at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Click image to enlarge.

Editor's Note

Perhaps you noticed that there was no summer 2013 edition of Access Archives. You also may have heard that we planned to transition to a blog format. Unfortunately neither the summer edition, nor the blog were realized - yet. There is an overhaul planned for the Commonwealth's web portal during 2014. We will continue with the Access Archives newsletter until the restructuring and hope to adapt to the changes thereafter.

A Message from the State Archivist

Pennsylvania State Archivist David Haury
Pennsylvania State Archivist David Haury Pennsylvania

In an innovative partnership with the Pennsylvania State Archives is making genealogical records available free of charge to Commonwealth residents. Four years ago, began digitizing selected State Archives collections of interest. To date millions of pages have been digitized at no cost to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), which administers the State Archives. Over a dozen records series have been digitized and are available to the public through Of special note, the digitization of birth and death certificates currently open to the public (Death Certificates 1906-1963 and Birth Certificates 1906-1908) is nearly completed. The indexing of these documents is underway and expected to be finished by late 2014. For the past year Ancestry has had a full-time employee digitizing records onsite at the Archives. This past summer all of the Civil War Muster Out Rolls were scanned. These documents had been the subject of a major conservation effort to prepare them for scanning and public access over the past seven years. A very extensive series of veterans' burial cards was also scanned, and work continues now on World War II bonus applications.

All of the State Archives records digitized by Ancestry have been available to those who access through a membership or at an institution, such as a public library, which maintains a membership. However, in August 2013, these records also became available free of charge to all Pennsylvania residents through Pennsylvania. Simply enter your zip code, have it verified, and, you will have free access to the Archives' documents. Not all documents are free through this link, only records of the Pennsylvania State Archives. Already available collections include:

Births, 1852-1854 Civil War Border Claims, 1868-1879
Deaths, 1852-1854 Land Warrants, 1733-1987
Land Warrants and Applications, 1733-1952 Marriages, 1852-1854
Naturalizations, 1794-1908 Oyer and Terminer Court Papers, 1757-1787
Records of Marriages, 1885-1889 Septennial Census, 1779-1863
Spanish War Compensation, 1898-1934 Tax and Exoneration, 1768-1801
Veterans Burial Cards, 1777-1999 War of 1812 Pensions, 1866-1879
WPA Church Archives, 1937-1940 users accessed over three million records from the Pennsylvania State Archives in 2013. employee Kaysie Briner scanning Civil War Muster Out Rolls.

New Archives Building Feasibility Study (PDF)

In late 2012 PHMC contracted with Heritage Conservation Joint Venture to study the present and future facility needs of the State Archives in conjunction with PHMC's advocacy for the release of previously appropriated capital improvement funding for the construction of a new State Archives facility. Their report was presented to the Commission at its September 11 meeting, and discussion continued at the December 11 meeting. The study included several components and recommendations. The contractor examined and verified the architectural space program for a new archives facility. They also assessed the deficiencies of the current building and documented the case for a new facility. They surveyed other state archives to examine trends and issues in new archival facilities nationwide. Tom Wilsted, an archivist and expert in this area, conducted this portion of the study. The contractor also examined options for constructing a new facility on state owned and private land as well as for acquiring and renovating state and other existing buildings in the area.

Ultimately three viable options were identified: (A) the renovation of an existing private facility at 300 East Park Drive in Swatara Township of Dauphin County; (B) the construction of an all new facility on state owned land off of Elmerton Avenue in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County or; (C) a new facility on private land between 6th and 7th Streets a few blocks north of the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg. Of the three options, PHMC recommended the adaptive reuse of the East Park Drive property.

Site plan for "Option A" of the new Archives Feasibility Study (PDF).

At its December 11 meeting the Commission unanimously passed the following resolution: "Recognizing that the current Archives facilities are inadequate to preserve the documentary records of Pennsylvania, PHMC Commissioners hereby authorize staff to pursue with appropriate state agencies, option A, and failing option A to pursue option B, as outlined in the new State Archives Feasibility Study (PDF) in order to address the present and future facility needs of the Pennsylvania State Archives." The project will move forward if and when funding is released.

5 Steps to Researching Your Pennsylvania Ancestor's Revolutionary War Militia Service

Revolutionary War abstract card for Joseph Fishwater, from the Pennsylvania State Archives website.
Revolutionary War abstract card for Joseph Fishwater, from the Pennsylvania State Archives website.

Whether you're simply working on a family tree or seeking membership to a lineage society such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, following these five basics steps will increase your chances of identifying and understanding your ancestor's militia service during the Revolutionary War.

  1. Read the Militia Acts of 1777 and 1780

    The records of the Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolutionary War can be difficult to understand and interpret without first reading the militia acts of 1777 and 1780. These two laws, which made militia service compulsory for able-bodied, white males between the ages of 18 and 53, cover the arrangement of the militia, election and appointment of officers, the drafting of men, training, discipline, fines, and more.

  2. Identify the Revolutionary Ancestor's township and county of residence

    Unless your ancestor had a unique name, you're going to need to know your Revolutionary ancestor's township and county of residence. Why? Pennsylvania militia units were organized on a geographic basis, meaning the men in a company were usually from the same neighborhood. Since Revolutionary War-era military service records provide little identifying information, the militia unit is often the only way to positively identify a specific individual, especially if the name is common. The Pennsylvania militia organization charts list the county militia units and their townships of formation.

  3. Search the Indexes

    There are two main indexes to our Revolutionary War militia records: the Revolutionary War Military Abstract Cards and the published Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth and Sixth Series. A name index is available for the Fifth Series in the Pennsylvania Archives, Sixth Series, Volume XV and for the Sixth Series in the Pennsylvania Archives, Seventh Series. Make sure to always search various spelling of the surname.

    An index to pensions granted by the State of Pennsylvania is available on the State Archives' website under Research Topics, Revolutionary War. Federal Pension records are available at Ancestry, Fold3, and FamilySearch (index).

  4. Scour the Original Militia Records

    The indexes are good but not perfect. Since it is common for there to be more information on an individual than what's provided in the indexes, a thorough search of the original militia records is not a bad idea.

    The bulk of the original records abstracted or transcribed in the indexes are found in RG-4, Records of the Office of the Comptroller General's Office at the Pennsylvania State Archives. Within the Record Group are three major sources:

    1. Revolutionary War Associators, Line, Militia, and Navy Accounts, which contain muster rolls, class rolls, general returns, fines, and appeal books. [Noted on abstract cards as "Military Accounts: Militia."]
    2. Militia Loan Accounts, 1781-1792
    3. Depreciation Certificate Accounts, 1781-1792
  5. Cite Your Sources

    This cannot be stated enough. If you find any record of your ancestor, cite the source. It's required in applying for membership to lineage societies and saves subsequent family researchers from having to redo your research.


Archives volunteers Carol Buck, Kathy Fisher, and Morgan Voth.

Carol Buck came to the archives in October of 2012 as an intern while finishing her MA at Penn State Harrisburg. She has been inventorying MG-427 Baldwin Locomotive Works drawing directories into an Excel spreadsheet and has re-boxed/re-foldered the entire collection of 30+ boxes. After her internship ended she continued this work on a voluntary basis until recently. She is now working on inventorying MG-136, the Witmer Family Collection.

Kathy Fisher began volunteering with the Pennsylvania State Archives in April of 2013. Thanks to Kathy's dedication and efficiency, over 2,700 volumes of death records have been unbound and placed in acid-free folders and cartons. Volumes beyond 1952 were previously bound in metal covers that were permanently affixed with barbed posts, which prevented scanning or photocopying of the certificates. Weekly, a group of archivists took shifts in the museum's fabrication shop to shave off the post-heads with a drill-press and special bit designed for aircraft rivet removal. The cartons of drilled volumes were then cleaned, unbound, and refoldered by Kathy and archives staff members Kelly Nolan and Beth Orton. Since completing the unbinding, Kathy has begun assisting with retrieving and copying death certificates as the Department of Health has shifted responsibility of its death certificate mail requests to the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Morgan Voth is currently a graduate student at Penn State Harrisburg majoring in American Studies. The main focus of her research is based on how museums interpret their collections and why these interpretations have changed over time. In the archives she is working on in-putting information from MG-427 Baldwin Locomotive Works mechanical engineering drawings to an Excel spreadsheet that will later be available for researchers. She also retrieves records for Search Room patrons. Additionally, Morgan also volunteers in the Collections Management Office at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The archives is fortunate to maintain a strong relationship with student interns and volunteers. It is through their dedication and assistance that the Archives is able to persevere in its mission to preserve Pennsylvania's history.

If you are interested in a volunteer or internship opportunity, contact archivist Kurt Bell at or 717-787-5304

Save the Date

William Penn (Bill Kashatus) discussing his legacy with a young visitor at Charter Day 2013.

PHMC's 15th Annual Charter Day will be held Sunday, March 9th, from 12:00 noon - 4:00 p.m. at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Admission is free and includes numerous attractions such as:

  • the final draft of the 1681 charter that granted the land of Pennsylvania to William Penn
  • local historical and genealogical-organization exhibitions
  • William Penn, Pennsylvania Jack, the Victorian Dance Ensemble, and others interpreting Pennsylvania history
  • National History Day winning exhibits
  • free planetarium shows and admission to Curiosity Connection
  • special discounts in the museum store

In keeping with the 2014 PHMC theme, Pennsylvania and the American Civil War, the guest documents to be featured with the charter draft include a newly-conserved panoramic photograph of the ruins of Chambersburg, and an example of the associated Chambersburg war damage claim applications. The materials will be on display from March 1-9, with free admission on Charter Day, March 9th only. Visit the PA Trails of History Flickr account for many more Charter Day 2013 images.

Spring MARAC will be held April 24-26, in Rochester, NY.

Archives Without Tears workshops are being planned for this spring/early summer. For more information contact Josh Stahlman at 717-772-3257, or

NAGARA/CoSA Joint Annual Meeting will occur August 10-16, in Washington, D.C.

An ongoing series of workshops continue to be offered by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA).

A calendar of genealogical events and workshops is maintained by Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.

War of 1812 Resources at the Archives

An excerpt from Lt. Jacob Miller's Diary, October 19, 1812, reveals that there
An excerpt from Lt. Jacob Miller's Diary, October 19, 1812, reveals that there "has not been for several days a single cartridge or flint to be had here...." Also noted, General Van Rensselaer, wounded at Queenston [ON], arrived to camp in Buffalo.

Fought between the fledgling United States of America and the British Empire from 1812 to 1815, the War of 1812 is one of our country's most forgotten wars. From an American perspective, the war was caused by British impressments of American merchant sailors into the British Navy, Britain's support of American Indian tribes intent on limiting the north-west expansion of United States settlers, and trade restrictions due to Britain's ongoing Napoleonic Wars with France. The summer of 2012 began the bicentennial commemoration of the war, including the September 2013 Battle of Lake Erie reenactment.

Some of the most significant War of 1812 related state records held in the Pennsylvania State Archives are found in RG-2, records of the Department of the Auditor General, and include:

Manuscript collections at the Pennsylvania State Archives that have noteworthy War of 1812 material include:

Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine includes recent articles related to the War of 1812:

More information can be found on the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial website.

Acquisitions of Note

MG-7 Military Manuscripts Collection
- Photograph album related to the 8th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the National Guard of Pennsylvania. Images relate to the 8th regiment's state-side service in the Spanish-American War, 1898-1899, .50 cubic foot

MG-8 Pennsylvania Collection
- 13 documents related to the Port of Philadelphia and the surveys of damaged cargoes and ships; 5 documents related to the Court of Admiralty and the seizure and sale of prize ships and cargoes, 1778-1787, .25 cubic foot

MG-17 Samuel Penniman Bates Collection
- Samuel P. Bates Correspondence and Photographs, and Bates Family Photographs, 1866-1806, .25 cubic foot

MG-525 John Bley Papers
- John Bley, Treasurer of 19th Ward Philadelphia Bounty Fund
- Papers include account ledgers, bounty payments, requests for payment, receipts for advertising in newspapers and for music, receipts for payments for procuring recruits and enlistments, and substitute association records, 1862-1871, 0.5 cubic foot

RG-7 General Assembly
- Center for Rural Pennsylvania Newsletters and Publications, 2003-2012, 1 cubic foot
- PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency Minutes, 1995-2007, 3 cubic feet

RG-10 Office of the Governor
- PA Council of the Arts Minutes & Newsletters, 1980-1991, .25 cubic feet.
- Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, Subject Files, 1979-2010, 6 cubic feet

RG-11 Department of Health
- Reports of the Cresson Tuberculosis Sanatorium, 1926-2011, 4.5 cubic feet

RG-39 Pennsylvania Game Commission
- Bald Eagle Restoration Program Files, 1976-1989, 2.15 cubic feet

RG-65 Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
- Pennsylvania Heritage Area Program Files, 1984-2003, 9 cubic feet

RG-70 Office of the Attorney General
- Press Office Files, 1994-2012, 27 cubic feet

RG-72 Fish and Boat Commission
- Files of the Executive Director (Ralph W. Abele), 1947-2012, 19 cubic feet
- See also the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation blog post about Ralph Abele, and this article by summer intern Mairead Mumford to learn more.

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