There are many genealogical websites that can help you begin your research. You may find it helpful to investigate them before traveling to the Pennsylvania State Archives or paying State Archives staff to do searches for you. These sites contain data already gathered or transcribed by other genealogists. They may help you narrow down your search by suggesting which Pennsylvania county your ancestor lived in and during what timeframe.
If you already have some idea of a county and time frame, a good place to begin your research at the Pennsylvania State Archives is our online guides to popular genealogical research topics. These guide pages recommend specific records held by the Archives -- such as vital records, county records, military records, land records, census records, naturalization records and ships' passenger lists -- for specific research purposes. Also relevant is our page of frequently asked genealogy questions.
You may also find it helpful to begin your family history search by consulting the book "Guide to Genealogical Sources at the Pennsylvania State Archives" by Robert M. Dructor, which is available in many large libraries.
Extensive descriptions of our holdings and collections are available online. Be aware that most of these finding aids are not at a sufficient level of detail to be listing each and every individuals' names, and even if our container listing for a particular series does not show names, it is quite possible that the actual documents contain a wealth of information about various individuals. A good way to conduct keyword searches of our finding aids over the internet is to use your favorite commercial search engine, type in the quote-flanked phrase "PA State Archives" and then follow that with a single space and whatever value or topic you wish to search for. Examples would be: "PA State Archives" "Old Hill Church" ; or "PA State Archives" "Lock Haven" ; or "PA State Archives" Wilson. Any file title in the result list that begins "PA State Archives - ..." will be one of our finding aids.
Many people from all over the world write or visit the Pennsylvania State Archives to pursue their research interests. Some are officials of state government reviewing previous agency policy, students working on dissertations, or authors looking for background for their latest book. However, for the most part they are individuals who want to use government records to satisfy their desire for information about their families and communities.
Many of our genealogically valuable holdings are actually microfilm of county and municipal records. The original paper copies, as well as many additional unfilmed series and possibly indexes or transcriptions, may be available in the counties themselves -- either at the county historical society or the county courthouse. If the State Archives does not have the information you are looking for, you may wish to contact these institutions directly to see what assistance and resources they can offer you.
The Pennsylvania State Archives has a partnership with Ancestry.com to digitize family history records in the State Archives and make them available online. The records are available free of charge to Pennsylvania residents by visiting Ancestry.com Pennsylvania.
Research: Archivists provide assistance to on-site users during normal business hours. If you are planning to visit us, please consult our travel and parking directions.
Telephone Reference: For questions concerning our records holdings call: (717) 783-3281.
Mail Reference: All genealogical inquiries must be made through the mail reference order form and are answered in the order in which they are received. We cannot search or copy federal census, county records or other materials whose originals are not in our custody. Unindexed records cannot be searched by Archives staff; for a list of researchers for hire, follow the preceeding link and then choose the "Researcher's List (PDF)" link. Before sending questions by mail, we suggest you read our page of frequently asked genealogy questions.
PA State Archives - Research Guides - Genealogy