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Pennsylvania Records & Directories

This brief overview of Pennsylvania records and documents, pertinent to genealogical research, is intended as an aid in determining what kinds of documents exist and for what years. Many, but not all, are available in published form and held in the collections of the Pennsylvania Department, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Census Records
Federal population census schedules for 1790-1920 (with the exception of the 1890 schedules) are widely available. There are Soundex indexes available for 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920. Book index volumes cover 1790-1870. Philadelphia is covered in separate Soundex rolls for 1910.
Pennsylvania did not take any state censuses. There are tax lists for the period 1779-1863 which were compiled every seven years and are often referred to as the "Septennial Census" but not all have survived. Early tax lists for many counties can be found in the published "Pennsylvania Archives" series.
Nonpopulation federal schedules (agricultural, industrial, mortality) also exist for Pennsylvania for 1850-1880.

Church Records
From its inception, Pennsylvania's policy of religious tolerance has made it attractive to settlers from numerous religious denominations, including Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, Lutherans, German Reformed, Roman Catholic, Moravian, Methodist, Episcopal, and Amish/Mennonite groups. The data available in records from these churches is especially useful because of the lack of civil registration of vital statistics. Some church records have been microfilmed or deposited in denominational archives but many remain in the individual churches. There are active local historical and genealogical societies working to transcribe and/or microfilm these records as well as groups within the denominations themselves.

Court Records
Evolving from the original 3 counties, Pennsylvania is now divided into 67 counties, each with its own courthouse as a court records depository. The type of material found includes probate records, civil and criminal court proceedings, Orphans Court actions dealing with estates and guardianships, divorces, and those naturalizations done through the county court. The records of other county officials such as the Recorder of Deeds and the Register of Wills may also be held in the courthouse. Many Pennsylvania county courthouse records have been microfilmed and are available through Mormon Family History Centers.

City directories are often available for large cities (and sometimes include their environs) and usually list heads of households and other employed individuals residing at a particular address with their occupations. Sometimes a place of employment is also listed. Sections on businesses, churches, professional persons (such as doctors, lawyers, etc.), charitable organizations and institutions are also included.

Immigration Records
The port of Philadelphia has been a major port of entry for Pennsylvania's emigrants since 1682. Passenger lists and indexes for the years 1800-1948 are available on microfilm. Crew and vessel lists 1789-1880 are held by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. There are numerous published lists of early arrivals, especially Germans.

Land Records
The Land Office of the Pennsylvania State Archives has early material such as warrantee maps, surveys, and patents. Each courthouse will hold deeds and often mortgage records. There were two portions of Pennsylvania claimed by other states: southwestern Pennsylvania was claimed by Virginia and northeastern Pennsylvania by Connecticut. You will find information regarding these disputed land claims in records of both states.

Military Records
Records kept on the state level are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives from the time of the colonial militia to World War II. Many early militia lists and pension lists are found in the published "Pennsylvania Archives" series. Federal lists and pension applications and their indexes are available on microfilm.

Naturalization Records
Early provincial and state records can be found in the published "Pennsylvania Archives" series. Naturalizations through the county court are held in the courthouse records and many are being published. Federal court naturalizations and their indexes are available on microfilm. Early "oaths of allegiance" required of many "foreign" immigrants are in published form. Since Philadelphia was a center for immigration, numerous oaths and naturalizations of persons who later moved westward may be found there. County naturalizations are often held in the office of the "prothonotary" who is simply a county official who functions as a clerk of courts.

Tax Records
Early tax records for many Pennsylvania counties are found in the published "Pennsylvania Archives." County tax records should be part of the courthouse records. Older records may be transferred to a local historical society or library. The "Septennial Census" tax lists previously mentioned are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives. The rolls for the Federal 1798 Direct Tax covering Pennsylvania are available on microfilm.

Vital Records
Few if any records of early births, deaths, and marriages exist in civil records. During the period 1852-1854 counties kept registers for these events which are available on microfilm. Many large cities began registering births and deaths circa 1870. Marriage licenses were issued by Pennsylvania counties beginning in 1885 and are kept in the county records through the current date. Most counties began registering births and deaths in 1893 and continued to 1906, with those records at the county level. The state depository for birth and death records under the State Department of Health holds records from 1906 to the current date. These are not considered to be public record and cannot be browsed or searched at random. State law of 1985 closed access to original birth records in this depository. The county-held records before 1906 are open for direct access. Marriage licenses were issued by Pennsylvania counties beginning in October 1885. These records have no central depository but are open to public access at their respective county repositories. There are scattered early records in various locations and most have been published in sources such as the "Pennsylvania Archives."

Wills & Probate Records
The county Register of Wills keeps copies of the will books, probate and estate proceedings for each Pennsylvania county. The clerk of Orphans Court will hold records dealing with any guardianship of children, etc. Many of these will books, the docket books where they are recorded, and the indexes used, are on microfilm. The Russell Index system is used to index many of these courthouse records.