Pennsylvania Genealogy and History Guide

Pennsylvania Genealogy Resources:



General Resources:

Pennsylvania Quick Facts:

  • Statehood:
    December 12, 1787
  • State Capital:
  • State Nickname:
    Keystone State
  • State Flower:
    Mountain Laurel
  • State Bird:
    Ruffed Grouse (Partridge)
  • State Song:
  • State Motto:
    "Virtue, Liberty, and Independence"

Pennsylvania Genealogy Research Guide:

Pennsylvania Census Records:

The first Federal Census in Pennsylvania was taken in 1790 and is very simple, listing head of household, number of free white males over 16 and under 16, free white females, all other free persons, and the number of slaves. A Federal Census was taken every ten years after 1790.

  • Free Census Extraction Forms - Form formats changed as the years went by. Extraction forms allow you to record information in the same format as the year it was taken.

Pennsylvania did not take a state census, but Tax Records and Taxpayer lists, compiled every seven years starting in 1779 (ending in 1863) are an acceptable alternative.

Pennsylvania Ethnic Groups and Church Records:

Many of our Pennsylvania ancestors left their familiar homes, crossed an ocean to make new homes in sometimes unfriendly lands, and brought their traditions and folklore with them. Much of this lives on today within the Pennsylvania Dutch and Pennsylvania German communities. This makes a rich treasure trove of genealogy material for anyone searching for Pennsylvania roots.

Genealogy booklets of Pennsylvania German family registers, some published before the civil war, are invaluable if you can find them. These are handwritten in the Fraktur tradition (a type of decorative German lettering) in the German language. These genealogies were often personalized with colorful old-world motifs and paintings worthy of display.

Church records in Pennsylvania include the Amish, Mennonite, and Quaker groups, as well as the more widespread denominations such as Protestants, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Catholics. Look for church records of birth, baptisms and christenings, marriages, burial or death records, and membership lists. Local historical and genealogical societies may have information on early churches and which records may be found in that area.

Pennsylvania Military Records:

Pennsylvania played a major part in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Many of our ancestors can be traced from military records such as enlistment records, regimental rosters and muster rolls, discharge records, pension records, etc., and newspaper accounts of the various battles that formed our county.

Pennsylvania Vital Records:

Birth and Death Records began to be officially recorded and kept by the PA State Division of Vital Records in 1906:

Division of Vital Records
101 South Mercer Street
PO Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16101

Prior to this birth and death records may be found at the various courthouses (Pennsylvania courthouse addresses) in the county where the person was born or died. Birth announcements and obituaries in local newspapers, church registers, family Bibles, and gravestone inscriptions are all good sources of birth and death records.

  • From 1852 to 1854, the Register of Wills for each county kept records and indexes of births, deaths and marriages.
  • From 1893 to 1906, birth and death records were recorded and maintained by the Clerk of the Orphans court.
  • Marriage licenses in each county have been kept by the Clerk of Orphans Court (or the Marriage License Clerk) since 1885. Newspaper announcements of engagements, weddings, and anniversaries, as well as church registers, and family Bibles are good secondary sources for marriage records.
  • Order a Pennsylvania Vital Record

Pennsylvania Genealogy Subscriptions Online:

Many websites with genealogy resources for Pennsylvania are available on the Internet. Some offer free databases and other information for the online researcher. Subscription websites such as and hold a more consistent amount of quality data and offer free trials to that data.

Mountain LaurelCondensed History of Pennsylvania:Mountain Laurel

Richly historical, parts of Pennsylvania have been settled and resettled by several nations including Holland, England, and Sweden. "The Swedes were the first to make permanent settlement, beginning with the expedition of 1637-1638, which occupied the site of Wilmington, Delaware. In 1643 Governor Johan Printz of New Sweden established his capital at Tinicum Island within the present limits of Pennsylvania, where there is now a state park bearing his name." (1)

A few years later, in 1647, the Dutch established a trading post in the region, competing with New Sweden until 1655 when the Dutch captured it and made it part of the their colony. The Dutch controlled the area for 9 years, until the English took it over in 1664, and it remained in English control until 1681 (except for 1673-1674 when the Dutch tried to take it back).

Pennsylvania was home to a number of Native American tribes before colonization. The main indigenous population of the area were the Delaware's (or Leni-Lenape), the Susquehannock's, the Shawnees, and the Iroquois Five Nations. The Delaware's and Shawnee were Algonquian-speaking tribes, and the Susquehannock's were an Iroquoian-speaking tribe. The tribes were all hunter-gatherers, lived in bark covered houses and fought each other as well as the settlers. As more settlers poured into their land, the Pennsylvania-Indian frontier was pushed further and further west. After getting caught up in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and decimation by the white man's diseases what was left of the tribes moved out of Pennsylvania into Ohio and Oklahoma. The Susquehannock tribe didn't survive, the last of it's descendents were killed while living with another tribe massacred in 1763.

Pennsylvania was formed in 1681 when King Charles II signed the Charter of Pennsylvania giving William Penn the land "between the 39th and 42nd degrees of north latitude and from the Delaware River westward for five degrees of longitude" as refuge for the persecuted "Society of Friends" or Quakers. For more Pennsylvania history from settlement by William Penn and the Quakers to the American Revolution, see The Quaker Province: 1681-1776

1. Pennsylvania History, Pennsylvania General Assembly