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The Pennsylvania Archives
Pictures & Records
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by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG
As one of the original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania played an important part in our nation's early history. Many significant records were created and kept by Pennsylvania, as Philadelphia was both the site of the Continental Congress and the largest port of the time. Many of those early documents, and others through the 1800s, were transcribed into the published Pennsylvania Archives. These volumes should not be confused with the repository in Harrisburg where official colonial and state records are kept. The images here are pages from the 138-volume, 10-series set of the well-known collection of early government records transcribed and printed by the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Archives has been relied upon by scholars, genealogists, and historians for valuable historical information for over a century.
The only online availability of virtually all of the Pennsylvania Archives is here, with free access, on Fold3.com. Previously, the full set was available in total or in parts on various libraries’ shelves, or microfilm, and on a few CD-ROMs. Each of the ten series, numbered 1 through 9 plus the Colonial Records series, has been scanned and made searchable. Previous indexes to each series of the set were incomplete or non-existent and caused this valuable set to be underutilized by veteran and casual researchers alike. The valuable search capability created by Fold3.com provides the key to unlocking previously hidden names and events.
The ten series were published over a period of nearly one hundred years under various editors. They vary in content and transcription accuracy. Each editor would choose among important documents, such as militia rolls and correspondence, church baptismal and marriages records, oaths of allegiance of foreigners arriving on ships, land warrantee lists, election returns, papers and actions of the governors, or votes and proceedings of the House of Representatives. Each series may have taken a few years to publish and may have included up-to-date information. For example, the Fourth Series includes material contemporary to its 1902 publication date. The general contents are as follows, divided into published periods according to the editor’s name:
The Initial Period of Publication: Colonial Records and Samuel Hazard’s Pennsylvania Archives
- Colonial Records, 16 vols., published 1838-1853
- Contains minutes of various councils, 1683-1790
- First Series, 12 vols., published 1852-1856, plus an index in 1860
- Contains documents as supplement of the Colonial Records, 1664-1790
The Dr. William Henry Egle Period
- Second Series, 19 vols., published 1874-1890
- Contains military and church records, boundary disputes
- Third Series, 30 vols., published 1894-1899
- Contains military rolls, tax lists, warrantees
The Dr. George Edward Reed Period
- Fourth Series, 12 vols., published 1900-1902
- Contains papers of the governors, 1681-1902
The Dr. Thomas Lynch Montgomery Period
- Fifth Series, 8 vols., published 1906
- Contains military rolls and other military papers
- Sixth Series, 15 vols., published 1906-1907
- Contains military rolls (Revolution to War of 1812), church records, election returns, inventories of estates confiscated during the Revolution
- Seventh Series, 5 vols., published 1914
- Contains everyname index to the Sixth Series
The Period of the 1930s
- Eighth Series, 8 vols., published 1931-1935
- Contains votes and proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1682-1776
- Ninth Series, 10 vols., published 1931-1935
- Contains official actions of the governors, 1790-1838
- Dutch and Swedish Settlement on the Delaware (1614-1682)
- The French and Indian War (1754–1763)
- Braddock Expedition (1755)
- Early Pennsylvania settlements, and Colonial history from 1664 to 1780
- Boundary Disputes with: Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia
- The Revolutionary War (1775–1783)
- Battle of Long Island (1776)
- Sandusky Expedition (1782)
- The Whiskey Rebellion (1794)
- Establishment of Presque Isle (1794)
- War of 1812-1814
- War with Mexico, 1845-1848
Using the Collection
The Pennsylvania Archives contains ten series with 138 volumes in total. Grouped by series number (1 through 9, plus the Colonial Record series), then by volume within each series, each volume’s chapters can be browsed as you would read a book, moving from one page to the next.
If you know the volume and page you seek, then the browse menus are the easiest way to find the articles you're interested in. If you're looking for a name, place, date, or keyword, use the search box at the bottom of the Pennsylvania Archives browse menu for the most rewarding search results. Alternatively, go straight to the dedicated search page for this title.
Searching for a particular text string is easy by using the search box. Because the original handwritten manuscripts were transcribed into the published books, transcription errors and misunderstandings of the handwriting may have occurred. This is particularly true of names in the German language. Be creative with your search terms and use all possible spelling variants. Be aware of the dates that counties were formed. Records created in a certain county that subsequently divided into two or more, will still carry the name of the original county.
What records were transcribed and included?
There are many valuable transcribed lists and documents available in the Pennsylvania Archives publication. People from all walks of life are mentioned. If your ancestor or research focus married, was baptized, paid taxes, was in the militia, ran for office, wrote to the government for help, was a foreigner who entered the port of Philadelphia, owned or attempted to own land, or wrote a diary or journal, just to name a few, then he or she could be mentioned.
In a state where civil marriage records began in 1885, church records are extremely important. In Series 2, volume II is an alphabetical listing by surname, for both grooms and brides, which includes the date of marriage: "Names of Persons for Whom Marriage Licenses Were Issued in the Province of Pennsylvania Previous to 1790." You can browse the list, beginning here. Or use the search box at the bottom of that browse screen to look for a specific name.
Baptismal records for Egypt Reformed Church give the names of parents and sponsors in this 1829 example from Series 6, volume VI.
Diaries and Journals
Many military journals can be interesting in their own right if your ancestor served with the diarist. You can imagine how a young man may have occupied his time in the military company of Lt. James McMichael on Saturday evening, 1 June 1776, or you can read what he actually did in Lt. McMichael’s diary entry.
The 1743-1756 reports of Conrad Weiser, a German-born diplomat, judge, community planner, soldier, and Pennsylvania’s foremost Indian treaty maker give many details of life and interactions with the Indians such as this encounter in 1743.
Governors and their Constituents
If you are researching someone who was “just a farmer” he still may have written to the governor for help, or signed a petition for a new road. Many of these letters from “simple folks” are part of the governors’ papers. A group of neighbors petitioned the Lieutenant Governor for protection from being “murdered by our enemies” so that they could reap their harvest “beyond the Mountains” and not become a burden to their country for want of grain. Read their petition of 1757.
Land Warrantee Records (1730 – 1898)
William Penn, his sons, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania all sold land to individuals in a three-part system of applying for a warrant, having a survey done, and then a land patent issued. The list of warrantees from Series 3, volume 26, page v, is given by county and then by first letter of surname in chronological order of the survey date. Search by surname or county name.
Militia Records and the Council of Safety
One example, within "Officers and Soldiers in the Service of the Province of Pennsylvania. 1744-1764," is the "'Muster Roul of the Company of Foot, Commanded by Captain John Shannon, Anno Domini 1746,' [September.]" where men are listed by name, age, where born, date of enlistment, and occupation. The variety of recruits within this particular roll include Charles Coyle, a 32-year-old cordwainer from Ireland; Solomon Evans, 36, of Newcastle, Delaware, a white-smith; and James Davis, 21, of Philadelphia who makes perukes for a living.
The Northampton Battalion of the Flying Camp muster roll in 1776 lists men and officers by their company name. [Series 5, volume VIII, page 539]
The activities of the Council of Safety were many and varied on 16 August 1776: from deciding not to march the militia to New Jersey, to collecting damages on a suit, to providing for a sick prisoner. Read about what affliction the prisoner had. [Series 2, volume XIV, page 613]
In May 1780, the militia was reorganized so that the number
of battalions changed and each company was divided into eight classes.
Only one or two classes in a battalion were called out at a time so
that the others could remain at home to protect the women and children
of their neighbors who were away on duty. View an example of this
system for the First Company, Second Battalion of the 1782 Northampton militia. (Note the creative use of spelling.) [Series 5, volume VIII, page 200]
Oaths of Allegiance, Naturalization, and Ship Manifests
"Persons Naturalized in the Province of Pennsylvania. 1740-1773" are lists of "Persons, being Foreigners and having inhabited and resided the space of seven years and upwards in his Majesty's Colonies in America," who satisfied the requirements to become "Natural born Subjects of Great Britain." This is the colonial-era equivalent of today's US naturalization records. View the list here.
Names of Foreigners who took the oath of allegiance to King George are listed under ship name and arrival date at the port of Philadelphia. One such ship was the Harle which came from Rotterdam on 1 September 1736. [Series 2, Volume XVII, page 121] The list was sometimes repeated with the ages of the men, women, and children aboard such as this example of the Harle found listed in the pages following the first listing.
"Indian Traders, Mediterranean Passes, Letters of Marque and Ships' Registers. 1743-1776." These pages begin here in Series 2, volume II, page 529.
Tax Records (1765 – 1791)
Taxes were collected on the number of acres owned, and on horses and on cattle. They were listed in rough alphabetical order by county and then by township. “Single freemen” were listed after all the married men, as in this 1786 Northampton County example. Researching each tax year and observing when a man went from one list to the other would indicate when he may have been married.
Bell, Raymond M. Mother Cumberland: Tracing Your Ancestors in South-Central Pennsylvania. Alexandria, VA: Hearthstone Press, 1989.
Crawford-Oppenheimer, Christine. Lost in Pennsylvania? Try the Published Pennsylvania Archives. Reprint, Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, vol. 40, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 1997).
Dunn, Dr. Mary. Index to Pennsylvania’s Colonial Records Series. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
Eddy, Henry Howard and Martha Simonetti. Guide to the Published Archives of Pennsylvania. 1949. Reprint, Harrisburg: Pittsburgh Historical and Museum Commission, 1976.
Scanned images of land warrant books indexed within the Pennsylvania Archives are available at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission site at www.phmc.state.pa.us, then choose “PA State Archives” and then “Land Records.” Or directly through this link.
Citation and source
The images in this publication are scanned from the published series, Pennsylvania Archives, described above. Each volume in the series available at Fold3 contains a title page, which can be found at the beginning of the browse hierarchy for that volume, under the chapter heading. The series contains 138 volumes, published at different times, and printed or edited by different people over time. For source citations, please reference the title page corresponding to the volume in which you find the information you are using.
Please note that the First Series is not labeled as such but simply as Pennsylvania Archives. It was not until subsequent series were published that the set produced 1852 to 1856 became referred to as the First Series.
Citation example for this image
"Baptismal and Marriage Records. Rev. John Waldschmidt, Cocalico, Moden Krick, Weisseichen Land and Seltenreich. Gemeinde. Lancaster County, Penna. 1752-1786," Pennsylvania Archives, 6th ser., vol. VI (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1907), p. 163, digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 12 December 2007).
Citation template for this title
"[Article Title]," author, Pennsylvania Archives, [#] ser., vol. [#] (Harrisburg: [publisher, date]), [page(s)], digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com: accessed [date]).
The images in this publication are scanned from the published series, Pennsylvania Archives, described above. The published volumes were provided to Fold3 by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.
Note: The example and template shown here are based on methods described in Evidence Explained, a definitive guide to the citation and analysis of historical sources, by Elizabeth Shown Mills. For guidance on creating and using citations, including source list entries, subsequent notes, and models for citing other records, we suggest consulting Evidence Explained.
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