The most confusing words in Pennsylvania genealogy is “Pennsylvania Archives”.
The words could be referring to the institution, The Pennsylvania State Archives, or they could be referring to the published book series, Pennsylvania Archives. Generations of researchers have been puzzled by the difference. The Pennsylvania State Archives actively collects and preserves the records of the state. The Pennsylvania Archives is a multi-volume series of books that contains a wealth of information about the state's early history.
In this article, we’ll cover how and when to use these two valuable resources.
Pennsylvania State Archives: The Building and its Records
The Pennsylvania State Archives refers to the building that houses the collected records of the state government, as well as some county and city governments. It is located in the state capital of Harrisburg, PA, and recently moved to a new location about a mile from the capitol complex.
The Pennsylvania State Archives is a part of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC). It holds a vast collection of records, including vital records, military records, land records, and much more. Some of these records, such as Pennsylvania Death Certificates and Pennsylvania Birth Certificates, have been digitized and are available online on Ancestry.com.
To aid researchers, the Pennsylvania State Archives also provides helpful resources on their website, including historical maps, a military file card index (ARIAS), and research guides. These resources help genealogists determine which collections to research. The Pennsylvania State Archives is open to the public.
Pennsylvania Archives: The Book Series
The Pennsylvania Archives book series is a compilation of records that were transcribed and printed by the Commonwealth between 1838 and 1935. These volumes contain some of the oldest records of the colony and state, including church records, land records, militia records, and colonial birth and marriage records. They are a key resource for genealogists, historians, and scholars.
It's important to note that many of the original records that were published in the Pennsylvania Archives books no longer exist, making these volumes an invaluable source for researchers.
Overview of the Ten Series
The Pennsylvania Archives book series is divided into ten distinct sets of books, each covering different periods and topics:
- Colonial Records: This series consists of sixteen volumes containing the minutes of the Provincial Council, Council of Safety, and Supreme Executive Council. These records span from 1683 to 1790 and focus the colonial period of Pennsylvania's history.
- Pennsylvania Archives, First Series: Comprising of twelve volumes, this series features papers selected from the files at the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. These documents supplement the Colonial Records series and cover the period from 1664 to 1790. Note: the words “First Series” are not in the title of the published books themselves.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series: With nineteen volumes, this series includes a wide range of materials, such as militia rolls, church records, and records related to the Wyoming Controversy and the Whiskey Insurrection.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series: The thirty volumes of this series primarily focus on militia rolls, lists of land warrantees, and taxables. It also covers topics like Virginia's claims to western Pennsylvania and the Donation Lands.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Fourth Series: Spanning twelve volumes, this series contains papers of Pennsylvania's governors from 1681 to 1902. While it provides biographies and portraits, it is minimal in terms of records of interest to genealogists.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Fifth Series: This series, consisting of eight volumes, is dedicated to muster rolls and military lists, primarily from the provincial and revolutionary periods. Some of the materials are reprinted from previous series, Second Series and Third Series, while others are obtained from external sources.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Sixth Series: With fourteen volumes, this series continues the printing of military rolls, focusing on the period from the Revolution to the War of 1812. It also includes church records and election returns. Interestingly, it also includes inventories of estates of British Loyalists confiscated during the American Revolution.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Seventh Series: The five volumes in this series serve as an index to the first fourteen volumes of the Sixth Series, containing over a million names. Originally intended to include Executive Minutes, this series was discontinued after the death of the compiler of the records.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Eighth Series: This series reprints the eighteenth-century edition of Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, spanning from 1682 to 1776. It comprises eight volumes.
- Pennsylvania Archives, Ninth Series: The final series consists of ten volumes that contain the Executive Minutes, documenting the official actions of Pennsylvania's governors from 1790 to 1838. It serves as a supplement to the Fourth Series and continues the Colonial Records.
These ten series are no longer officially in print, but you will find re-prints of the books for sale across the internet. It is not know what the difference is between the re-prints and the digital images of the original pages, so it is recommended to avoid the re-prints.
A comprehensive description of the Pennsylvania Archives is in this book by the PHMC, Guide to the Published Pennsylvania Archives.
Accessing the Pennsylvania Archives
Accessing the Pennsylvania Archives books can be done through various platforms, including:
All of these platforms offer digitized images of the Pennsylvania Archives books which are OCR searchable. No need to use the book indexes! Once you have one of the digital books open on your computer, simply use the search box for it to look for specific names, places, dates, or keywords.
The Pennsylvania Archives book series is an invaluable resource for researchers of Pennsylvania's history and genealogy. Its collection of transcribed records are no longer with us in original form at the The Pennsylvania State Archives building. The best way to access these books is digitally. You can learn about your ancestors’ life in the state's colonial past, military history, land records, and more in these these books.
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