Nothing was more confusing to me when I started in-depth genealogy research. In short, Pennsylvania has two things called Pennsylvania Archives. Fellow genealogists would refer to the “Pennsylvania Archives”, and sometimes they meant the building, and sometimes the books. If you are researching family history in Pennsylvania, you’ll want to know the difference between the “Pennsylvania State Archives” and the “Pennsylvania Archives“.
Pennsylvania State Archives
The Pennsylvania State Archives is the building with the collected records of the state government, as well as some county and city governments. In the PA state government hierarchy, it is part of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC). It’s located in the state capitol of Harrisburg, PA and open to the public for research.
Some of the PA State Archive genealogy records have been digitized and are available online. Specifically, the most popular for genealogists is the Pennsylvania Death Certificates and Pennsylvania Birth Certificates on Ancestry.com. Additionally, you’ll want to check out the following on their website:
The Pennsylvania Archives is a multi-volume series of books, compiled between 1838-1935. Many of the oldest records of the commonwealth are in these books and the original records for what is transcribed in them no longer exists. Genealogy records include: church records, land records, militia records, and colonial birth and marriage records. Many historical and genealogical societies have some or all of the series on their shelves. Given the length of these books, and depth of material, the physical book is easiest for researchers to use.
However, digitized images of the books are available. A full summary description of what is in each of the ten series is on the Pennsylvania State Archives website or in this book by the PHMC, Guide to the Published Pennsylvania Archives. Keep in mind each series is multiple volumes.
- Pennsylvania Archives Colonial Series
- Pennsylvania Archives (no series number when published)
- Pennsylvania Archives Second Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Third Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Fourth Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Fifth Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Sixth Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Seventh Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Eighth Series
- Pennsylvania Archives Ninth Series
Although it is time consuming, you’ll want to check out all these resources – the Pennsylvania State Archives building and the Pennsylvania Archives books!