Listen to the Audio Podcast
In this episode of Your Pennsylvania Ancestors, Denys Allen has a conversation with Pennsylvania State Archive Reference Archivist, Aaron McWilliams. Aaron has experience in PA land records, militia records, and is a professional genealogist. Learn how to research in an archives successfully, what kinds of records you can find, and how to handle surprises.
Aaron McWilliams, Pennsylvania State Reference Archivist, shares what kinds of records genealogists can expect to find at the Pennsylvania State Archive in Harrisburg, PA and how to make the most of your visit.
Learn how to research Pennsylvania land records, militia and National Guard records, state hospital patient records, county records, and those more obscure unusual records kept by the state. We also discuss the shocking history of slavery in Pennsylvania and some surprising finds Aaron’s made in his own genealogy research.
We talk about the future plans for the PA State Archive and the current digitization of PA State Archives records by Ancestry, FamilySearch, and the Power Library through the Pennsylvania State Library in Harrisburg.
- PA State Archive main website: https://www.phmc.pa.gov/Archives/
- Research by Mail Form for those State Hospital Records mentioned (plus many others!)
- Militia and National Guard Index
- Link to the old html page of Finding Aid for County Microfilm which Denys uses
- Link to the current Archon System Finding Aids
- PA Power Library of digitized records of genealogical interest
Updates from the Pennsylvania State Archives for 2023
The PA State Archives began a construction project in 2016 to design and build a new archives building in Harrisburg, PA. Construction began in 2020 and completed in 2022. During the summer of 2023 the State Archives will move from its current location next to the Pennsylvania State Capital building to its new location 1681 North Sixth Street, Harrisburg, PA.
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Aaron McWilliams, a reference archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives, explains his role and the services offered at the archives. He emphasizes the knowledge and expertise of the staff, who are often researchers themselves.
Aaron encourages people to visit the archives in person for a more immersive and unique research experience compared to using online resources. He advises researchers to thoroughly explore the archives' website, including finding aids, to familiarize themselves with the available records and plan their research visit accordingly.
He also provides insights on accessing genealogy records on the internet, parking issues at the archives' location in downtown Harrisburg, and recommendations for eating and dining in the area while conducting research. McWilliams also offers advice on handling surprising or negative findings during genealogical research and reminds researchers to keep an open mind and take the opportunity to learn more about their ancestors and their historical context.
Aaron highlights the Pennsylvania State Archives' extensive collection of records, ranging from military and land records to county records and naturalization and immigration documents. McWilliams mentions specific records frequently requested by researchers, such as Revolutionary War and Civil War records, German passenger ship lists, and state hospital records. He explains the restrictions on accessing state hospital records and the process of requesting copies.
McWilliams also discusses the upcoming move and expansion of the archives to a new building, as well as ongoing digitization efforts to make more records available online through partnerships with Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Power Library. He encourages genealogists and researchers to visit the Pennsylvania State Archives, stress that they have resources and expertise to assist in their research, and invites them to share any new discoveries with the staff. The interview concludes with a discussion about the surprising finds researchers have made in the archives' records, including stories about slavery and racism in Pennsylvania.
Lastly, McWilliams mentions that the new archival software, called Eloquent, will improve accessibility and provide additional means of accessing records and finding aids. Overall, the transcript provides an overview of the Pennsylvania State Archives, the services it offers, and the resources available for genealogical and historical research.
Give people some context. Sure. My name is Aaron McWilliams. I am a reference archivist here at the archives at the Pennsylvania State Archives. What that means is basically I handle email, telephone requests, researchers. I help them in our search room. Basically, I'm kind of the public face of the state archives. So if you have any research that you want to do, you come in, you're going to be dealing with me or one of my colleagues, and if you call in saying, what do you have? Or how can I find this? Okay, excellent. So I've been to the archives, and I notice that the staff kind of switches out sometimes throughout the day as you rotate, but always incredibly helpful. And whoever is at the desk, whatever question I have and whatever spot I'm stuck in in terms of finding microfilm in the drawers, you guys are just so great. It's really great. Yeah. Well, a lot of us that work at the staff, on the staff, and work out in the search room are researchers themselves. I mean, they've done genealogical research, if not genealogy. They've done historical research and been to number of archives. So we've been in the shoes of the patron coming in, and we want to be as helpful as possible. And what I like most about our staff is when we have someone out there. Of course, we don't know individually everything, but we have a lot of knowledge within our staff that if I'm at the front desk and I have no idea. Let's say about a railroad. I have someone I can reach out to and say, hey, can you come out here real quick and help this individual? And our staff has always been very good at saying yes and making their time available to the patrons when they come in. It's really fantastic. And if people do have the opportunity to do research in person, I highly encourage it because it's a completely different experience than just doing research on the Internet or through a mail request or asking someone to do it for you. Speaking about that, I do wonder what is the advice you have, knowing that a majority of people who do genealogy research at this point do it on the Internet. So what is your advice to them? If it's their first time to an archive or they're a little unsure about what it means to research in a state archive, what would you tell them? First off, I would say go to their website, really learn a lot about the institution. I know when I go to other facilities, I'm going to check those hours, I'm going to check parking, all those basic things that everybody should be looking at, checking the maps. Just so that when I'm familiar with the set up the area before I go in there, so I'm not walking in the doors in the archives already flustered, realizing, oh, I just paid this. Or I can't find parking here. I try to get that out of the way so I have a clear mind coming in and most of the information you need, parking hours, so forth, is going to be on the repository's website and check their finding AIDS. Every repository is different about the level of detail that you're going to come across. But there's usually something for our finding AIDS that are on our website that is almost down to the box level in most of our collections. So you could literally see exactly what we have and come in basically with a whole list, including where they're located in our tower and what collections it's in. Right before you even walk the door. Walk in the door. So I say spend a lot of time on the repository's website, really go through their finding AIDS and threshold. If you do have any questions, email them. A lot of smaller repositories may take a bit of time, so you might need to start planning further in advance. But if there is any question, reach out to them. A lot of them can maybe save you some time or energy if you just contact them and say, hey, I'm interested in this. And they say, well, we don't have that, you're going to want to go here. That's what I recommend. Just out of the gate when you're planning. And that's the biggest thing I would leave for a person just starting out is really do the research on their website, try and learn their finding AIDS before going there. It'll make your trip that much better and more efficient. Absolutely great advice. The logistics of getting to an archive can be really challenging sometimes. And the Pennsylvania State Archive is in downtown Harrisburg. It's right on the State Capitol campus. Parking is an issue. People have to be prepared if they're going to that archive to either park on the street for I think it's up to 3 hours or something. It's unlimited, but it's costly. Expensive. It's expensive is the closest parking on the street which can be challenging. Or just walking across the state capitol campus or a couple of blocks to park in a garage for the day. And then there's always I think I know for myself when I plan to go to an archive, I plan to go for a majority of the day. It's like you want to decide where to have lunch and where to grab a cup of coffee. And I think the archive staff is always great at that too, like recommending places or if you pack your own, where do you can go to eat and eat that? It's so funny. An archive, I think, for a lot of researchers is an experience because I think we always feel like there's some record that you have that if we could find it would answer all our questions. That's what all genealogists and researchers hold up hope for. I'm still doing that. I've gone through a lot, but I figured there's got to be that document out there somewhere they just haven't come across yet. Has that happened in your experience for people, that they found some miraculous document? Yeah, we have individuals that come in. They say, I've been working 20 years on this particular project. I'm trying to find a record of so and so in this particular county or place. And they've scoured most of your typical records that you'd expect deeds, taxes and stuff, and they just haven't come up with anything. And they come in hoping that we would have something, and sometimes we do. It's those records that you don't know about that are hidden away that those at the repository would know. And this is a good reason why you should maybe take a step back from the Internet and actually go to some of these repositories, because the staff there may know of these little hidden nooks and crannies that you might not think of. And I've had a number of people come in, and one guy said he was going to kiss me. He literally gave me a hug. And he's like, I've been working so long for this. You had mentioned this particular set of records, and there he was. There he was. And it had exactly what and I've had that moment here, too, where I've come across a record that I was searching for for years. My John McWilliams, my ancestors, he was the first McWilliams here that I'm aware of. He was up in Erie County from early 18 hundreds, 18 218 one time period, but we never knew. He just appeared. You know how they usually just drop out of the sky wherever they are, and he remained there until he died. And we never knew where he came from or any kind of background. And I just happened to be flipping through an index just again, like I call trolling, just kind of looking around to see what I can find. And I found a reference to John McWilliams in Erie County. And I knew there's only one at that time, and it led me to the laws of Pennsylvania. And there was a law where it says he got a gratuity for service. It said Revolution, Indian Wars. But it turns out he served in the Whiskey Rebellion. And here at the archives, I did some research and I figured that he had to have filed something. And I looked in the house files and his application was there, and it said that he served out of Chester County in 1794. I was surprised two things. One, it gave me the county, and secondly, people actually got a pension for the Whiskey Rebellion. Wow. But, yeah, that was a breakthrough moment. I just hope for another one because I need more. Genealogy is like that. It does have that almost like a dopamine fix for those of us you just want to keep going with it and keep the satisfaction of finding these pieces of our past that we didn't even necessarily know about until we started. I do. I think all of us, too want to find that ancestor that dropped out of the sky and landed in Pennsylvania and just ask them, where did you come from? I think we talked about first time researchers and we talked about some of the kinds of things people can discover. So can you review what is sort of the I think there's always like a couple layers to an archive. So what's the most common or records people use at the Pennsylvania State Archive? And then why don't we cover those first and then we'll do what are some more unusual ones that people would want to access? Sure, yeah. If we start very broad in general in nature, the big ones are always the county records that we have here. Then you have naturalization immigration and land and then military. That's kind of a very broad umbrella. And we'll start with military. With military. Probably the largest or the most requested records would be the Revolutionary War. We get a lot of SAR, Sons of American Revolution, dar Daughters of American Revolution applicants coming in to try and document their ancestors. We get a lot of people coming in, doing those and sending in emails and requests to do searches for those. Those are very heavily used. That's why we have them on microfilm. Civil War was big. It's kind of waned a bit. We used to get a decent amount of civil War, but that has since kind of started tampering down and all the later 20th century. If you're looking at the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, we put a lot of those records that we have on Ancestry now, so we really don't get too many requests or people coming in looking for those. We just kind of direct them to Ancestry, Naturalizations and immigration. The Supreme Court naturalizations used to be very big, supreme Court of Pennsylvania. But since we've put those on Ancestry, those have fallen off. But those ships lists of German passengers, 1727 to 18 eight, those are still big. That we have a lot of people coming in to get copies of the original signatures. There's a lot of transcriptions out there. The German Pioneers. Books by Strasberger and Hank are very good. But getting those actual signatures that people are looking for, we still get requests and a lot of people trying to get copies of those originals. When it comes to land records, it's still those original warrants surveys and patents. The state land records, a lot of people come in with already using the indexes on our website in accessing those. And of all the records that we have, probably those land records are very popular, particularly for the surveyors. We get a lot of surveyors looking for the patents and then county records, county records in general, while we don't have a huge collection of original county records. We do have a vast I think it's about close to about 18,000 rolls of county microfilm that we've done over the years of the county records. Either we purchased from the LDS or through we used to have a grant program to microfilm county records. Those are probably the heaviest hit that we have. And we may not have everything for the county, but it's nice to have a place that you can go to and kind of hit a good portion of the counties in one spot. Pennsylvania is a big state. My research is neary county. I don't get up there much, but we have a decent amount of microfilm that I can at least hit the major items, deeds, will books, and such like that here. So those definitely be the largest ones for unusual things that we get requests for. It's really hard to pin it down. It really depends on what you consider unusual. What I consider unusual might be quite normal for individuals. A good example would be railroad records. We have a lot of individuals that come in very interested in railroads, and if you've ever dealt with people that really deep dive railroad records, they're not interested in the kind of the genealogical aspect of it like we are. They're really going into the nuts and bolts, and I really mean nuts and bolts that they'll go down to cards that have sales numbers, so they're tracking how many bolts, how many of this were sold, what repairs were done. I mean, they really deep dive into the statistics, and it's mind boggling. And people think genealogy can be tedious, in, mind numbing, and going over microfilm and roll after roll, but they're going after little tiny numbers and putting them into we had one gentleman. He wouldn't use a computer to do that in Excel. He would literally have a sheet in front of him that he would go through and note it on a paper sheet. And he had all these columns and everything. And it's great work, but we have a range of different things that people come in. You have people that are doing research on the anatomical board. Those are the people that collected cadavers and dispersed them out. So we've had people that just researched how the bodies were used, the condition that they would come in from the records that we have, you have people researching Ku Klux Klan. We have a collection of the state police files related to the Ku Klux Klan investigations that were done. A lot of people that access those are more we have those scholars that are looking into it, but beyond them, a lot of people look at it just to see if they can find an ancestor that happened to be their disasters. It runs the gamut. We've had people research death records to study the flu outbreak in 1918, going through all those and documenting that. So any record that we have, and people have used it in any number of ways. I wouldn't call them unusual. I just call them unique uses of the records. And you'd be surprised some of the uses people get out of it. Some of the things that we kind of glance over as kind of just useless data that really isn't that if you really kind of research the background, that you can draw a lot from that kind of extra stuff that's on the sides. Even with death certificates and birth certificates, they have notes on them. I can't tell you what all of them mean, but for some people that are researching those, those can be quite valuable, more so than what the majority of people use a record for. So it is interesting. It's interesting working out in archives and just seeing what people are using records for research wise. I'm going to back up to the common records that people research. You had mentioned military land, the county microfilm, and naturalization records. There's two record sets I used at the archives, which I found incredibly helpful and I did not know you had until an archivist told me when I went one was it's the PA National Guard records? Because a lot of people that lived in Pennsylvania served in the National Guard, which is our local what would you say that local it's? I would say I just refer to it as our militia. I mean, that's what the militia became, the local militia. So the National Guard, as we know, is deployed in modern times in case of disaster. People that serve, what is it, one weekend a week? Yeah, one weekend a month, two weeks a year, I think. I don't know if they still go by that, but from the old commercials, quoting the old commercials, if you had an ancestor that lived in Pennsylvania, they could have served in the National Garden. There'd be some records there that you'd want to research. And is there an index online that people could look at, or is the index just at the archives? It's both. There is an index online that you can access through our website, but that index covers from the National Guards kind of formation. I think it's 1867 or 1869 to about 1919 time period. Okay, that index is online. They're cards. They contain abstracted information from the various quarterly returns and muster rolls that are in our collection. But there's another set of veteran cards that kind of pick up where those leave off that go up to World War I. And then there's some that go just a little bit beyond World War I card wise, that serves as an index to it now with the newer National Guard, because now we're starting to get post World War II National Guard records in our collection. They do have cards, but you have to know when they're discharged to use it's not it's not like the earlier indexes where you just look by name and see if you can find it. This one you kind of have to know when they're discharged and then okay. And then the second set of records that you have is the state hospital records. So can you just review what are the state hospital institutions? I know of two, Danville and Narstown, but there's more, and you can request those records from the archive. If you had ancestor who was institutionalized for almost any yeah, now we have a number of institutional records, like you said. We have Warren Mayview Dixmont the Harrisburg State Hospital, which is, just know, not too far away. Marcy, Philadelphia State Retreat, Somerset, Torrance Woodville, I might be missing one or more, but we have a good selection. Basically, nearly all of the state hospitals that have closed, we have at least some records for there are some that are still open, which we may have more of administrative records for, but we do have a collection of state hospital records. And those state hospital records are records of, of course, insane asylums, what they referred to at a time where individuals were sent with mental disorders. Basically, the state took over. This was once handled by the counties and their alms houses for the most part. And the early 20th century, the state took over kind of managing the insane aspect of those ALM houses while the county continued to do the indigent aspect of it. But we do have a collection. There are restrictions to the state hospital records that we do have, and these are one of the collections that you'd certainly want to talk to an archivist about because there's a lot of nuances to it as to making them available. Right now, the way that we're handling it is if the patient themselves has been deceased 50 years or more, then we can make those records available. Now, again, the nuance to that is a lot of the state hospital records that we have that exist for the patients were done in registers, and those registers oftentimes cover a time frame in other individuals that may not be available to the general public. So you may be looking for Jane Doe, but John Doe may be listed in there, and technically that his entries would still be restricted, but they're on the same page. So while your information on your ancestry can be made available, we may not be able to bring or you may not be able to come here and actually have us bring down the original record for you to look at. And that's not always the case. It sometimes is the case. It really depends on kind of record to record whether we can make those available to you. No, I was going to say I was told to do a mail in request and then they would copy it and mail it. Yeah, that is the safest way. If they've been dead for 50 years or more, what we could do is if you send in a request, we could either copy the actual original or abstract it. If we can't copy the page and send that to you, and you would be assured to get everything that we have for the patient in our collection if you were to visit, let's say, and wanted to look at something. Basically the way we're treating it is the records that are 75 years or older can be made available to the general public that you can look at. However, again, you still run into that instance where the register may cover a time period that kind of rests on both sides of that 75 year mark, in which case we may not be able to make it available. So we usually recommend contacting us or putting in a request to save you the time because we don't want you coming from California expecting to look at it. And we say, well, there's entries in here from 1980 on the same page that your ancestors on. You can't look at the volume, but we can copy or abstract the information for yeah, I want to emphasize how I don't know what the word would be customer friendly this whole process was when I accessed the records. So I did access records for a great grandfather of mine that died in 1955 in Narstown State Hospital. And I sent in the request on the form available on the website, and I can link that in the show notes for people so they know where the form is. And I got an email back after a week saying, oh, well, this is going to be more than the allotted fee because there's so many pages. And do you want us just to do the highlights of what we feel the highlights are? Or do you want us to copy everything? And if we copy everything, here's the additional cost. And I'm like, oh, please copy everything because I'm a genealogist. I want to see the whole thing. And the packet I got back was so wonderful. Not only does it name the exact record, group file, role number and everything, so I can cite it for my records, but there ended up being a photo of my great grandfather when he was admitted into Narstown State Hospital. And he was there for at the time, the hospital did a lot of convalescent care of people that were basically I mean, we'd call it like hospice now. People that were really not in the condition to go to a hospital, but also not able to be at home and in it. This was amazing to me. They did an interview with him a little bit with him, but with his wife, with my great grandmother, and it was all about sort of this 1950s we think we know something about psychology, right, and people so tell us about his father, tell us about his mother, tell us what his life was like growing up. And I'm like, what does this have to do with this heart condition? But for a genealogist, it was like, oh, wow. Yeah, it's great when you have those files. They don't exist for every hospital, but when you're lucky enough to come across that in our collection, yeah, it can provide a wealth of information on the individual, some of it as genealogists. We always like to see as much information, but some of the stuff in there can be quite embarrassing. You can understand why some of your ancestors may have not your grandparents or grandfather never talked about so and so in the files, you can find out a whole lot, not only on the patient, like you said, but also on family members that you may not have known about. So, yeah, when you're lucky enough that there's an actual file still in existence, it can be a wealth of information. So say something more about that. The shocking nature of what we can find while we're doing research. I feel like with all that we have access to these days and the DNA in genealogy, I mean, at this point, I just tell people, if you've done a DNA test with Ancestry or 23 ANDME don't even think you won't have surprises because you will have surprise relatives that you didn't know that you had. If it's not immediate, it will come up. And I think people have learned how to process that and been very welcoming to that information for the most part. But what advice do you have for people as they're looking through records in terms of their expectations and how to handle the surprises? I usually tell people that it sounds kind of generic, but I say keep an open mind. Like I say, you're going to come across negative things about your ancestor. And again, some of it you may need to. The way I look at it is, okay, I found something negative on them. One as a genie. Awesome. Always happy to get any type of information negative or positive. But if I do find something negative, I see that as an opportunity to try and expand on that, well, why did he do this? Or she do this? There can be background, maybe some type of if they got sent to a mental institute, that's one that people always come across, and they might find out bad things about them, but learn more about whatever his or her diagnosis is. There could have been some reason to explain it. If you're fortunate enough that you do find it, you can get some of those background notes. I've seen it all. When it has come to the range of emotions, when people have seen something, I mean, you got the highs, you have the lows and some of the lows. I mean, I've seen people, their ancestor may have had a war story, they're in Normandy or something like that. When we find a record that shows it just wasn't possible that they were there. And you have to say, okay, that is negative. But in this case, we did find evidence that he served and served honorably. So okay, that's a negative. But he did serve. He he still, you know, he still did his duty. Try and learn more about, you know, why would he have done that? Is there a reason why that he or she had fabricated a story? As you get further back, you can kind of understand it. Some people were in desperate need. It could have been a widow or a veteran or someone, and they could have maybe exaggerated a bit because they needed the funds. I mean, you could look at what they had, and you could kind of understand a little bit of it. It can be hard. I just tell people, keep an open mind and use that as an opportunity to learn more about not only your ancestor, but the circumstances surrounding that particular event. That is so negative. Wherever there's negative, there's bound to be some positive that you can pull from it. If there's some crime that took place, you could take solace that the kids were put into foster care, but they eventually went to a less abusive or a more stable home or something and learn more about the instances that occurred along those lines. Try and put a positive light. Look for that positiveness, but don't shy away from it. It's part of your history. It's part of your family history. It needs to be there for people to know, and we just have to learn from that in some way. Hopefully there's a positive spin. Yeah, no, I think it's a great reminder for people, too, that none of us comes from a line of people that are 100% pure and good in all circumstances. I mean, you start doing genealogy, and maybe you had these wonderful stories about your family, and maybe you didn't, but there's always surprises. There's always things that are humbling, shocking, horrifying sometimes it's a journey. It's a real journey for people, and I don't think they realize maybe what they're getting into when they start. I did want to talk about because I think this is something that's been shocking for me growing up, going to public school. I graduated from Penn State. I lived most of my life in Pennsylvania, and I've always had this vision that in terms of race relations and the Civil War, we were the good guys. Yes, we had the bloodiest battle of the Civil War here in Gettysburg, but I've been shocked to discover that slavery was alive and well in Pennsylvania for a long, long time. In shock to discover that African Americans were being killed and couldn't vote in just I can you say something about that? Because it really did vary from county to county in Pennsylvania. Yes, Pennsylvania did have slavery, and you can find a number of records in our collection. And elsewhere to evidence that. I mean, you have our septennial census that often records the number of slaves in a household, the usual census, but then you also have records that are very specific in Pennsylvania, where you can find records. You had the gradual emancipation or gradual abolition act that was passed in Pennsylvania in what, 1780? I always get to 1780, 81 time period, 1780, it was passed, basically set forth the gradual abolishment of slavery in the state. It didn't get rid of it right away. It required people to be recorded. Those that were born of parents of slaves were to be recorded at the county level, their dates of birth, because those born after were to be indentured for 28 years after that. And that continued up until the early 1800. Yes, Pennsylvania had slavery for quite some time. We were part of the problem, and we were the first state to pass a gradual abolition of slavery. But still, it still kept it. If you were born into slavery prior to that time, you still remained a slave, and the children of those would eventually get their freedom, but after a period of indenture. So our hands aren't clean. And beyond that, beyond just slavery, you still had rampant racism that existed in the state. So the issue of slavery and racism, it hits every state. And just because they served in the union or served in the union, it didn't mean that they weren't racist, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they were for the eradication of slavery. You cannot make that assumption. They served with their brethren from the local area. I mean, it was an honorable thing to do to serve, and there was the local pressure to do it. The people that served in the union had a range of ideas, just like people do today. So, yeah, we have our issues to deal with here in Pennsylvania, too. Our hands are just as mean. You have George Washington living here with slaves, and there was means to get around mean if you could bring slaves in the state that continue to remain, it's, and it's shocking, and it's really for people researching that, it's really on a regional or county by county level. So if you're in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester county, probably not as common, actual out and out slave ownership, but I know center county on their actual county government website does have a recounting of the slaves that lived in center county. And I just think it's incredibly helpful for researchers, but also transparent, like, there was slavery in center county for a very long time, and we're coming clean about it as a county and not pretending that it was otherwise, which I think is so helpful for yes, slavery hit every county in Pennsylvania. You could probably find a record showing that someone had a slave while it was still legal to have slavery here in the state, had some type of slaves. I mean, the assumption that a lot of people make is that in Pennsylvania it was a free black population. There was a free black population, but there was certainly a population of enslaved African Americans. And like I said, that it hit probably every single county in various degrees. So if you are doing research into slavery and free African Americans, there are records out there for that time period that exists both at the county and at the state level in varying amounts. Yeah, and I do want to add to some local independently run genealogical and historical societies have done some of this work locally, too. So we're talking about state records and what the state owns or county records and what the county government has produced. But definitely individuals have done this research. And I do want to go through and interview those local historical societies because they are like you walk into one of those and you have ancestors in Pennsylvania, I mean, you end up being like what? Like 3rd, 4th, 5th cousin? Sometimes with the people that run the in those local historical societies, they have a lot of manuscripts related to local individuals, prominent individuals from the area. And those local prominent individuals typically had some type of touched on some aspect of slavery and if there was an African American population there. So there's a good chance that not only are they going to be knowledgeable and be able to help you direct there, but they probably have collections that shine more light on the community there, both free and enslaved in some way, shape, or form. So, yeah, local historical societies are always a great resource and oftentimes, at least when I have gone, it's not too busy and you get kind of that one on one treatment. You just sit there and you talk, and it ends up leading to them running back in the stacks, pulling something out that you had no intention of looking at or researching. And it can be a great experience. What is upcoming for the archive? I heard a rumor you were moving or expanding and then everyone always wants to know, are you digitizing records? What's going to be available online that I can access from home? Well, the big news that we have or the biggest thing coming up is, of course, the new building. We are getting a new building. If you're familiar with Harrisburg, it's not too far away from our current location at North Third and Forester. We're actually kind of moving just slightly north and east to 6th street. Again, if you're familiar with Harrisburg, near the new federal office building that's being put in a whole new facility, and the records that are stored here are all going to be moved to that new facility. We're pretty far down the line. I think the plans have been approved. It's kind of in the I don't know if they're doing bids right now or reaching out to contractors but it's moving forward. There hasn't been an official groundbreaking, but the land has been cleared. Maybe, I don't know in wintertime. I don't know if they want to do in wintertime, but certainly coming up soon, I'd expect some type of groundbreaking, ceremonial groundbreaking at least. And then it'll probably be I hate to be optimistic about things, so I usually put my projections more on the pessimistic side. But three to four years probably until we're fully moved into the new facility. The plan right now is as we're moving, we plan to stay open. Now there might be some limitations on accessing certain records just because they might be in transit or in the new building, but we're going to try and make as much available as possible during the move over there. What's going to happen with our old building, it's going to be storage, but probably for the museum in archaeology, kind of for three dimensional objects. So it'll still be used. It can't be torn down because it's on the National Register. So it's going to still be here, but it's just going to be repurposed to store different types of records. So that's the biggest news that we have now on the front of digitization over the several years we've made, it an effort to put more and more records that we have online. I mean, we initially started with just putting indexes on our website. So you have our state land record indices. You have a number of our military indexes through what's called Arius that you can access through our website to take a look at. We did team up with Ancestry and they've digitized millions of pages of documents from our collection and what they've accessed from us and put online from our collection. You can access as a Pennsylvania resident for free. It takes a little patient dealing with it, but you can access Ancestry.com PA from our website if you're a Pennsylvania resident and access those. And there'll be a list on that page of exactly what from our collections on there. The big thing being, of course, the death certificates and birth certificates that we have. The majority are on there now. Relationship is continuing. They're still here. They're still digitizing records. So there will be more that will be popping up, more birth and deaths. And then I believe they may work on National Guard eventually. But there's other records in the pipeline that they plan on scanning and putting up on Ancestry. Family search. Everybody, I'm sure anybody in the genealogical community know that they've been digitizing their microfilm and they're starting to get to some of our collections that they have microfilm copies of or have microfilm for us in the past. Like I said, the patent books are now viewable. If you go into their catalog so you can access those, that's the first time the patent books have been available online at all, anywhere. And they have a number of other records some of our supreme executive council. It's kind of hit or miss as you know, as they're going through digitizing, they kind of do the more popular and kind of work their way through. So if you keep checking Family Search in their catalog, you'll see more and more things from our collection that has been microphone being digitized and available on their website. And then beyond those companies, we've actually teamed up with the State Library with what's known as Power Library. And you can access Power Library through our website right under Research online, or you can access it through the State Library of Pennsylvania, or you can just Google Power Library. But what we've been doing is digitizing all the microfilm that's in our search room. So you're talking about 30,000 rolls of microfilm we're digitizing. We're trying not to overlap with what Family Search has done, so we've kind of eliminated some of those. But a lot of our records, our record collections that we've digitized, or microfilmed we are now digitizing, and those digital images are now being placed on Power Library. So right now it's kind of assortment of things that we've put up there. You have our postcard collection, you have poster collection, our poster collection that's on there. There's some polk up there. I forget if they referred to as a state hospital or not, I can't remember. But Polk has some of their images on there and then a random assortment of microfilm that we've digitized. There's some Eastern State Penitentiary stuff on there. There's some of our Revolutionary War pension records that are now on there that have been on doing it. We're trying to put as much out there with the resources that we have. So we're utilizing some of the Ancestry private companies, and we're also working on some joint projects to put more records out there. And we're continuously looking to digitize more. What you won't see is probably more on our website, at least in the short term, simply because we don't have the resources, the server space and such to throw all those records online. Although hopefully, fingers crossed sometime in the future we'll have the resources to maybe grab some of those records and start making them available through our website, which would be yeah, yeah, accessibility is important to people. But as you said, the finding AIDS are on the website, the Pennsylvania Archive website, and they can always look and see what you have and make a request that way. And as it goes for finding AIDS, there's probably going to be a change with those coming up. We've changed a couple of times in the past. We went from a basic HTML kind of finding aid online to ARCON, which is just a finding aid software. But now we're moving to another software and implementation of that will probably be over the next year or so. And again, it's the hope that it'll give us more flexibility, more ability to expand our finding AIDS maybe provide more detail, more ease of use, I think is probably the key of the new software. And it'll allow us to also integrate better the digital images that we could eventually do that with the new software. So you might see some changes to the layout of the finding AIDS in the near future, in the next year or two, as we transition to the new software. But the detail in our finding AIDS won't change. It'll still be the same detail. I think only thing we're doing is adding more means of accessing the records and finding AIDS in our collection through this new software. I think it'll be an improvement over the archon that we have right now. Yeah. So I have bookmarked a link, which is the HTML page from the old website of the microfilm that you have for the county records, because that list is just very easy to scroll through. It's just, here's the records. I can look for Jefferson County personitary records. Yep. They have these years and boom, that's all I need. Do you have it because FamilySearch doesn't have it, or do I need to contact yeah. Right now, because of the limitations in the software we have, we still have those old we call them legacy pages that you can pull up, the same as for the Revolutionary War stuff. We have the legacy page just because it lays it out, and those legacy pages can't last forever, but we're hoping to incorporate those in the new software so that we still have that ease of use there. Everything's going to take some learning. I like the old HTML too, but there's limitations to it. So there's good and bad and everything new. But hopefully the new software, as we get used to it, will be more powerful and user friendly than what we have now. Does the new software have a name? Eloquent. Yeah, Eloquent. There's a number of institutions that use it. Museums and other archives across the country that use it. Okay, good. Yeah. The archon thing, there was something I looked up the other day and I was like, this isn't right. I just need the list. I need my old list. I'm one of those people. I just want the thing that I had before in terms of the resource I'm used to looking at, and every time something changes, I get a little confused. Yeah, well, you're in a large company when it comes to changes. Yeah. Once you get used to it, you know how to find it and then they go and change it all up. Yeah. Maybe that's why I'm secretly a genealogist, because old ledger books don't change. It can be digitized, it can be microfilmed, and it's still in the same order it was in from the 1830s or something, I think. Anything else that you want people to know about the Pennsylvania State Archives? Anything that I didn't ask or we didn't cover in general, I just say we're a resource for the public. We have what estimate, 250,000,000 documents in our collection in our tower. So if you have an ancestor or you're doing research, if you have any dealings with Pennsylvania, there's a great chance that we have some type of record related to that ancestor or to that historic event in our collection. It may not be a lot, it may be a little, or it may be a lot, but our records spanning from the 17th century all the way up to the 21st, we're bound to have something. If it relates to Pennsylvania in our collection and it's available to the public, they can walk in and it's free. You don't have to pay to come and look at the records, so come on to the archives, especially when the new building opens, come in and explore the records with us. If you learn anything new, share it with us. That's the one thing I always tell people, what'd you find. And the more you tell us about your research, the more we know about our records. It's kind of a symbiotic relationship we have with the researchers. We impart knowledge on them, they go and look at the records, and then they tell us about it, and we know a little bit more. Yeah, I don't think people realize that. It's not like as an archivist, you organize the records, you make sure people can access the records they're cataloged, but you don't know everything that's in every single record. It's impossible. No, I've looked through a lot, and I can tell you a lot about things, but again, there's a lot that we haven't oftentimes. And it's same with genealogy or anybody that has an interest. I mean, you gravitate toward that interest, and you become kind of a specialist on those particular topics that I'm just drawn to specific types of records, specific periods. But you get me out of my element. You may know a lot more than I know on a particular topic. And then I turn to you for the information that you have to help you access the records. And you may say, no, it wouldn't deal with that because of this circumstance. So I think it's this. And then going forward, I try to absorb as much as possible that if someone else comes in down the line looking for the same thing, I will know and be able to maybe help them or at least be more helpful when they come back. I know we're running over a little bit on time, but I can't help but ask this what's been the most surprising thing someone shared with you out of in what they found in your records? Like, you were just floored. You were like, I can't believe you just I would say of all the records that have been found and people have brought to me, I mean, there's something interesting found every day related to something that it's. Wow, you found that there. But the genealogist in me always goes back to my family because those are the ones that always stick in my mind. And it's still that John McWilliams pension, that was the one that silent kind that I found this record for an it was like I said, I had spent years trying to find where he was before Erie County. And it had not only that, it not only said Chester County, but it gave, of course, his officer. And based off that information, I was able to narrow down to a township within there. Wow. And then on top of that, usually a document for pension will have an age, and usually it'll give I'm so old, or something like that. But in his, he actually goes years, months, days. So then I can go right to the specific date that he was born. The only thing he didn't provide is kind of his travels from Chester all the way up there's, several years in between how he got up there. But that in itself is one that it was that that's the most memorable, the one that sticks out most in my mind. Beyond that interesting for me, again, it deals with the John McWilliams research. I found a deposition, and this is one of those instances where you just stumble across something. I was doing research for someone else that had sent in a request to search in the depositions for the land office, and I was flipping through those, and I come across a name. I'm like, huh, all right, well, that's interesting, and it's Mercer County. And I'm like, I know of McWilliams are in Mercer County. And I always wondered if my John was that John in Mercer County because it's around the right time period, 1790s, it's really close to Erie County. So I go and I look at that and I start reading it and reading it, and I'm like, oh, there's other depositions. And they referenced that there's a deposition from this John McWilliams. I'm like, oh, gosh, I got to find that. And I looked and looked, and I spent so much time going through these because they're not indexed at all. So I'm just flipping through and I come across his deposition, and I come across several other depositions related to this case that all reference him. And it was an exhilarating find, but it's that high and low that genealogists are all expecting. I have no evidence that it's him. Nothing in his deposition, nothing in all the other records that talk about him provide enough information to say if it's my guy at all. And the timeline that he provides in the deposition sort of eliminates my guy. But it's such a situation, though, that you wonder, could it have been a lie, some of the information, because it's a dispute. And in reading these depositions, everybody's telling a little bit different story, and it all depended on time when someone was there when they did this. So which side is kind of fibbing because they're all telling different stories about it. And I looked at the signature on it, and it doesn't look like my guy's signature, but it's a very clean, neat signature. So then it makes me wonder, did someone else kind of sign the document for him? Because the signature is so it's like a clerk's neat. It is so beautifully written that in looking at everybody else's deposition, no one else has that beautiful signature except for another McWilliams that was signed. They had almost the exact same signature. But I want them to be mine because in the depositions, you find out that this John McWilliams had threatened to blow the brains out of another settler there. And the deposition said that while the other settlers were talking to them, to him to try and calm him down and trying to settle the situation, they said he started pulling out bullets and putting them in his mouth to get ready to load the rifle. So those settlers decided to leave. I'm like, it's such a great story related to this guy. And there's conflict. There's people stealing the shingles off a roof, burning down people's cabins. I mean, it's such a great story. If you're talking about narratives, it's such a great story. I want to tie into him in this conflict, but it's not enough. But it's a great story. It's fantastic. And it blows apart this belief that we had that everyone got along so well in the past. It was all wonderful until the Civil War, and then everything fell apart and then we all got along. Is it's it's everything kind of balled up in one because not only do you have that, but it also has the complexity of things. In this case, there was three different parties involved. You had squatters, which the McWilliams and the handful of others were. You had a land speculation company, a company with shareholders in Philadelphia just buying land up in western Pennsylvania. Then you have land jobbers that were involved. These are individuals that had basically went up into the woods, found a piece of land, maybe girdled some trees, and then say it's a mine and try and sell it. So you have all these parties arguing. You have different allegiances being formed between the parties. You had the squatters teaming up with the population company. You had landjambers teaming up with some other squatters. It just shows the complexity of history that's there that you often don't come across if you're just collecting names and dates and places. And I bet you learned more about history reading that document and getting all the context researching your ancestor than you ever did in a class. Yeah, we learned the big events, the big issues in history in school, but it's this microcosm there's boiling under the surface that was also there, that did touch on it. It's kind of like the sun. You have all those different layers of all the.
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