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Pennsylvania: Local History & Genealogy Resource Guide

External Websites

The following external websites contain primary source and educational materials helpful in researching each U.S. state and territory.

Church and Religious Records

Most religious records are maintained at the local level. It is important to reach out directly to your ancestors' house of worship. Keep in mind that original records from a particular religious institution may also have been transferred to the custody of an area library, historical society, or denominational archive for preservation and research. See the Library of Congress Research Guide Church and Synagogue Records for Genealogy for research strategies and resources.

The following list provides a selection of the types of records and repositories that you may find for the denominations represented in your family or local history:

Journals

The following journals provide access to issues and articles online. 

Law

To understand the time and place in which our ancestors lived, we must understand the laws that governed their community. These laws governed their daily lives and impacted the records they left behind.

Maps and Geographical Resources

These historical map collections may be searched by state or county.

Military Records

Military records often reveal much more than military service. Search these records for personal details, family ties, and local history context.

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Using Ancestry Library Edition for Pennsylvania

Begin your search through Ancestry's vast collections, by viewing the list designated as Pennsylvania records External.

Note: If you are a Pennsylvania resident, take advantage of the partnership between the Pennsylvania State Archives and Ancestry.com to digitize family history records in the State Archives and make them available online. This partnership entitles Pennsylvanians free access to these collections. This access requires a free Ancestry.com Pennsylvania account. To begin, go to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission External web site, enter your zip code in the form at the bottom of the page External, and follow the link to the Ancestry.com Pennsylvania search page.

  • Pennsylvania, WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files, 1917-1919, 1934-1948 External - The focus of this series is on papers filed related to World War I military service to demonstrate worthiness of compensation under Pennsylvania law. However, each soldier has a folder that may include other relevant documents filed in Pennsylvania. In particular, post-war Pennsylvania newspapers included a form asking soldiers or their families to submit information to compile a roster of all serviceman. If that form was submitted, it appears in this collection. Often included with the form were personal letters or photographs to be added. These are gems hidden throughout this already invaluable set of papers.
  • Pennsylvania, Veteran Compensation Application Files, WWII, 1950-1966 External - Following World War II, Pennsylvania paid honorably discharged veterans and those still in service a bonus compensation. This collection includes over a million Veterans Compensation Application Files. In addition to compensation applications, these files sometimes include letters, certificates, and photographs.
  • Pennsylvania, Veterans Burial Cards, 1777-2012 External - Contained in this database are index cards with the burial records of Pennsylvania veterans who participated in all armed conflicts in which the commonwealth (or colony) was involved.

Newspapers

Property (Building, House, Land, etc.)

Most research about the history a building, house, or piece of land will be done locally in the town or county where the property is located. See the Library of Congress Research Guide House History: A Guide to Uncovering the Stories of Local Buildings and Properties for research strategies and resources.

The following tools provided by the Chester County, Pennsylvania Archives offer education and examples beneficial to all Pennsylvania property research.

State and Local Repositories

Despite the vast amount of information available online, most genealogy and local history records have not been digitized. Be sure to find the repositories of records in the specific communities where your ancestors lived. Over the years, some records have been shifted to nearby academic libraries or to state archives. Reach out to these institutions directly to discover what collections they hold and how you can access them.