June – Pennsylvania Research

Walking in Penn’s Woods: Pennsylvania Research
Coordinator: Amy E. K. Arner, CG
With Additional Instructors: Michael D. Lacopo, DVM; Kimberly Powell; Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL; Richard “Rick” Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA

Held virtually 18-23 June 2023. Registration Information. To see a student talk about this course see THIS YouTube VIDEO.

Have ancestors who lived or passed through Pennsylvania? Not familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Pennsylvania records? Then this intermediate course is for you! Students are expected to have some experience with original records such as deeds and probate files since the course will focus on these and other commonly-used record types. There will be hands-on exercises in class and optional homework assignments to help you gain experience. Students should have access to a desktop computer, laptop or tablet to use for the in-class exercises and homework assignments.

If you want to know more about the lives of your Pennsylvania ancestors, join us for five days of digging deeper into the wealth of resources that await you in Penn’s Woods.


9:30 AM – Orientation & Introductions (Arner)

10:00 AM – Pennsylvania History & Geography: An Overview (Arner)
Understanding how to research in Pennsylvania requires a solid background about the history and geography of the commonwealth. This session will start students along the path to that understanding and provide the basis for the week.

11:30 AM – Pennsylvania Vital Records (Arner)
Pennsylvania does not have the long history of requiring the civil registration of vital records that New England states do, however Pennsylvania started requiring the civil registration of vital records before some of the states in the Midwest, South, and West. Topics discussed will include when civil registration was required at state, county, and local levels; what information will be included in the records; and where to find the records. Adoption records will also be covered.

Lunch Break

1:45 PM – The Early Religious Experience in Pennsylvania: Church Records, Part I (Lacopo)
Pennsylvania was the most religiously diverse colony of the original United States. Understanding the theology of each religious denomination helps understand the records that were kept – as well as those that were not. What kind of records did each religion maintain, and in what format? What other external factors affected record keeping in Pennsylvania and how do your research strategies differ from religion to religion?

3:15 PM – Finding Church Records in Pennsylvania: Church Records, Part II (Lacopo)
Once you understand the type of records kept by each major denomination in Pennsylvania, the next challenge is locating them! While some are located in state or regional denominational archives, others remain in the church after hundreds of years. Major repositories will be discussed as well as research strategies for locating church records in Pennsylvania.

4:30 PM – Homework Assignment – Church Research (Optional) (Lacopo)


10:00 AM – Pennsylvanians in the Military (Sayre)
Military records often contain evidence of kinship. This class will focus on finding that evidence in original records and published (both in print and online) records. The discussion will include the resources of the Pennsylvania State Archives and the National Archives.

11:30 AM – Pennsylvania Tax Records (Arner)
Three jurisdictions levied taxes in Pennsylvania: the county, the province/state, and the federal government. This session will focus on the records created by each jurisdiction and how to access them. Mini case studies will show students how to use the records.

Lunch Break

1:45 PM – Migration to, from, and within Pennsylvania (Arner)
People migrated to Pennsylvania from a variety of places. Some families stayed a generation or two and then moved to another area in the commonwealth or to another state. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were the starting points for many ancestral journeys. Learn about the migration paths your ancestors may have used to, from, and within Pennsylvania.

3:15 PM – From Fake News to Rules of Succession: Finding the Law in Penn’s Woods (Russell)
Genealogists need to look at the law at the time and in the place where a record was created. Misunderstanding the legal context may make us miss records critical to our research or miss clues hidden in the records. But in a jurisdiction like Pennsylvania, with a complex history spanning nearly 350 years, finding the law is easier said than done! This session will focus on tips to help understand the legal system and then find the right law for the Pennsylvania record being evaluated.

Hands-on Exercises with Tax Records (Optional) (Arner)


Homework Review (Optional) (Lacopo)

10:00 AM and 11:30 AM- Finding Treasure in the Pennsylvania Court House, Part I and Part II (Lacopo)
Pennsylvania seems unique (and often frightening) to a researcher first entering the courthouse. What is a Prothonotary? What cases were heard in the Court of Oyer and Terminer? We will take a tour of a typical Pennsylvania county courthouse and visit each individual office, identifying the records kept by each official and what importance they hold for the genealogist. Finding aids and the use of the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg will be covered in your search for county records.

Lunch Break

1:45 PM – Pennsylvania Deeds & Other Local Land Records (K. Powell)
We’ll dig deep into the local land records available for research in Pennsylvania, including how to find and use deeds, tips for navigating common index systems such as the Russell Index, and some lesser-used alternative sources for locating the land where our ancestors lived.

3:15 PM – Pennsylvania State Land Records (K. Powell)
Learn about the colonial and state land acquisition process in Pennsylvania, including the treaties, boundary disputes, and laws that governed settlement. We’ll also explore the records created by the land patent process, what they mean, and how to find them.

4:30 PM – Hands-on Exercises with Land Collections (Optional) (Arner)


10:00 AM – Hands-on Exercises with Pennsylvania Land Records (Arner)
During this session students will complete exercises using land records based on the information covered in the two previous sessions.

11:30 AM – Finding Places and More – Maps and Gazetteers (Sayre)
Finding a place is getting easier every day as online resources expand. This class will focus on the latest online resources. Equally important is recognizing how place data can be correlated with other information to solve genealogical problems. Examples will illustrate this technique.

Lunch Break

1:45 PM – Pennsylvania – Urban Resources (Sayre)
Researchers in Pennsylvania’s urban settings have an abundance of sources to consider. Many times, the challenge is to analyze the significant amount of information available. This class will suggest strategies to discover kinship and correlate significant amounts of information often developed in urban research.

3:15 PM – Archives and Manuscript Collections for Pennsylvania Research (Arner)
The records helpful for researching our Pennsylvania ancestors are not held solely by libraries and governmental offices. Private and public archives also hold records we may need. This session will cover some of the archives that students may find helpful.

4:30 PM – Hands-on Exercises with Manuscript Collections (Optional) (Arner)


10 AM and 11:30 AM – Pulling it All Together: Pennsylvania Case Studies Parts I and II (Arner)
During the week, students will learn about the records and resources helpful for researching in Pennsylvania. Those records and resources cannot be used in isolation. The class will work through and discuss several cases studies as examples of how researchers can use a variety of records to trace their ancestry.

Certificates and Farewells before lunch