Three Tips for Finding Your Pennsylvania Ancestors Online

Pennsylvania has an abundance of resources for genealogists, and the good news is that many of them can now be accessed online. Here are three tips to unlock information about your Keystone ancestors in digitized record collections.

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1. Start with FamilySearch.  It’s no secret that FamilySearch  is often the first online stop for many genealogists. For the Pennsylvania researcher, there are plenty of records available in the free digitized collections on the FamilySearch website http://www.familysearch.org.  You can either or click the “Browse All Collections” link then “United States” and “Pennsylvania.” Here are the current collections (Note: Be sure to read the description of each collection to learn how complete it is as not all records may be included, and note the date the collection was last updated).

 Pennsylvania Obituaries, 1977-2010

Pennsylvania Obituary and Marriage Collection, 1947-2010

Pennsylvania, Births and Christenings, 1709-1950  

Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950

Pennsylvania, Crew Lists arriving at Erie, 1952-1957         

Pennsylvania, Eastern District Naturalization Indexes, 1795-1952

Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1795-1931

Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records, 1866-1956

Pennsylvania, Landing Reports of Aliens, 1798-1828         

Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1709-1940

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Case Files of Chinese Immigrants, 1900-1923

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906 

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Marriage Indexes, 1885-1951  

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists Index, 1800-1906       

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1882     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1883-1945     

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Seamen's Proofs of Citizenship, 1791-1861

Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh City Deaths, 1870-1905   

Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994

 To access the list of collections for Pennsylvania, go to https://familysearch.org/search/collection/list/?page=1&countryId=23

 

Below is a passenger list record I found for my great-grandfather Jan Alzo found in the on Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948 collection on FamilySearch.

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"Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KF82-K2K : accessed 7 September 2015), Jan Alzo, 1898; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T526 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,380,256.

 

Also, don’t forget to check the FamilySearch Wiki for Pennsylvania https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Pennsylvania for details on how to get started with Pennsylvania Genealogy research and for other information.

2. Find the Freebies. Genealogists love free databases. You can find plenty of free Pennsylvania resources if you know where to look. Try USGenWeb (check by county) for its volunteer added collections such as obituaries, cemetery lists and more, or GoogleBooks for items such as town histories, biographies and other historical documents.  The Pennsylvania State Archives located in Harrisburg, holds many documents for genealogy research including county records, military records, land records, census records, naturalization records and ships' passenger lists, and some pre-1906 vital records, as well as records of state government, and papers of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history.  While you won’t be able to search bigger collections online, use the website for the online guide to records so you can plan a research trip there.  In addition, some subscription sites often have some free databases. For example, Fold3 has selected databases available even to non-subscribers  http://go.fold3.com/records/state_Pennsylvania . One such publication/record set is The Pennsylvania Archives (early PA government records) – not to be confused with the Pennsylvania State Archives noted above!

 

3. Go to a Group. Facebook Groups are a great way to connect with other researchers searching for Pennsylvania roots. Simply log in to your Facebook account and search for Pennsylvania groups by town or county or topic (for example: Allegheny County, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Cemeteries, or Pennsylvania Genealogy). A quick way to learn about the groups available is to access the list Genealogical & Historical Groups/Pages on Facebook list compiled by Katherine Wilson. Don’t forget the smaller groups and pages too (I belong to several groups for my hometown of Duquesne, Pennsylvania and made it a point to like page for the Mifflin Township Historical Society). You will be amazed at the historical information you will find in these groups and pages and you connect with other Pennsylvania researchers.

Want even more tips on how to find your Pennsylvania ancestors online? Check out my my new bonus webinar Best Online Resources for Pennsylvania Genealogy  available to Family Tree Webinar subscribers. This webinar follows on from my Researching Your Pennsylvania Ancestors webinar.  In addition, the Pennsylvania Genealogy Legacy QuickGuide contains even more research tips and online resources.

 

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.


Storyboard Basics for Family Historians: How to Get Started in Three Simple Steps

Do you struggle to put together a family history narrative? Want to learn how to plot like a pro? A storyboard could be the answer to your writing woes. Many fiction writers use storyboards to plot their novels.

A storyboard is a simple way to visually outline or map out your writing project. You can use the storyboard as your guidepost to start writing, or as chapter or section titles to take you through the writing process. If you're not sure about where or how to begin crafting a story others will want to read, here are three simple steps to help you get started with storyboarding.

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1. Think like a writer, not like a genealogist. During the research phase of family history, most genealogists deal primarily with facts (names, dates, places, and other pertinent details), and use their analytical skills to "put the puzzle pieces together" and interpret the information. But, when it comes to plotting a story, you should be thinking like a writer—tapping into your inner creativity to put those facts together in an accurate, yet compelling way.

2. Write cinematically. All good stories have three basic parts: Beginning, Middle, and End (or in theatre terms, “three acts”). Although you may not think of your family's story as a movie, it often helps if you do. Try writing cinematically—breaking the story you want to tell into scenes. Scenes move your plot forward, set the tone, and highlight your voice.

3. Outline Your Ideas. Identify key points, ideas, scenes etc. you want to convey or include in your book, profile, or short story using a technique typically taught in novel writing workshops: the “Index Card" method. For a book project, the “old school” way is to get a stack (about 60) of 3 x 5 index cards and write down one scene per card (aiming for 15 scenes for Act 1, 30 for Act 2, and 15 for Act 3). This keeps the story moving.

For example, in my book, Three Slovak Women, the overall main plot is a story about three different generations of Slovak women. For Act I, my main plot is my grandmother's immigration story, and my subplots would be her family life in Slovakia, her arranged marriage to my grandfather, and her assimilation in America.

The index card method is useful because once you have your scenes written out you can shuffle the cards around to get the order you desire—the one that makes the most sense for your story. Software tools or apps make the process easier by letting you create “virtual” index cards.

One of my favorite programs is Scrivener by Literature and Latte, (available for PC and Mac), which has many useful features, including the ability to set up your projects in storyboard format using a virtual corkboard. There is a 30-day free trial available (and it runs for 30 days of actual use rather than by calendar days).

Next, transcribe or develop what you've written on each card into an outline, with your main plot (and then subplot a, b, c). This process will help you to see what does or doesn't work. (Scrivener lets you seamlessly switch to outline view, and easily shuffle your cards if you want to change, move or delete a scene). For smaller projects (for example, ancestor profiles), you would use less cards, but follow the same basic guidelines.

To learn more about creating storyboards with Scrivener, register for the upcoming Legacy webinar on Storyboard Your Family History.

Consider giving storyboarding a try. A storyboard gives you a “bird’s eye view” of your project so you can build a structure that works, see the holes in your content, and have a place to store notes, ideas, source information, and more.

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor and lecturer specializing in genealogy and creative nonfiction. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.