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.
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).
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.
"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such as obituaries, cemetery lists and more, or GoogleBooks for items such as town histories, biographies and other historical documents.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.