Hi! I'm Denys Allen, Founder of PA Ancestors L.L.C.

PA Historical Societies and Search Tips for Vital Records

published11 days ago
3 min read

PA Historical Societies and Search Tips for Vital Records

Hello PA Friends,

Exciting news from me for the month of August! I'll be mentoring new digital writers in the Ship 30 for 30 writing program. My 30 days of daily writing will be on PA history and my ancestors here in Pennsylvania. I'll be sharing this on my Great Grandparents' House website if you are interested in following along. If you want to do Ship 30 for 30, I have a $100 off coupon using this link. (Enrollment closes at 5pm today.)

The podcast will be on pause the next 30 days while I doing Ship 30 for 30. But this newsletter will still be coming to you each Friday! You see links to my daily writings and more tips on finding your ancestors in Pennsylvania.

🗺 History Highlight

All across Pennsylvania there are historical societies. Sometimes run by paid staff, sometimes volunteers, and often a mixture of both. These places offer family historians a wealth of information. After you have located your family in a particular county, contact the closest historical society and see if they have any of the following:

  • Lists of significant events occurring the years your ancestor lived there. It could be worth doing the 10-20 years prior to in case a new industry began, or there was a migration into the area by your ancestor’s ethnic group. Could explain why they lived there instead of somewhere else.
  • Vertical files, also called family files, with genealogical information. They could have newspaper clippings, research notes, photos, copies of letters or Bible pages, or any number of things relating to your family surname.
  • Photographs of the area and people of your ancestors’ time period. Perhaps there's a photo of your ancestor! Even if it isn’t your ancestor, you’ll still get an idea of how they dressed, the homes they lived in, and what the general look of the area was.

I’m compiled a spreadsheet of all the historical societies in PA. You can download it to your computer or just view it through the link. I've also included all the historical sites in the spreadsheet in case you are traveling or planning a research trip. This is just for newsletter subscribers, so if you’d like to share it, your friends can subscribe to the newsletter here.

🔖 Featured Genealogy Record

Trying to find ancestors in Pennsylvania prior to consistent vital records can be a challenge, especially prior to the 1850 census. It’s like a fumbling in the dark blindfolded in a room you’ve never been in.

No matter what your challenge in finding your ancestors’ records, these general tips will help:

  1. Connect with that local historical or genealogical society that I mentioned above. Before the internet, people self-publish books or compiled family research into binders, and left them at these local societies. A lot of that information didn’t make it onto any website. Someone could have researched your family tree and all you need to do is find it and retrace the steps with records from the courthouse. (Making a note to make a set of videos on how to do this in my Inner Circle member area.)
  2. Make a list of the variations of the spellings of the surname you are searching. Names varied in spelling until birth certificates, death certificates, and marriages licenses were used. I keep this list in my research notes I made for each person I’m researching. Then when I check a database of records, I go through the list and make sure I’ve tried every variation. I cover some strategies in this week’s podcast below.
  3. My last tip is to keep research notes for yourself of what you are searching. These can be on handwritten on paper, a Word documents, or even filling out the “notes” field on Ancestry. (I don’t see a way to add “notes” on FamilySearch that are private. If you know of what to do this, would love to know!) You want to be able to not repeat your searches - unless you intend to repeat it. Also reviewing your notes of your searches will help you get new ideas of places to look or records to find.

🎙 What’s New on the Podcast

This week’s episode is specific tips to find vital records in Pennsylvania. If you've hit a brick wall in your research, one of these tips may help. The final episodes of this season on vital records will be on using DNA results in your research and substitutes for vital records. These will be coming to you the week of September 12th!

🍬 Inner Circle

I've gotten many wonderful questions about the Inner Circle, so keep them coming at If you are ready to find your Pennsylvania ancestors, and ready to write up what you found to share with family and friends, then this is the place for you!

Some long-term supporters of the podcast are Founding Members. I'll looking to add more Founding Members and if you want to be one of the first people inside, this is your chance.

Get on the waitlist here

Looking forward to creating THE place for people to learn about how to find their ancestors in Pennsylvania!