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Pennsylvania was founded as a place of refuge and religious freedom for many diverse groups from Great Britain and Europe. Important religious groups in colonial Pennsylvania were the Society of Friends (Quakers), the German Lutheran, German Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, and Catholic churches, and the German Pietist groups, including the Brethren (Dunkard), Mennonites, and Moravians. Before 1900 the major religious groups in Pennsylvania were the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic churches.
Because the keeping of vital records began late in the history of Pennsylvania, church records play a major roll in family history research. It is important that the researcher know the religious affiliation of their ancestor and be able to identify the church or churches their ancestor attended. County histories can help identfy extinct and extant churches in the locality where the ancestor lived.
Ministers assigned to a particular church may have "rode the circuit' to outlying areas to perform various ordinances for their parishoners. Records for itinerant (circuit riders) ministers may be recorded in their personal records or the records of the church where they are assigned. County histories may help to identify pastors who served in particular counties and what churches they were assigned too.
If the records can only be viewed at the church, make an appointment with the minister or secretary to examine the records. Remember, the records are the property of the church. There may be instances when the minister or a representive will not allow you to view the record but will look at the record for you.
A detailed Historical Records Survey inventory of church records available at the State Library of Pennsylvania is Inventory of Church Archives in Pennsylvania, also available in the FHL Collection. To check for a copy nearest you, use WorldCat. It lists many Pennsylvania churches existing in the 1930s. It is arranged by county and can help you identify extant churches for that time period.
The Family History Library has extensive collections of church records for the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed (United Church of Christ), and Society of Friends denominations. Many transcripts of local church records have been published.
The Family History Library also has histories of the Church of the Brethren, the Society of Friends, and the Baptist, Schwenkfelder, Evangelical Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Moravian, and Catholic churches in Pennsylvania.
Two of the largest groups were the German Lutheran and Reformed churches. For excellent information on the various congregations and their histories and records, see Charles H. Glatfelter, Pastors and Peoples, 2 vols. (Breingsville, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1980 and 1981) as vols. 13 and 15 of The Publications of the Pennsylvania German Society in the FHL Collection. To check for a copy nearest you, search WorldCat.
Many denominations have deposited their records in central repositories. You can write to the following addresses for more information. Additional copies of church records may be located at the county historical or genealogical societies. Records at local societies may be more accessible.
The Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary
6 Lancaster Ave
Wynnewood, PA 19096-34
Telephone: (610) 896-5000
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
Early church records, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for Pennsylvania Wards and Branches can be found on film and are located at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The film numbers, for each ward, can be locate through the Family History Library Catalog . Or by refering to Jaussi, Laureen R., and Gloria D. Chaston. Register of Genealogical Society Call Numbers. 2 vols. Provo, Utah: Genealogy Tree, 1982. (FHL book 979.2258 A3j; fiche 6031507). These volumes contain the film numbers for many (but not all) membership and temple record films.
Diocese of Pennsylvania
The History Committee
240 S. 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Telephone: (215) 627-6434
Fax: (215) 627-7550
This diocese has records for churches that are now closed for Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties only. Churches that are not closed should be contacted for their records. The appropriate diocese holds the records for other counties.
A. R. Wentz Library
Lutheran Theological Seminary
61 Seminary Ridge
Gettysburg, PA 17325
Telephone: (717) 334-6286
The A. R. Wentz Library records are not available to the general public, but the Family History Library has filmed many of their church records.
Krauth Memorial Library
Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia
Gettysburg PA 17325
Phone: (717) 334-6286, ext 2131
75 College Avenue
Greenville PA 16125
Phone: (724) 589-2131
The archives has the records for the local congregations that have disbanded in the eastern third of Pennsylvania and in New Jersey, New England, and upstate New York. Those congregations still active will have their records or will know where their older records are located.
A helpful source is Frederick S. Weiser, Pennsylvania Lutheran Church Records, 4 vols. included in the FHL Collection. This includes records from Adams, Columbia, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Lebanon, Northumberland, Snyder, and York counties.
Genealoger.com has a bibliography of Pennsylvania Lutheran Church Records and Histories
For an index to birth (baptism) information for Colonial Pennsylvania Lutherans, see:
- Humphrey, John T. Birth Index; Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1680-1800. n.p.: Brøderbund, 1998. FHL Collection CD-ROM no. 9 pt. 196
The Moravian Archives
41 West Locust Street
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 18018
United States of America
Phone: (610) 866-3255
Fax: (610) 866-9210
For information concerning missions to the American Indians visit Moravian Missions Among American Indians. For a map and list of missions visit Early Moravian Missions in Eastern Pennsylvania and Surrounding Areas 1740-1773.
Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Telephone: (215) 627-1852
Fax: (215) 627-0509
The society and the FHL Collection have "Miscellaneous Biographical Collection". This collection contains information from the 1600s up to 1960s. It includes obituaries, funeral discourses, memorial sermons, newspaper clippings, records of ministerial service, published genealogies, histories, golden anniversary of work in the ministry, church newsletters with biographical information, ordination service bulletins, installation service bulletins, biographical sketches and photographs. The collection is national in scope.
Inventory of the Church Archives of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Churches. Works Progress Administration, compiled from 1936-1940 and is available in the FHL Collection. Also try Candace Belfield's book Inventory of the church archives of Pennsylvania : Presbyterian churches.
Archives of the Evangelical and Reformed Church
Philip Schaff Library
Evangelical and Reformed Historical Library
555 W. James Street
Lancaster, PA 17603
Telephone: (717) 290-8734
A guide to the records in the above named archive is, Florence M. Bricker, comp. and ed., Church and Pastoral Records in the Archives of the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society, Lancaster, PA Lancaster, PA: The Society, 1982; and is available in the FHL Collection. To locate the book nearest you, search WorldCat.
Pennsylvania is divided into eight dioceses:
Diocese of Allentown
P.O. Box F
Allentown, PA 18105-1538
Diocese of Altoona
927 S. Logan Boulevard
hollidaysburg, PA 16648
Phone: (814) 695-5579
Diocese of Erie
St. Mark Catholic Center
429 East Grandview Blvd.
Erie, PA 16504
Diocese of Greensburg
723 East Pittsburgh St.
Greensburg, PA 15601
Phone: (724) 837-0901
4800 Union Deposit Road
Harrisburg, PA 17111
Phone: (717) 657-4804
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
222 North 17th Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1299
Phone: (215) 587-3600
Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Reseach Center
100 E. Wynnewood
Wynnewood, PA 19096
Telephone: (610) 667-3394
Diocese of Pittsburgh
111 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Phone: (412) 456-3000
Diocese of Scranton
300 Wyoming Avenue
Scranton, PA 18593
Phone: (570) 207-2238
The Drouin Collection
Early U.S. French Catholic Church Records, 1695-1954 ($) (Ancestry). This database only contains the French Catholic parish records from the United States in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania. It is the U.S. part of the U.S. and French-Canadian Drouin Collection. For more details see "The Drouin Collection: Six Databases"
The types of records include baptisms, marriages, and burials as well as confirmations, dispensations, censuses, statements of readmission to the church, and so on. They are written mainly in French, as well as English, Latin, and Italian.
For a listing of many vital records, see Albert H. Ledoux. Catholic Vital Records of Central Pennsylvania, 4 vols. (Altoona, PA: A. H. Ledoux, 1993-1996; see FHL Collection. Also check WorldCat for a copy of the book nearest you.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
For Hicksite records:
Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
500 College Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081
Telephone: (610) 328-8496
For Orthodox records:
James P. Magill Library
370 Lancaster Avenue
Haverford, PA 19041-1392
Telephone: (610) 896-1000
A card index to Quaker records is William Wade Hinshaw, The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Quaker Meeting Records in the Friends Library in Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania can be found in the FHL Collection.
For help in finding Quaker records, see:
- Inventory of Church Archives, Society of Friends in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA: Historical Records Survey, 1941, can be searched in the FHL Collection.
- Hinshaw, William Wade. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. 6 Vols. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, 1936-1950. Volume II covers Pennsylvania Monthly Meetings. FHL Collection; digital version at Ancestry ($). To locate copies nearest you, use WorldCat.
- The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Pennsylvania Quaker Meeting Records. 8 vols. (Kokomo, Indiana: Selby Publishing & Printing, 1990; available in the FHL Collection. To locate copies nearest you, use WorldCat.
An important resource for Eastern Pennsylvania is Jack Eckert, Guide to the Records of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Philadelphia, PA: Haverford College, Records Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Swarthmore College, 1989; available in the FHL Collection. It also contains a bibliography, a glossary, and the record location for the other yearly meetings throughout the United States and Canada. The yearly meeting includes the monthly and quarterly meeting records, etc., under its jurisdiction. To locate a copy of the book nearest you, use WorldCat.
Many sources are also listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under PENNSYLVANIA - CHURCH HISTORY.
A few church records have been indexed for most Pennsylvania Counties in the I Dream of Genealogy website. They are indexed by County, Township and then Church.