Posted by Crista Cowan on January 26, 2012 in Wiki, Collections, Research, Website

Did you catch this week’s Ancestry LIVE broadcast? We talked about Pennsylvania Vital records. We had over 400 people who joined us live in the broadcast and the chat afterwards. And, at last check, over 2,000 of you have watched the archived video on our YouTube channel.

I guess Pennsylvania records are pretty important to you!

Of course, this isn’t a surprise at all. Pennsylvania has been one of the most populous states in the Union since it became a state in 1787. So, chances are, if your family has been in the United States for longer than four or five generations, someone in your ancestry passed through Pennsylvania at some point in time.

You can learn more about Pennsylvania Family History Research in the Ancestry Wiki.

I hope you take the time to learn more.  I find that when I understand more about the places my ancestors lived, I understand more about them and their lives.  For me, that’s always more important than filling in blanks on a pedigree chart or seeing how far back I can trace my ancestry.

The database released on this week contains over 7.5 million records obtained from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. You read that right… 7.5 million records. Read the database description (scroll down past the search box) so you know what’s included in this amazing collection.  Then, please, dive right in and start searching the Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985. I would bet many of you are going to find exactly what you’re looking for.  Some of you may even find things you didn’t know you were looking for. When you do, be sure to come back here and let me know about it. I love hearing your success stories.

Until next time – Have fun climbing your family tree…

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Google Twitter


  1. Is there a Historical reason {flood, fire, etc ..} the Venango County records are not included? Or did the county not release the records? If it’s the later then I have hope – as I can contact the county and ask.

  2. Helen Eller

    Would love to see some REFORMED Lutheran Church records in Berks Co., PA
    This list you have created is just scratching the surface!

  3. Carolyn Hatton Harter

    I loved the broadcast Tuesday night. I just remembered tonight’s and am missing it. Darn, lol. I would like for Crista to contact me if she gets a chance. I have Cowan ancestors on my dad’s side and I am now wondering if we are related! Thanks!

  4. Crista Cowan

    Jaci – This collection contains what was provided to us by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. You might want to contact them to see if they have more information about Venango County records –

    Carolyn – Feel free to email me at ccowan at ancestry dot com. I always love finding new cousins!

  5. Susan Krohse

    Crista – I was SO excited at the release of records hoping to FINALLY catch my 3G Grandfather, Jeremiah Stillwell, listed in 1850 (Indiana/Henry Co)Marriage records & census. But I could never have guessed HOW MANY Jeremiah Stillwell’s there could have existed then! And I don’t know how to extend branch further back. I have hit a wall . Any suggestions?
    BTW – really liked watching your broadcast- very thorough and helpful for other ppl in tree. Thanks

  6. Lincoln Lowery

    Is it true that Ancestry is digitizing the soon to be open birth & death records (105 and 50 years old, respectively)? The top of the change in PA law was mentioned in the blogcast, but barely.

  7. lbgeyer

    Great resource. Already found the record of my Great-great grandmother’s first marriage (to a bigamist whom she left soon after) among others. Actually, it looks like the church they were married in may actually been in Delaware, although I’m having trouble confirming that since it no longer exists. Is there any way for Ancestry to post more about the individual resources in the collection? The titles of some of the sources are misleading – for example there’s a bunch of funeral home records from Philadelphia in the 1800s that are labeled as belonging to a funeral home that was founded in Delaware County in the 1920s. That one caught my eye because one of my relatives owned the undertakers establishment that some of them must have actually come from. More information on the background of the collection would be really helpful.

  8. Nancy

    To any Jewish researchers out there, don’t let the title of this database deter you. It contains records from Congregation Rodeph Shalom. I found many marriage records in there.

  9. Crista Cowan

    Susan – Sometimes it helps identify the most likely candidates and then try to trace them each to see what happened to them. This will help you narrow down to YOUR Jeremiah. You might also want to check out Julianna’s tips here:

    Lincoln – Mid-February is when the state will make these records available to researchers. I don’t know if they have plans to give access to these records or not.

    lbgeyer – For more information about the resources in this collection, I would contact

    Bee – Me, too!

    Nancy – Great catch!

  10. Joann Taylor

    I have noticed that, in many instances, the names in the Philadelphia Death Index now on Ancestry do not match the Philadelphia Death Records found on the FamilySearch pages.

    Just as one example:
    your Phila. Death Index lists a Jonathan C Vanartsdalen – at

    He is clearly the same man who is listed in the FamilySearch Index as: Jonathan C. Fanartsdalers – same DOD, same parents (who are indexed as :Dan’L and Maria Reanokiel).

    Do you plan to add the Phila. death records to Ancestry and if so, will you be crosschecking the index?

  11. Janice

    Are there any records for Mount Pleasant, Wayne County available? I tried to find it, but without success. Suggestions? Looking for information on births from 1872-1889/

  12. BEE

    Unfortunately, my earliest Pennsylvania ancestor didn’t arrive until 1890, and most of them came between 1900 and 1910, same for any other families I’m researching.

  13. Lincoln Lowery

    Thank you Crista. Someone on the forums mentioned they had talked to a Kenny Freestone at Ancestry who said they were going to be digitized by Ancestry, but I wasn’t sure of it.

  14. Dana

    So, the vital records for Pennsylvania mentioned here:

    Are not the birth/death records that will be made available in mid-February, but the “Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985” collection that’s already been released – well, I have to say, that’s disappointing because even though me and 75 percent of my family (back to the immigrants) were BORN in Pennsylvania, I haven’t been able to find *anything* on my family in this collection.

    This collection is essentially useless to people without Protestant family – which is silly since a large bulk of PA is Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholic (like my own family).

  15. BEE

    In my email box this morning: “More than 7 million NEW records from old Pennsylvania
    Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985”
    but no Catholic churches in Pittsburgh, PA, and not much from Fayette county, although I’m sure it’s not the fault of ancestry.
    It’s very difficult to get some these records, even when writing to the diocese.
    My only hope will be birth/death records, so keep them coming please.

  16. TMiller1961

    My family searches center on the City of Reading. When specifying location data in forms, there is no drop-down entry for Reading in Berks County, Pennsylvania, USA. Being the seat of Berks County and currently the fifth most populated city in PA, its omission is odd.

    Thank you for your work uncovering Pennsylvania’s rich heritage.

  17. Jane Crawford

    You are my kind of woman; Barefoot! That’s me, can’t wait until garden time etc. I did find a Mary & Margaret Crawford in the Pa, Church & Town Records. Maragaret is an elusive lady, I’m chasing her but so far she has outrun me. She & husband John lived in Muncy & are probably buried there. I’ve no idea what her maiden name is. May have to take a trip over there. Thanks for Ancestry & all you folks do for the hunters. Jane

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