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Spotlight on Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s size and central location on the Atlantic Seaboard have helped it play an important role in American history. Millions of Americans have ancestors who lived in Pennsylvania at some point in their lives. Learn how to conduct research on Pennsylvania and access free educational resources below.

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Have a Pennsylvania-shaped brick wall? Whether you want an answer to a specific question, or to hire an expert for a longer-term project, we have a service that's right for you.

FREE WEBINAR: Resources for Pennsylvania Genealogy

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NEHGS Genealogist Ann Lawthers

Understanding historical immigration patterns to Pennsylvania can help point the way to significant genealogical discoveries.

Expert genealogist Ann Lawthers' webinar starts with a description of Pennsylvania settlement patterns and how those patterns and changing county borders influenced the surviving genealogical resources. Special attention is given to early German, Scots-Irish, Welsh, Quaker and Mennonite immigration. A discussion of standard and unique genealogical resources for researchers concludes Ann's presentation.


Explore our Digital Collections (digitized, key-word searchable material from the NEHGS library) for a wealth of information about Pennsylvania.


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William Penn Quaker William Penn (1644 – 1718) founded Pennsylvania, and was an advocate of religious freedom. This Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine sketch introduces Penn's family in detail.
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Benjamin Franklin Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was an industrious inventor and city planner. This Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine sketch covers his wife's family.
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Louisa May Alcott Author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. View her death record in the Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910 collection.
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Stephen Decatur U.S. Naval officer Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779 – 1820) won several important battles against Britain and France. This record documents monies paid to his officers and crew.



Pennsylvania’s size and central location on the Atlantic seaboard means it has played a significant role in America’s history. The first European settlers of Pennsylvania hailed from Sweden (“New Sweden” 1638-1655), the Netherlands (“New Netherlands” 1614-1664), and England (1664-1682). In 1681, King Charles II of England granted the Quaker, William Penn, a charter for a large parcel of land in what is now Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania.


Researching your Pennsylvania German ancestors offers its own set of unique challenges. This guide provides a listing of and information on essential resources for anyone delving into their Pennsylvania German ancestry. Many of these resources can be found or accessed at the library at NEHGS.


The records of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, include births, deaths, marriages, migration certificates, and detailed monthly meeting minutes. Many of these records have been indexed or microfilmed. This guide will help genealogists interpret and locate Quaker records at the NEHGS library and some online repositories.

Attend a Lecture or Take a Research Tour With View Our Event Calendar.

DATABASE SEARCH TIPS: Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine

Database expert Molly Rogers explains how to search The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine on The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine has been published by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania since 1895. We have 378,278 searchable records available as part of this database. This video explains the content of this journal and illustrates a few examples of how to execute a search.

Search the NEHGS library catalog for Pennsylvania resources.

The Portable Genealogist: Pennsylvania

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The Portable Genealogist is a comprehensive guide to print and electronic resources covering various groups who settled Pennsylvania: Mennonite, Quaker, Scots Irish, Dutch, and settlers from other European countries and elsewhere in the United States.

EXCERPT: As the "Keystone State," Pennsylvania occupies the middle position among the original thirteen colonies. European settlers first colonized the lower Delaware River in 1638--although the first known European settler arrived as early as 1614. In the 40 years that followed, Sweden, the Netherlands, and England vied for possession of the new territory. An English victory was cemented in 1682 when Quaker William Penn arrived to take possession of a large parcel of land, granted to him by Charles II of England, on the west bank of the Delaware River in what is now eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Search the Jewish Heritage Center's archives for Pennsylvania resources.


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Browse the NEHGS bookstore for original publications about Pennsylvania-based genealogy and research.

Titles include Pennsylvania Genealogies: Scotch-Irish Germans;The Story of a Dynamic Community -- York, Pennsylvania, William Penn -- the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania, and many more.