The Pennsylvania State Archives, established in 1903, has 55,000 cubic feet of research materials, nearly 20,000 reels of microfilm and an extensive map collection that covers a time frame from the 1660s to the present (www.phmc.state.pa.us).
What it doesn't have is your ready-made family history. "There's a big misconception that you can come and get your family history here, that it will be already completed and on a computer," said Jonathan Stayer, head of the reference section.
If you have more realistic expectations and are willing to sift through the holdings, you can tackle the ship lists of passengers who arrived at the port of Philadelphia from 1727-1808, official naturalization lists (1740-1773) and a large selection of naturalization records. The ship lists contain primarily German and Swiss emigrants.
All the federal census schedules for Pennsylvania, the 1880-1920 Soundexes and the 1820, 1870 and 1880 industry and manufacturing schedules are also available.
"Land records date back to 1681," said Stayer. "We even have some patents that reference earlier land transactions." You can also view microfilmed copies of property tax and mortgage records from many counties.
Military files include records relating to Pennsylvania militia units from 1775-1972, muster rolls, bonus files and pension and land grant records. (Be sure to check the state's digital military archives at www.digitalarchives.state.pa.us.)
Microfilmed county records include wills, deeds, slave registers and tax lists. I randomly picked Franklin County to see what the archives had on hand for that area. I found will books and will indices dating back to 1784, marriage applications from 1887-1970 and divorce papers from 1886-1957. There are two divorce indices. One spans 1884-1984 and the other 1886-1974.
Citizenship documents are a mixed bag. On file are Declarations of Intention from 1927-1972, Naturalization Petitions-Orders from 1930-1969 and Petitions for Naturalization 1935-1984.
Adoption records, various court dockets dating to the early 1800s, prison and mine accident records, selected cemetery files, veteran grave registration lists from 1935-1984 and dog tax registers from 1868-1914. (Dogs were taxed as assets.)
The archives doesn't conduct genealogical searches. The staff will respond to mail requests for searches of indexed records. The $15 per name/item fee ($10 for residents) includes duplicating up to 10 pages from a file.
Pennsylvania State Library
The Pennsylvania State Library likes to share its wealth. Its extensive collection of microfilmed newspapers from all over the state _ more than 100,000 reels _ is available to researchers anywhere in the country for a period of three weeks through an inter-library loan program.
Publications date back to the American Weekly Mercury from 1719. Rooters will probably be most interested in ones from the 1800s. Those contain more genealogical data. (Contact the main public library in your area to borrow these films.)
The library, which is within walking distance of the State Archives, owns such collections as Pennsylvania Family History, Daughters of the American Revolution and individual family genealogies ranging from Abraham to Zook.
Although the facility has a selection of birth, death, marriage and church records primarily compiled by volunteers, it does not routinely keep vital statistics records. Other items include cemetery surveys and will books from selected counties. For more information about the Pennsylvania State Library, log on to its Web site at www.statelibrary.state.pa.us.
Before you make plans to visit to any state archives or state library, be sure to check its days and hours of operation. Budget cuts have led to shortened schedules in some places. Many archives are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Keep in mind that these government entities are not travel agencies. Although most archives and libraries provide directions for getting to their locations on their individual Web sites, the staff cannot tell you where to find the best or cheapest hotels in the area or give you a rundown on local restaurants.
Read past Donna Murray Allen columns online at www.sptimes.com. Type "Donna Murray Allen" in the search box. You can write to Allen c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at rootscolumnyahoo.com. Her Web site: www.rootsdetective.com, which includes information on classes and lectures.
NOTE ABOUT WORLD WAR II BENEFITS: Anyone wishing more information about the World War II bonus program must contact the Department of Veteran Affairs in the state where the soldier was discharged. Neither Donna Murray Allen nor the state's archives can provide information pertaining to veterans benefits.