Pennsylvania Church Records

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Historical Background[edit | edit source]

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/Anglican/Church of England, Baptist, and Roman Catholic churches, and the German Pietist groups, including the Brethren (Dunkard), Mennonites, and Moravians.

The beginning of the Catholic faith in Pennsylvania can be dated back to French explorers who visited the area in the seventeenth century. The first Catholic church was a chapel built in Fort Duquesne in 1754. In 1808, the Diocese of Philadelphia was organized. It covered the entire state. It was split in 1843 when the Diocese of Pittsburgh was erected to oversee Western Pennsylvania. Other dioceses were erected at later dates.[1]

Only a small percentage of Colonial Pennsylvania's population belonged to the Church of England.[2] Of 26 Episcopalian churches established in Pennsylvania before 1800, 12 have surviving parish registers covering that period.[3]

Information Found in the Records[edit | edit source]

Yocum Church.JPG

To effectively use church records, become familiar with their content. Click on these links to learn about a specific record type:

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caution sign.png

Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

FamilySearch Indexes[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch CD-Rom[edit | edit source]

FindMyPast Indexes[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com[edit | edit source]

I Dream of Genealogy[edit | edit source]

Catholic[edit | edit source]

Catholic Heritage Archive, ($)

Church of the Brethren[edit | edit source]

Congregational[edit | edit source]

Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

Episcopal/Anglican[edit | edit source]

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Mennonite[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Quaker (Society of Friends)[edit | edit source]

Other Collections[edit | edit source]

Look for digital copies of church records in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm for churches in the United States.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the state, county, or town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of United States, Pennsylvania.
b. Click on Places within United States, Pennsylvania and a list of counties will appear.
c. Click on your county if it appears.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Click on Places within United States, Pennsylvania [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Consult available finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.


Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

German Churches[edit | edit source]

  • 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.

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Quaker (Society of Friends)[edit | edit source]

United Church of Christ[edit | edit source]


Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

Here you will find archive information unique to the state. Many more archives are kept by denomination. For denominational archives, go to Searching for Church Records by Denomination.


Episcopal/Anglican/Church of England[edit | edit source]

Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem
333 Wyandotte Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015-1527

Phone: (610) 691-5655

  • Churches that are not closed should be contacted for their records.
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem has records for closed parishes of the 14 counties in Pennsylvania to the north and west of Philadelphia.

Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania
101 Pine Street
Harrisburg, PA 17108

Phone: (717) 236-5959
Email: info@diocesecpa.org
Mail: PO Box 11937, Harrisburg, PA 17108 Fax: (717) 236-6448

  • Churches that are not closed should be contacted for their records.
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has records for closed parishes.

Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania
The History Committee
240 S. 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Telephone: (215) 627-6434
Fax: (215) 627-7550


Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
325 Oliver Avenue, Suite 300
Pittsburgh, PA 15222-2403

Phone: (412) 721-0853
E-mail: info@episcopalpgh.org

  • Churches that are not closed should be contacted for their records.
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, founded in 1865, covers the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. This diocese has records for churches that are now closed for the current counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland.

Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania
145 West 6th Street
Erie, PA 16501

Phone: (814) 456-4203

  • Churches that are not closed should be contacted for their records.
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania has records for closed parishes of the 13 counties in the northwestern part of the state of Pennsylvania.

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

  • Archives hold records for closed churches. For open churches write directly to the local church.

Among the files of the Region 7 archives at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia are those of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, which was the first North American Lutheran church body, founded in 1748.
For all synods except the Slovak-Zion Synod:
Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia
7301 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119-1794
Phone:(215) 248-6383 Fax: (215) 248-6327 E-mail: mtairyarchives@uls.edu


For Slovak Zion Synod:
Slovak Zion Synod
P.O. Box 1003
Torrington, CT 06790-1003
Phone:(860) 482-6100


Older material in the Tri-Synod Archives collection relates to the former Pittsburgh Synod of the General Council.
For Western Pennsylvania:
Tri-Synod Archives
Thiel College
75 College Avenue
Greenville, PA 16125
Phone: (724) 589-2131


For Central Pennsylvania:
A.R. Wentz Library
United Lutheran Seminary
61 Seminary Ridge
Gettysburg, PA 17325-1795
Phone: (717) 339-1313

  • Also housed in the Gettysburg Seminary's archives are the records of the first large confederation of American Lutheran synods, namely the General Synod. This archives also has significant personal papers collected by the Lutheran Historical Society. 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.

Mennonite[edit | edit source]

Mennonite Heritage Center Historical Library and Archives
565 Yoder Road
Harleysville, PA
19438-1020
Phone: 215-256-3020
E-mail: info@mhep.org


Moravian[edit | edit source]

The Northern Province Moravian Archives
41 West Locust Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
Phone: 610.866.3255
E-mail: info@moravianchurcharchives.org


Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Phone: (215) 627-1852
Fax: (215) 627-0509


Reformed[edit | edit source]

Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society
Lancaster Theological Seminary
555 W. James Street
Lancaster, PA 17602
Phone: (717) 290-8734
E-mail:info@erhistoricalsociety.org

The Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society holds a variety of church records for church congregations that originated in the former Reformed (German) Church in the United States, Evangelical (German) Synod of North America, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and the present United Church of Christ. Many of these record collections contain original documents, whereas others include photocopies, digitized scans, or transcriptions of the original documents.

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Archdiocese of Philadelphia Historical Reseach Center
100 E. Wynnewood
Wynnewood, PA 19096
Telephone: (610) 667-3394


The diocese (erected 1808) consists of the counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia.[4]


Diocese of Allentown
4029 W. Tilghman St.
P.O. Box F
Allentown, PA 18105-1538
Phone: (610) 437-0755
Fax: (610) 433-7822

The diocese consists of the counties of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill.[4]


Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown
2713 West Chestnut Avenue
Altoona, PA 16601-1720
Phone: (814) 695-5579
Fax: (814) 949-8234
E-mail: tdegol@dioceseaj.org

The diocese consists of the counties of Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset.[4]


Diocese of Erie
St. Mark Catholic Center
429 East Grandview Blvd.
Erie, PA 16504

The diocese coonsists of the of counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Mercer, McKean, Potter, Venango and Warren.[4]


Diocese of Greensburg
723 East Pittsburgh St.
Greensburg, PA 15601
Phone: (724) 837-0901

The diocese consists of the counties of Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland.[4]


Diocese of Harrisburg
4800 Union Deposit Road
Harrisburg, PA 17111
Phone: (717) 657-4804

The diocese of Harrisburg consists of the counties of Adams, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Union and York.[4]


Diocese of Pittsburgh
111 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Phone: (412) 456-3000

The diocese (erected 1843) consists of the counties of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington.[4]

The Diocese of Pittsburgh originally included Catholic churches throughout Western Pennsylvania, including: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, McKean, Mercer, Potter, Somerset, Venango, Warren, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.[1]

For a centennial history, see:

  • "100 Years of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese 1843–1943," Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Summer 1990):9-33. FHL Book 974.8 B2wg. Chronology, map, county-by-county information.

Diocese of Scranton
300 Wyoming Avenue
Scranton, PA 18593
Phone: (570) 207-2238

Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society
57 North Franklin St.
Wilkes Barre PA 18701
Phone:(570) 829-1765
E-mail: nepgsmail@gmail.com

The diocese consists of the counties of Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne, Wyoming.[4]


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)[edit | edit source]

For Hicksite records:
Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library
500 College Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081
Telephone: 610-328-8496

Covers New York, Baltimore, PhiladelphiaEmail: friends@swarthmore.edu
  • The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Quaker Meeting Records in the Friends Library in Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania FHL Collection.

For Orthodox records:
Quaker Collection
Haverford College Library
Haverford, PA 19041
Telephone: 610-896-1175
Fax: 610-896-1102


Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Next, go to the Wiki article for your ancestors' denomination.[edit | edit source]

There are frequently additional, nationwide or regional archives and online collections for each denomination. Find the article for your ancestors' denomination and follow the instructions there to access these sources.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations



Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details


Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "100 Years of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese 1843–1943," Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Summer 1990):9-33. FHL Book 974.8 B2wg.
  2. Frank J. Klingberg, "The Anglican Minority in Colonial Pennsylvania with Particular Reference to the Indian," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Jul. 1941):276-299. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  3. Philip Syng Physick Conner, "Registers of the Anglican Church in Pennsylvania prior to 1800," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 12 (1888):341-349. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Map of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United States of America, Office of Catholic Schools Diocese of Columbus, accessed 3 Nov 2010.