Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Resources for Pennsylvania Research

Carnegie-Mellon University Campus
 Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
The a3Genealogy researchers have been laboring of late in Pennsylvania research.  First there was the migratory paths project from PA to the Missouri Rhineland research, and then a large Quaker Study media project. Right when I thought we were done with PA for just a short while, I labored over a resourceful article on researching almshouses and institutionalized hospitals, that is chocked full of tips to uncover your institutionalized ancestors in a “closed state.”  This article will be published in the upcoming Pennsylvania Legacies, Historical Society of PA and it also shares light on other states.  This has been our summer. 

Brickwall Horror Show

Then, to top it off we have two rather pesty brickwalls that demanded a visit to PA. They represent the horror shows of genealogy: name changes, early deaths, PA to MO migration in 1840’s, widows remarry, repeat family names, no marriages records (or wills, or deeds or court records) to identify parentage or dates. Yep, long on family folklore, short on proof.  But, we did add to our possible hint list as we visited some fun repositories. 

Our favorite in Philadelphia was the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Well that was just fun. Just scouring the card catalog opened our eyes to surnames and spelling options.  Ask yourself, how many ways can you really spell Barnds.  Oh, oh, I know.  There’s Barndz, Bards, Barnitz, Barns, Bard, and of course Barnes.  And yes, we found our subject using all those surname spellings.  There were Bible Records in books - great way to find a marriage.  Thank you Charles!  And, county books, that placed the family first in Lycoming and Clinton County vs Washington County PA.  It was here that we learned that Dunstable township changed counties and the family was very active in the United Methodist Church, not just the Lutheran / Episcopalian church of latter years.. That was just from the old fashion card catalog. But we still didn’t have answers to our critical objectives so off to Pittsburgh.

Church Reviews
Understanding PA German church structure/evolution is essential.  You will need to study this on your own before an undertaking like this but here’s a basic summary. 

Unscrambling Misconceptions
Dutch PA Church = German Reform church not Netherlands
Anabaptists = Amish, and Mennonites.  Think religious freedom but often poor records, with the occasional family bible.

Then you have the following:
Lutheran --àEvangelical Lutheran Church
Reformed --à United Church of Christ
Moravians --à Unitas Fratrum, “Unity of the Brethren”
Roman Catholics

More complicated than it needs to be, but your understanding of the church names and its evolution will solve half your battles and allow you to focus your research.  And, quite frankly from this you will know what to expect.  Whereas the top ones on the list have good records, I cannot say the same for early United Methodist Church records.  For success, you may need to snuff out the pastors in hopes of getting detailed pastoral records that may assist with your family’s migration within the state, and across the nation. 


If time is limited, as it was for me, you will want to surely visit the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society library located at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, next to Carnegie Mellon University.  (See comment below- corrected 2 Dec 2017). Here there were some great finds. 

It was here that I found more information on the Western PA Conference United Methodist Church (WPAUMC) and a few helpful resources like the Pastoral Records extracts.  This led me to the original church records needed also. 

The most delightful reference books however were the compilations of Deaths 1834-1855 and Marriages 1834-1855 and Marriages of 1856-1865 “gleaned from” The Pittsburgh Christian Advocate.

Other Resources
This research requires the genealogists to be heavily armed. 

  •         One of our favorite tools is the Methodism in Western PA 1784-1968 by Wallace Guy Smeltzer, D. D. Editor.  You may not only uncover your ancestor mentioned in the Ministerial Records, but also in various Appointments.
  •         Also,  the Western Pennsylvania conference United Methodist Church 1784-1986, provides Pastoral Appointments to Churches. 
All of our objectives have not yet been met, and we are still ferreting out hints to verify and confirm kinships, but answers are slowly trickling in. And where there was a solid brickwall, we are seeing rays of sunlight peeking through. 

Of course we had to add one more spelling of the name: Barndtz!

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers