Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Twenty-five years ago, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission moved to its present quarters at the corner of Third and North streets, across from the State Capitol. The new facility, known formally then as the William Penn Memorial Mu­seum and Archives Building, instantly attracted national recognition as a showcase for the collection, preservation, study, interpretation and exhi­bition of state history.

The State Archives is truly one of the Commonwealth’s great treasures. Although the public – especially school children – is more familiar with The State Museum of Pennsyl­vania, visitors to the Archives are always impressed with the quantity and quality of the documents and records available for research. The physical holdings of the State Archives include approximately 46,000 cubic feet of records – plus more than 900 maps, approxi­mately 400,000 photographic prints and negatives, and 600 audio recordings, motion picture films, microfilms and photostatic copies! Available on microfilm are county re­cords, including wills, deeds, slave registers, tax lists and federal census records for Pennsylvania.

Numbers alone do not sufficiently reveal the true value of the State Archives. The content of the collection is superb. The Land Records Office, for example, contains original records of land granted by founder William Penn more than three centu­ries ago, as well as documents of state boundary lines and deeds for all property pres­ently owned by the Commonwealth.

Major record groups of the State Archives represent all branches of government, in­cluding the Proprietary Gov­ernment (1664-1776), Department of State (1681-1978), the Supreme and Supe­rior courts (1740-1971), General Assembly of Pennsylvania (1776-1974), Department of Forests and Waters (1897-1971), Department of Military Affairs (1793-1950), and Department of Education (1854-1969).

Of the nearly four thousand researchers that visit the Ar­chives each year, seventy per­cent are genealogists. Records of specific interest to them include passenger lists, pri­marily German and Swiss arrivals at the port of Philadel­phia between 1727 and 1808; official naturalization lists, dating from 1740 to 1773; naturalization records of the east­ern, southern and western districts of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; and records pertaining to military service. In addition to assisting these visitors, the Archives staff also responds to nearly forty-five hundred letters and more than two thousand telephone inqui­ries yearly. Both professional and avocational historians make frequent use of the offi­cial papers of twelve twentieth century governors. Other collections often examined by researchers include those concerning Pennsylvania’s forests, industry, transporta­tion and technology.

As state government’s role and activities have expanded, and as the contact points be­tween the state and the citizen have burgeoned, the impor­tance of public records has become better understood and appreciated. Units of local government, for instance, depend on the State Archives for records management serv­ices and security storage of microfilmed records.

Clearly, the Pennsylvania State Archives is an institution of enormous and far-reaching significance. Our staff remains dedicated to not only preserv­ing these rare and priceless treasures, but to making sure they are as easily accessible as possible, thus ensuring that researchers – no matter their purpose – may see, firsthand, the documents, photographs and films that chronicle what William Penn envisioned as “the seede of a nation.”

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director