Local Records Microfilming Project Continued by State Archives

News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Under a grant of $47,019 from the “records program” of the National Historical Publications and Records Com­mission (NHPRC), the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s (PHMC) Division of Archives and Manu­scripts (state archives) initiated a one year local records microfilming project in January 1979. At its fall 1979 meeting the NHPRC approved an additional grant of $56,569 which will enable the state archives to continue the filming project through 1980. The goals of the project are to insure the permanent preservation of at least a secur­ity copy of historically valuable local public records and to make these records more readily available to researchers. During the past year, the state archives was able to micro­film over 1,500 bound volumes and 30 boxes of original records created by county and municipal offices. Though the project concentrates primarily on the minutes of city and borough councils, other records such as county slave registers, estate inventories, minutes of municipal boards of health, tax assessments, ordinances, minutes of boards of county commissioners, and municipal birth, death and burial registers are also being filmed. Specific examples of the types of records already filmed include:

Slave Records
birth returns for negroes and mulattoes, I 788- 1826, Fayette County; negro register, 1782-1820, Washington County; register of negroes and mulattoes, 1800-1820, Adams County; register of slaves, ca. 1783-1830, Bucks County; returns for negroes and mulattoes, 1780-1833, Cumberland County

Birth and Death Records
register of births, 1875-1879, 1883-1886, and register of deaths, 1883-1886, 1892, Harrisburg; record of births, 1869-1917, Williamsport; record of births, 1888-1907, record of deaths, 1888-1907, and record of burials, 1888-1905, Easton; record of deaths, 1897-1907, Pottsville

Almshouse Records
lists of paupers, 1810-1833, poor house register, 1810-1838, record of indentured servants and appren­tices and accounts of the directors of the poor and house of employment, 1809-1893, Bucks County

Estate Records
registry of wills and letters of administration, 1684-1693, Bucks County; inventories of estates (Yohogania County, Va.), 1776-1781, Washington County

Minutes of Municipal Councils
Bristol, 1730-1825, 1843-1948; Lancaster, 1742- 1825, 1830-1895; York, 1787-1812, 1848-1930; Easton, 1790-1932; Huntingdon, 1800-1950; Gettys­burg, 1806-1933; Bellefonte, 1808-1838, 1872-1934; Pottsville, 1828-1936; Warren, 1832-1950; Pittsburgh (boroughs and townships annexed to the city), 1834- 1929; Allegheny City, 1840-1907; Monongahela City, 1852-1925; McKeesport, 1853-1882, 1891-1940

Minutes of Boards of County Commissioners
Chester County, 1740-1746, 1756-1828, 1835-1918; York County, 1749-1824; Bucks County, 1778-1875; Northumberland, 1786-1879

The state archives has been able to make a security copy of approximately 700,000 handwritten or typescript pages of historical records under the terms of the grant from the NHPRC. The creation of these microfilm copies is particu­larly timely and appropriate because many of the docu­ments are badly faded and in fragile condition. The brittle documents can now be “retired” from active use and a positive microfilm copy substituted to meet general research needs. The filming of the records also allows for the storage of a negative copy at a safe distance from the originals. Should some disaster befall a municipal, county or historical repository, a copy could be easily and quickly reproduced from the master negative. The importance of security microfilming is well illustrated by the significant gaps appearing in many of the record series. It is quite likely that the information contained on those missing records cannot be replaced. Though some of the records may be “discovered” at some future date, those that were destroyed by fires, floods or other disasters are lost forever.

Positive copies of all the rolls of microfilm produced by the local records project can be used in the archives search room located in the William Penn Memorial Museum and Archives building in Harrisburg. In some instances1 addi­tional copies are already available for use on the local level. Several municipalities have purchased sets of the film of their records and donated them to a local library or county historical society. Also, some county and regional historical repositories have purchased film relating to cities and boroughs in their area in order to strengthen their research collections. Though the vast bulk of the records that are temporarily transferred to the stale archives for filming come directly from municipal or county offices, historical societies with significant holdings of local public records, including the historical societies of Bucks, Chester and Cumberland counties and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, are also participating in the project.

Pennsylvania has over 5,000 units of county and munici­pal government which have generated a tremendous quan­tity of records of permanent administrative and historical value. The importance of such records to the office which created them, to the individual citizens whose rights they confirm and protect, and to the historical community is obvious. Local records must be preserved and studied if we are to know and appreciate the unique contributions of in­dividual communities and citizens to our state’s rich and diverse heritage. The eleven member Pennsylvania State Historical Records Advisory Board, which was created to assist the National Historical Publications and Records Commission in the evaluation of grant proposals and to identify major problem areas regarding the preservation of records in the Commonwealth, has placed the care of coun­ty and municipal records in its “highest priority” category of archival need. The local records microfilming project addresses itself directly to that need by guaranteeing the preservation and greater availability of a significant quan­tity of historical records. However, the project should be viewed primarily as a good beginning. since a much greater commitment of resources will be necessary if Pennsylvania is to adequately preserve and maintain the archives of its political subdivisions.

As of November 1979, the state archives had micro­filmed records of the following municipalities and county offices: Adams County Prothonotary, Bedford, Bellefonte, Bethlehem, Braddock, Bristol, Bucks County Commis­sioners, Bucks County Prothonotary, Canonsburg, Carlisle, Carnegie, Chambersburg, Chester County Commissioners, Clarion, Clearfield, Coatesville, Connellsville, Cumberland County Commissioners, Cumberland County Clerk of Courts, Danville, Downingtown, Doylestown, DuBois, Duquesne, Easton, Fayette County Prothonotary, Franklin, Gettysburg, Greencastle, Hanover, Harrisburg, Hazleton, Hollidaysburg, Huntingdon, Indiana, Kennett Square, Kingston, Kutztown, Lancaster, Lewisburg, Lewistown, Lock Haven, McKeesport, McKees Rocks, Manheim, Monongahela, Morrisville, New Castle, Norristown, Northum­berland County Commissioners, Oil City, Orwigsburg, Phoenixville, Pittsburgh, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Sharon, Shamokin, Shenandoah, Shippens­burg, Shrewsbury, Somerset, State College, Steelton, Sun­bury, Washington, Washington County Recorder of Deeds, Warren, Wellsboro, West Chester, West Easton, West Pitts­ton, Williamsport, Womelsdorf, Uniontown, York, York County Commissioners and Zelienople.

Those interested in obtaining further information about the project should contact archives staff members Frank Suran or Henry Bown at the PHMC, Division of Archives and Manuscripts, Box 1026, Harrisburg 17120, (717) 787-3023 or 3913.