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

In an innovative partnership with the Pennsylvania State Archives is making family history records available free of charge to Commonwealth residents. began digitizing selected collections held by the State Archives that are of interest to genealogists four years ago. To date millions of pages have been digitized at no cost to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), which administers the Archives.

“This is an incredibly exciting project for PHMC and individuals who are conducting family research,” says State Archivist David A. Haury. “We went live with free access in late August 2013. Previously researchers needed to visit the Archives search room or an institution such as a public library with free access or purchase an membership. Now individuals can go to our website and beneath ‘Use the Resources of the State Archives’ click Pennsylvania, and then enter their zip code, have it verified and access our documents without a fee. Not all of the documents are free through this link, just the records digitized by Ancestry at the State Archives.”

Haury says assigned a fulltime staff member to work at the Archives. Currently public birth and death records are being digitized which will account for an additional eight million pages when completed; scanning should be completed by the end of 2013 and indexing in late 2014. Pennsylvania’s Civil War Muster Rolls were also scanned in 2013 and will be available in 2014.

Currently available Pennsylvania collections include Veterans Burial Cards, 1777-1999; Land Warrants and Applications, 1733-1952; Naturalizations, 1794-1908; Septennial Census, 1779-1863; and WPA Church Archives, 1937-1940, among others. Users of Pennsylvania accessed more than three million records in 2013.


The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience

The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience, published by the Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, in partnership with Pennsylvania Civil War 150 to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, has just been released. Convened by PHMC, Pennsylvania Civil War 150 is a statewide alliance of history, heritage, arts and cultural organizations from throughout the Commonwealth to respectfully observe and interpret this significant benchmark in the Keystone State’s history.

The Civil War in Pennsylvania, edited by Samuel W. Black, director of African American Programs at the Heinz History Center, reveals the little known but extremely important stories of blacks and the Civil War. The book “explores the roles that blacks in Pennsylvania played as active participants in their quest for freedom, nationhood, and self-determination before, during, and after the Civil War,” writes Black in the introduction. “Various aspects of their quest for freedom indicate that there existed an anticipation of violence and armed struggle if not war to end bondage in America. This anticipation is best exemplified in the rhetoric and activism of free men and women in Pennsylvania in the years leading up to the war. This work goes beyond the battlefield, however. It treats the war with circumspection to understand it from an African American point of view. That perspective defined the war as a fight over slavery and the opportunity to liberate Africans from bondage. It did not treat the war as an opportunity to restore the Union, but to build a new Union that included freedom for all – black and white together.”

The book is divided into three sections: “The Early Impact of Race, Politics, and Freedom,” “In Search of Freedom: Migration, Emigration, or Just Stay Put,” and “The War to End Slavery: On the Road to Freedom.” It includes chapters by historians and scholars, among them Kellie Carter Jackson (“‘At the Risk of Our Own Lives’: Violence and the Fugitive Slave Law in Pennsylvania”), Leslie M. Alexander (“A Land of Promise, Emigration and Pennsylvania’s Black Elite in the Era of the Haitian Revolution”) and Donald Scott (“Looking for a Fight: Camp William Penn and the United States Colored Troops in Pennsylvania”).