Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The Works Progress Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal provided funding for many historical research and publication projects, including the Pennsylvania Historical Records Survey charged with compiling inventories of various public records. The Inventory of Church Archives of Pennsylvania, including Records of Pennsylvania Jewish Congregations, 1937–1940, in Record Group 13 (series 13.108.116) of the Pennsylvania State Archives contains checklists, grantee indexes, and inventories documenting churches and synagogues throughout Pennsylvania.

The materials in this collection document the official names of institutions and the names by which the congregations were most commonly known, the addresses of congregations, the date originally formed, the date of formal organization, and the name of the founder or mother church body. The documentation includes changes in names over time, former addresses and dates of occupancy, method of organization, and properties purchased or sold, together with the dates of transactions and the identities of sellers and purchasers. The materials provide details about the types of buildings occupied, dates of their construction, consecration, and dedication, and architectural characteristics. Also given are the names of the first settled pastor or rabbi and his secular occupation and the then current pastor or rabbi and the date that individual commenced service, the status of the institution’s administrative records and minute books, and information on Sunday Schools, published and unpublished histories, directories, registers of baptisms, births, deaths, marriages, membership, and cemeteries.

One form in the collection provides a snapshot of the venerable Paxtang Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, which first held services as early as 1726 on what was then the edge of the colonial frontier. Erected in 1740, the stone building is the oldest Presbyterian house of worship in the Commonwealth. Early congregants, including the Reverend John Elder (1706–1792), carried rifles into the church every Sunday for two years to defend against Indian attacks during the French and Indian War, waged from 1754 to 1763. During Parson Elder’s tenure as pastor, male members of the congregation known as the Paxton Boys murdered the last of the Christianized Conestoga Indians living in Lancaster County’s Conestoga Manor in 1763, ostensibly in retaliation for murders of white settlers on the frontier by Native Americans.