In 1833 Congress passed an act authorizing archivist Peter Force to create a national historical record entitled "American Archives." Although the series was discontinued in 1855 with only nine volumes published, it called attention to the need for preservation of documents and materials of historic value. In response, individual states began their own compilations.
Early records and minutes of Pennsylvania's Provincial Council were kept on loose sheets of paper, many handwritten by then Secretary James Logan. After being preserved for many years by Logan's family, the papers were donated to the archives of several societies. A movement was undertaken to collect and record all of these loose sheets. As a result the Pennsylvania legislature, acting on the suggestion of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, authorized publication of the series "The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania" in 1837. Three volumes were printed by 1840 when a financial panic put the project on hold. It was revived a decade later with the broader objective of gathering and publishing all available documents through the state constitution of 1789-1790. This series eventually totaled sixteen volumes, its unedited content arranged in chronological order.
In 1851 it was determined that an individual should be named to select and arrange for publication of all papers held by the State Department dealing with Pennsylvania's colonial and revolutionary history. Samuel Hazard was named to this position and it was he who edited the first series of the "Pennsylvania Archives." The remaining eight series were edited by an assortment of equally qualified historians including John B. Linn, William Henry Egle, and Thomas Lynch Montgomery.
The combination of the "Colonial Records" and the "Pennsylvania Archives" is today commonly referred to as the "published Pennsylvania Archives" (hereafter: PPA.) At 138 volumes the ten-series set is an overwhelming resource. There is no easy way to acclimate oneself to the PPA. Becoming adept at searching it is only accomplished by studying the volumes themselves, although a number of research guides have been published and can speed the process. Spending time with the PPA, however, is guaranteed to be of immense value to any Pennsylvania genealogist or historian.
The following is a brief summary of the PPA contents this genealogy researcher most frequently consults. It should not be considered comprehensive and the reader is heartily encouraged to review all series and draw his own conclusions.
Second Series - Revolutionary War officers, soldiers and Navy personnel; muster rolls for the War of 1812; oaths of allegiance; early Pennsylvania marriages; papers relating to the boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the Whiskey InsurrectionThe complete PPA can be found at larger libraries and at some historical/genealogical societies. A complete set can be found at the Pennsylvania State Archives in both hard copy and microfilm formats. It is also freely accessible in separate entries on Google Books, and there is a searchable version on Footnote. ~SH
Third Series - land warrants; accounts of donation lands; tax records by county; militia rolls; papers related to Virginia's claim on Western Pennsylvania
Fifth Series - ships registers; muster and militia rolls for French and Indian Wars and Revolution
Sixth Series - continuation of above muster and militia rolls; early baptisms, marriages, and marriage licenses (1784-86); records relating to War of 1812 and Mexican War; election returns; index to Fifth Series
Seventh Series - index to first fifteen volumes of the Sixth Series (surname index to more than one million names)