History & Facts of Pennsylvania Counties

Pennsylvania County records vary widely from county to county in both quality and quantity. Some have been carefully preserved while others have been much abused and neglected. Some Pennsylvania records have simply disappeared. For genealogists doing research in Pennsylvania there is no effective replace for an on-site search of county courthouse records.

Each county serves as the local level of government within its borders. The main political unit in each Pennsylvania county is the township. Townships may include cities, boroughs, and incorporated towns. Each of those would then have their own forms of government on the local level.

There are 67 counties that exist in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Each one holds records that may include: Land, Estates, Taxes, Vital Records, Divorces, Naturalizations, Voter Registration, Court Records.

Other records may also be included. However, other resources do need to be consulted. For example, the orphans' court or register's office should be consulted for estate records.

Philadelphia became home to an archives in 1952. It is not only the oldest city archives in the state, but also in the entire United States. In 1982, the first county archives in the state was created in Chester County. All other archives in Pennsylvania were modeled after it. Several other archives are currently being established in the state.

Pennsylvania Counties

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Adams 1800 York County Gettysburg
Allegheny 1788 Washington and Westmoreland Counties. Pittsburgh
Armstrong 1800 Allegheny, Lycoming, and Westmoreland Counties Kittanning
Beaver 1800 Allegheny and Washington Counties Beaver
Bedford 1771 Cumberland County Bedford
Berks 1752 Chester, Lancaster and Philadelphia Counties Reading
Blair 1846 Huntingdon and Bedford Counties Hollidaysburg
Bradford 1810 Luzerne and Lycoming Counties Towanda
Bucks 1682 One of the original counties at the formation of Pennsylvania Doylestown
Butler 1800 Allegheny County Butler
Cambria 1804 Somerset and Huntingdon Counties. Ebensburg
Cameron 1860 Clinton, Elk, McKean, and Potter Counties. Emporium
Carbon 1843 Monroe and Northampton Counties. Jim Thorpe
Centre 1800 Lycoming, Mifflin, Northumberland, and Huntingdon Counties. Bellefonte
Chester 1682 One of the original counties at the formation of Pennsylvania. West Chester
Clarion 1839 Venango and Armstrong Counties Clarion
Clearfield 1804 Lycoming and Huntingdon Counties Clearfield
Clinton 1839 Lycoming and Centre Counties. Lock Haven
Columbia 1813 Northumberland and Luzerne Counties. Bloomsburg
Crawford 1800 Allegheny County Meadville
Cumberland 1750 Lancaster County Carlisle
Dauphin 1785 Lancaster County Harrisburg
Delaware 1789 Chester County Media
Elk 1843 Jefferson, McKean, and Clearfield Counties. Ridgway
Erie 1800 Allegheny County Erie
Fayette 1783 Westmoreland County Uniontown
Forest 1848 Jefferson County Tionesta
Franklin 1784 Cumberland County Chambersburg
Fulton 1850 Bedford County McConnellsburg
Greene 1796 Washington County Waynesburg
Huntingdon 1787 Bedford County Huntingdon
Indiana 1803 Lycoming and Westmoreland Counties Indiana
Jefferson 1804 Lycoming County Brookville
Juniata 1831 Mifflin County Mifflintown
Lackawanna 1878 Luzerne County Scranton
Lancaster 1729 Chester County Lancaster
Lawrence 1849 Beaver and Mercer Counties New Castle
Lebanon 1813 Dauphin and Lancaster Counties Lebanon
Lehigh 1812 Northampton County Allentown
Luzerne 1786 Northumberland County Wilkes-Barre
Lycoming 1795 Northumberland County Williamsport
McKean 1804 Lycoming County Smethport
Mercer 1800 Allegheny County Mercer
Mifflin 1789 Cumberland and Northumberland Counties. Lewistown
Monroe 1836 Pike and Northampton Counties. Stroudsburg
Montour 1784 Philadelphia County Norristown
Montgomery 1850 Columbia County Danville
Northampton 1752 Bucks County Easton
Northumberland 1772 Lancaster, Berks, Bedford, Cumberland, and Northampton Counties Sunbury
Perry 1820 Cumberland County New Bloomfield
Philadelphia 1682 One of the original counties at the formation of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia
Pike 1814 Wayne County Milford
Potter 1804 Lycoming County Coudersport
Schuylkill 1811 Berks and Northampton Counties. Pottsville
Snyder 1855 Union County Middleburg
Somerset 1795 Bedford County Somerset
Sullivan 1847 Lycoming County Laporte
Susquehanna 1810 Luzerne County Montrose
Tioga 1804 Lycoming County Wellsboro
Union 1813 Northumberland County Lewisburg
Venango 1800 Allegheny and Lycoming Counties Franklin
Warren 1800 Allegheny and Lycoming counties Warren
Washington 1781 Westmoreland County Washington
Wayne 1798 Northampton County Honesdale
Westmoreland 1773 Bedford County Greensburg
Wyoming 1842 Luzerne County Tunkhannock
York 1749 Lancaster County York

Pennsylvania Extinct Counties

Pennsylvania has counties that no longer exist. They were established by the state, provincial, or territorial government. Most of these counties were created and disbanded in the 19th century; county boundaries have changed little since 1900 in the vast majority of states. These counties need to be looked at when doing genealogy research. Pay close attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was abolished or combined with another county.

Pennsylvania Counties with Burned Courthouses

The damage to courthouses greatly has a bearing on genealogists in every way. No only are these historic structures torn from our lifetimes, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others. Once destroyed they're lost forever. Although they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn too. The most heartbreaking side of this is the reason that nearly all of our courthouses are destroyed at the hands of arsonist. Although, not all records were lost. Many Pennsylvania counties have suffered a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.

  • Erie County Courthouse: A courthouse fire destroyed pre-1823 records.
  • Franklin County Courthouse: burned in 1864 during the McCausland raid .
  • Mercer County Courthouse: burned in 1866, second courthouse burned in 1907
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