Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy

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United States
Pennsylvania
Chester County

Guide to Chester County, Pennsylvania ancestry, family history and genealogy in courthouse sources including birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, wills, deeds and land records, Civil War records, Revolutionary War records, family histories, cemeteries, churches, tax records, newspapers, and obituaries.


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Chester County, Pennsylvania
Map
Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Chester County
Location in the state of Pennsylvania
Map of the U.S. highlighting Pennsylvania
Location of Pennsylvania in the U.S.
Facts
Founded March 10, 1682
County Seat West Chester
Courthouse
Chester County, Pennsylvania Courthouse.jpg
Address Chester County
2 North High Street
PO Box 2748
West Chester, PA 19380-0991
Chester County Website
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Chester County Pennsylvania Historical Facts

Beginning dates for major county records
Birth
Marriage
Death
Land
Probate
1893
1885
1893
1688
1713

Parent Counties: Created from Colonial Lands 10 March 1682.[1]

County Seat: West Chester

Neighboring Counties: Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy residents may also have records in:[2]

Many Scots-Irish immigrants settled in Chester County in the early eighteenth century.[3]

Description

The county was named for Chester, England. It's county seat is West Chester. It was organized November 1682. It is located in the Southeast section of the state.[4]

Boundary Changes

14 October 1728: West part set off to form Lancaster County. [1]

26 September 1789: Southeast part set off to form Delaware County. [1]

For animated maps illustrating Pennsylvania county boundary changes, "Rotating Formation Pennsylvania County Boundary Maps" (1673-1878) may be viewed for free at the MapofUS.org website.

Records Loss

There is no known history of courthouse disasters in this county.

Chester County Pennsylvania Genealogy Resources

Bible Records

Biographies

Cemeteries

Tombstone Transcriptions Online Tombstone Transcriptions in Print List of Cemeteries in the county
Findagrave.com Family History Library Findagrave.com
PA Cemeteries WorldCat BillionGraves
PAGenWeb Archives Linkpendium
Tombstone Photos PAGravestones
PA-Roots Epodunk
BillionGraves (name) Interment
See Pennsylvania Cemeteries for more information.

Additional Cemetery Resources

Census

For tips on accessing Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Federal (or United States) census records online, see: Pennsylvania Census.

There are no county or state census records available for Pennsylvania. County and city tax records can be used as a substitute when census records are not available.

Chester County Archives:

Church Records

Church records and the information they provide vary significantly depending on the denomination and the record keeper. They may contain information about members of the congregation, such as age, date of baptism, christening, or birth; marriage information and maiden names; and death date. In Pennsylvania, church records are often used as a substitute for birth, marriage, and death information. For general information about Pennsylvania denominations, view the Pennsylvania Church Records wiki page.


Chester county pennsylvania churches.png
Finding Church Records at Other Repositories

Additional church records can sometimes be found using search phrases such as Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Church Records  in online catalogs like:


County-wide Database - Multi-denominational
Contains church records of:
  • Chester Springs: St. Matthew's United Church of Christ; St. Peter's Pikeland United Church of Christ
  • Coatesville: Friendship United Methodist Church; Presbyterian Church; The Presbyterian Church of Coatesville
  • Compass: St. John's Episcopal Church
  • Downingtown: Central Presbyterian Church; Messiah Lutheran Church; St. James Church; St. James Episcopal Church; St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church; United Methodist Church
  • East Coventry: Coventry Mennonite Cemetery
  • Elk Ridge: Elk Ridge Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Kerford: Oak Grove Cemetery
  • Landenberg: United Methodist Church
  • New London: New London Methodist Episcopal Church; Protestant Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist; St. John's Episcopal Church
  • Oxford: Oxford Circuit Methodist Episcopal Church; St. Andrew's Church
  • Paoli: Salem Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Parkesburg: First United Presbyterian Church of Parkesburg
  • Philadelphia: Norris Square Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Phoenixville: St. Peter's Chapel; St. Peter's Episcopal Church; United Church of Christ - Hungarian Reformed
  • Salem: Salem Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Spring City: Vincent Mennonite Cemetery
  • West Bradford: Marshallton United Methodist Church
  • West Chester: Church of the Holy Trinity; Oakland Cemetery; St. Agnes' Roman Catholic Cemetery
  • West Marlborough: St. James Church
  • West Nantmeal: Goodwill United Methodist Church
  • West Vincent: St. Matthew's United Church of Christ
  • West Whiteland: Grove United Methodist Church
Contains Quaker monthly meeting records from Kennett, Bradford, Goshen, Nottingham, New Garden, Sadsbury, Uwchlan, Londongrove, Birmingham, and Fallowfield. Includes baptisms from Zion's Lutheran Church in Pikeland Township; East Vincent Reformed Church in Vincent Township; Brownbacks German Reformed Church in Coventry Township; Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church; Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church; and records of Rev. John Casper Stoever.
Brethren
Episcopalian

The earliest of the Episcopal churches is St. John's Pequra Episcopal church in Compassville.[5]

St. John's Church, New London

Early registers are lost. Surviving records begin in 1824.[6]

Trinity Church, Oxford

Early registers are lost.[6] For a history, see:

Lutheran

Zion's or Old Organ Lutheran Church, East Pikeland Township

Presbyterian

Brandywine Manor Presbyterian Church

Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church aka New Londonderry Presbyterian Church

Fairview Presbyterian Church, Glenmoore

Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church

Kennett Square Presbyterian Church

Penningtonville Presbyterian Church, Atglen

Quaker

Quakers did exist in the Chester County area prior to the arrival of William Penn. William Edmundson, minister of the Society of Friends, met with Robert Wade in about 1675 and held a meeting. The first official meeting did not occur until 1681 at the home of Mr. Wade. This meeting, held at Mr. Wade's house would eventually become the Chester Monthly Meeting. Meetings were first held in members homes but as the congregation grew separate meeting houses were built. The earliest meetings in what is now Chester County were: Goshen, Uwchlan, Caln, Kennett, Birmingham, Nottingham, West Nottingham, New Garden, London Grove Bradford and Valley.[8]

Early Quaker monthly meetings (with years established):

Reformed

Reformed Church, East Vincent

Vincent Reformed Church, East Vincent Township

Court Records

Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy court records are housed at the Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Courthouse. For many counties copies of court records may be found at the Pennsylvania State Archives and in the FamilySearch collection. Note that within these collections some films may contain the same records, but have different titles. Other titles are not duplicates. See Finding Court Records at other repositories within this section for links to the online catalogs for these two collections. Films at the Pennsylvania State Archives are not available for inter-library loan. If court records are available FamilySearch films may be available at a local Family History Center. Call ahead for availability.


Court of Common Pleas

The Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts of Pennsylvania. Major civil and criminal cases are heard in these courts. Judges also decide cases involving adoption, divorce, child custody, abuse, juvenile delinquency, estates, guardianships, charitable organizations and many other matters. The Common Pleas courts are organized into 60 judicial districts. Chester County has its own judicial district. Judges of the Common Pleas courts are elected to 10-year terms. A president judge and a court administrator serve in each judicial district.[10]

Clerk of the Court

The Clerk of Courts prepares and maintains the records for the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas. The Clerk signs and affixes the Seal of the Courts to all writs and processes, administers oaths and affirmations, and assumes custody of the seal and records of the Courts. The Clerk certifies and distributes orders of the Court. The Clerk also certifies and prepares bills of costs for the defendants and utilizes the computerized financial management system to disburse fines, costs and restitution.[11] For the Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Clerk of Courts address see the Courthouse section on this page.


Prothonotary

The office of the Prothonotary is the custodian of all civil matters in the county. This includes naturalization, immigration, equity actions, judgements, federal and local tax liens, city liens, family court, arbitrations, license suspension appeals, appeals to higher court, commercial code filings, applications for passports and divorce proceedings. See the Courthouse section on this page for the Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Prothonotary office information.


Orphans' Court

See Vital Records
The Orphans' Court is responsible for a wide range of matters. The name of the Court is derived from the more general definition of "orphan," that being a person or thing that is without protective affiliation or sponsorship. This would include those not capable of handling their own affairs, minors, incapacitated persons, decedents estates, nonprofit corporations and trusts. It is the role of the Court to ensure that the best interests of the person or entity are not compromised.

It is believed the name of this court was borrowed from the Court of Orphans of the city of London, England which had the care and guardianship of children of deceased citizens, in their minority.[12]

For Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Orphans' Court contact information see the Courthouse section on this page.


Chester County Archive Online Indexes

Chester County Court Abstracts Online

Finding Court Records at Other Repositories

Additional court records can sometimes be found using search phrases such as Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Court Records in online catalogs like:


Emigration and Immigration

For information about emigration into Pennsylvania, see the Pennsylvania Emigration and Immigration page.


Ethnic Groups

Germans

Gazetteers

Genealogy

History

Hunting prepared a map and a list of those who settled in Darby Township up through 1760:

Published Histories

Land and Property

Land records in Chester County began in 1688. These records are filed with the Recorder of Deeds office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Land and property records can place an ancestor in a particular location, provide economic information, and reveal family relationships. Land records include: deeds, abstracts, indexes, mortgages, leases, grants, sheriff sales, land patents, and maps. Property records include liens as well as livestock brands and estray records.

The following are examples of available resources:

Online Land Records

Land Records on Microfilm

Additional Resources

Note that the "Maps" section below includes maps related to land ownership.

See Pennsylvania Land and Property for more information about using land records, especially about original land warrants, surveys, and patents filed at the state land office.

Additional resources can sometimes be found using search phrases such as Chester County Pennsylvania Land in online catalogs such as:

Maps

Chester County

Migration

Military

Revolutionary War

Local men served in the Chester County Militia. A guide at the Pennsylvania State Archives website identifies townships where specific companies recruited soldiers, see Revolutionary War Militia Battalions and Companies, Arranged by County.

Chester County men also served in the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment,[13] the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment,[14] and the 9th Pennsylvania Regiment.[15]

War of 1812
Civil War
Chester County Archives

Naturalization and Citizenship

Naturalization records can contain information about immigration and nativity. Prior to 1906, it is rare to find the town of origin in naturalization records. See Pennsylvania Naturalization for more information about the types of records and availability.

Naturalizations granted at the county level were kept by the office of the Prothonotary. Naturalizations could also be granted on the Federal Court level.


Naturalization records available for Chester County, Pennsylvania include the following:

Online Naturalization Indexes and Records

Original Naturalization Records on Microfilm

Finding Naturalization Indexes at Other Repositories

Additional naturalization indexes can sometimes be found using search phrases such as Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy naturalization in online catalogs like:

Newspapers

Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy newspapers may contain genealogical value including obituaries, births, marriages, deaths, anniversaries, family gatherings, family travel, achievements, business notices, engagement information, and probate court proceedings.

To access newspapers, contact public libraries, historical/genealogical societies, college or university libraries, or state archives in the area where the newspaper was published.

For information on state-wide newspapers see Pennsylvania Newspapers


Newspapers of Chester County

Online Newspapers

To learn if there are newspapers online for a specific town or city in Pennsylvania, see news.google.com/newspapers and search for the town or the name of a newspaper.

Online Newspaper Abstracts

Newspaper Excerpts and Abstracts

Obituaries

Obituaries are generally found in local newspapers where the person died. However, sometimes an obituary is found in the location from which he or she originated. To find an obituary, see the information under the Newspaper heading


Online Obituary Abstracts

Obituary Excerpts and Abstracts

Occupations

Indentured Servants



Officials

Periodicals

Poorhouse, Almshouse

Probate Records

Probate matters in Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy are handled by the Orphans' Court and start when the county was created. To obtain original probate records, contact the Orphan's Court in the County Courthouse.

In addition to wills and administrations, the Orphans' Court also handles: audits of accounts of executors, administrators, trustees, and guardians; distribution of estates of decedents, incompetents, and minors; appointment and control of guardians; adoptions; appeals from the Register of Wills involving probate matters; inheritance tax appeals and various petitions and motions.


Online Probate Indexes

Online Probate Records

Original probate records for some Pennsylvania counties are available free online as digital images at FamilySearch.org. The dates vary significantly for each county and not all counties are listed. Some counties may only have probate indexes. This Pennsylvania collection of images may be browsed through the links listed below:

Complete Collection:

Chester County Only:

Online Probate Abstracts

Original Probate Records on Microfilm

Repositories

Archives

Chester County Archives
601 Westtown Road, Suite 080
West Chester, PA 19380-0990
Phone: 610.344.6760
Email: ccarchives@cc.org

The Chester County Archives was established in 1982 and holds almost 3,000 volumes and nearly two thousand cubic feet of original records. The Chester County Archives is run by the Chester County Historical Society and the County of Chester.

The Chester County Archives holds birth and death records (1852-1855, 1893-1906), marriage records (1852-1855, 1885-1930), wills and administrations (1714-1923), deed books (1688-1982), tax records (1715-1939), and more. The Chester County Archives has published online indexes to birth, marriage and death records, civil court records, land records, military records, naturalization records, probate records, tax records, and more.

The Pennsylvania Archives collection contains county archive records that can be searched onsite. Currently the Archives' staff cannot provide research or make copies of these records. Their collections include Almshouse Registers; Tax records; Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes and Records; Midwife records; African American records; Wills; Deeds; Naturalizations; Coroner's inquests; and Orphan's Court dockets. A list of the Archive's county holdings are on Microfilm or Manuscript form.


National Archives at Philadelphia
14700 Townsend Road
Philadelphia, PA 19154-1096
Phone: (215) 305-2044
Fax: (215) 305-2052

Courthouse

Chester County Courthouse
313 West Market St
P.O. Box 2748
West Chester, PA 19380-0991
Phone: 610-344-6000

The Archives (see above) holds birth and death records, marriages records, early deeds, wills and administrations, and more.

Recorder of Deeds
313 W Market Street, Suite 3302
P.B.Box 2748
West Chester, PA 193801-0991
Phone: 610-344-6330
Older deeds can be found in the County Archives.

Prothonotary
201 W. Market Street
Suite 1425
P.O. Box 2746
West Chester, PA 19380-0989
Phone: 610-344-6300

Register of Wills/Orphans' Court
201 W Market Street
Suite 2200
West Chester, PA 19380-0989
Phone: 610.344.6335

Family History Centers

Family history centers provide one-on-one assistance and free access to premium genealogical websites. In addition, many centers have free how-to genealogy classes. See family history center for more information. Search the online FHC directory for a nearby family history center. Family History Centers (FHCs) are branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and are located all over the world. Their goal is to provide resources for family history research.

The main FHC for Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy is the Valley Forge Pennsylvania Family History Center. For additional nearby Family History Centers, search online in the FHC directory.


Libraries

The Mennonite Heritage Center - Historical Library and Archives
565 Yoder Road
Harleysville, PA 19438-1020
Phone: 215-256-3020

The Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania support the John L. Ruth Historical Library and Museum at the Mennonite Heritage Center. Located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania the records and resources of this treasure also cover the counties of Bucks, Chester, Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, and Philadelphia. The website provides a comprehensive overview of library resources, online cemetery database, manuscript collections, photo collections, archival collections, and more.
Museums
Societies

Chester County Historical Society
The History Center
225 N High Street
West Chester, PA 19380-2658
Phone 610.692.4800

The History Center includes a museum, library, photo archives, and museum shop. The Chester County Historical Society also jointly administers the County Archives (see above). Check website for membership costs.

The Historical Society also jointly administers the County Archives (see above).

Slavery and Bondage

Taxation

Vital Records

Vital records are handled by the County Orphans' Court. Between the years 1852-1855 Pennsylvania made a failed attempt to record birth, marriage and death events at the county level. While the records for that time period are available, there were few events recorded. County marriage records were kept in earnest in 1885. Births and deaths, at the county level, were begun in 1893 and kept through 1905. Abstracts and copies of vital records are available for some counties, but most are incomplete. For the most complete set of records, always contact the County Orphans' Court.


See also How to order Pennsylvania Vital Records

Birth

Early births 1893–1905 are located at the County Orphans' Court. See the heading Court Records on this page for contact information.

Indexes for Pennsylvania birth records are available through the Department of of Health for 1906 and 1907. Once an individual is located in the index a non certified Birth certificate can be obtained by writing and sending $3.00 to:

Division of Vital Records
ATTN: Public Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103



Marriage

Pennsylvania marriages are located at the county level. Contact the Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy clerk's office for these records.

Divorce

Divorce records are available through the office of the Prothonotary. The office of the Prothonotary is located in the courthouse building.

Death

Early deaths 1893–1905 are located at the County Orphans' Court. See the heading Court Records on this page for contact information.

Indexes for Pennsylvania death records are available through the Department of Health for 1906 through 1962. Once an individual is located in the index a non certified death certificate can be obtained obtained by writing and sending $3.00 to:

Division of Vital Records
ATTN: Public Records
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103


Finding Vital Records at Other Repositories

Additional vital records can sometimes be found using search phrases such as Chester County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Vital Records in online catalogs like:


Genealogy Societies and Libraries

Chester County Pennsylvania Genealogy Websites

Chester County Pennsylvania Places

Populated Places

City

Boroughs

  • Atglen
  • Avondale
  • Downingtown
  • Elverson
  • Honey Brook
  • Kennett Square
  • Malvern
  • Modena
  • Oxford
  • Parkesburg
  • Phoenixville
  • South Coatesville
  • Spring City
  • West Chester
  • West Grove

Townships

  • Birmingham
  • Caln
  • Charlestown
  • East Bradford
  • East Brandywine
  • East Caln
  • East Coventry
  • East Fallowfield
  • East Goshen
  • East Marlborough
  • East Nantmeal
  • East Nottingham
  • East Pikeland
  • East Vincent
  • East Whiteland
  • Easttown
  • Elk
  • Franklin
  • Highland
  • Honey Brook
  • Kennett
  • London Britain
  • London Grove
  • Londonderry
  • Lower Oxford
  • New Garden
  • New London
  • Newlin
  • North Coventry
  • Penn
  • Pennsbury
  • Pocopson
  • Sadsbury
  • Schuylkill
  • South Coventry
  • Thornbury
  • Tredyffrin
  • Upper Oxford
  • Upper Uwchlan
  • Uwchlan
  • Valley
  • Wallace
  • Warwick
  • West Bradford
  • West Brandywine
  • West Caln
  • West Fallowfield
  • West Goshen
  • West Marlborough
  • West Nantmeal
  • West Nottingham
  • West Pikeland
  • West Sadsbury
  • West Vincent
  • West Whiteland
  • Westtown
  • Willistown

Communities

  • Birchrunville
  • Chester Springs
  • Chesterbrook
  • Cheyney
  • Daylesford
  • Devon-Berwyn
  • Embreeville
  • Exton
  • Kemblesville
  • Kenilworth
  • Kimberton
  • Knauertown
  • Lionville-Marchwood
  • Marshallton
  • Nottingham
  • Paoli
  • South Pottstown
  • Southeastern
  • Strafford
  • Sugartown
  • Thorndale
  • Toughkenamon
  • Unionville
  • Valley Forge
  • Wayne
  • West Goshen
  • Willowdale

Chester County Pennsylvania Genealogy References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), [FHL book 973 D27e 2002].
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Chester County, Pennsylvania" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chester_County,_Pennsylvania (accessed 17 July 2012).
  3. Wayland F. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1944), 50. Free digital version at PA's Past: Digital Bookshelf at Penn State.
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chester_County,_Pennsylvania accessed 2/1/2017
  5. W.W. Thomson "Chester County and Its People" (Chicago and New York: The Union History Company, 1898), 832. WorldCat 14691246; FHL book 974.813 H2t
  6. 6.0 6.1 Philip Syng Physick Conner,"Registers of the Anglican Church in Pennsylvania prior to 1800," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 12 (1888):341-349. For free online access, see WeRelate.
  7. Genealogical Society of Utah, Parish and Vital Records List (July 1998). Microfiche. Digital version at https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/2/23/Igipennsylvaniac.pdf.
  8. W.W. Thomson, "Chester County and Its People" (Chicago and New York: The Union History Company, 1898), 740-745, WorldCat 14691246; FHL book 974.813 H2t
  9. William Wade Hinshaw and Phyllis J. Selby, The William Wade Hinshaw Index to Pennsylvania Quaker Meeting Records (Kokomo, Ind.: Selby Publishing and Printing, 1990). Vol. 1. FHL Book 974.8 K2w
  10. The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania http://www.pacourts.us/T/CommonPleas/ accessed 10 July 2012.
  11. Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, Clerk of Courts in http://www.pacourts.us/T/CommonPleas/ClerksOfCourts.htm (accessed 25 Aug 2012)
  12. The Philadelphia Courts at http://www.courts.phila.gov/common-pleas/orphans/ accessed 10 July 2012
  13. John B.B. Trussell and Charles C. Dallas, The Pennsylvania Line; Regimental Organization and Operations, 1776-1783 (Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1977). Digital version at Family History Archive.
  14. Wikipedia contributors, "6th Pennsylvania Regiment," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6th_Pennsylvania_Regiment, accessed 31 May 2012.
  15. Wikipedia contributors, "9th Pennsylvania Regiment," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9th_Pennsylvania_Regiment, accessed 31 May 2012.
  16. Genealogical Society of Utah, Parish and Vital Records List (July 1998). Microfiche. Digital version at https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/2/23/Igipennsylvaniac.pdf.
  17. Genealogical Society of Utah, Parish and Vital Records List (July 1998). Microfiche. Digital version at https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/2/23/Igipennsylvaniac.pdf.
  18. Genealogical Society of Utah, Parish and Vital Records List (July 1998). Microfiche. Digital version at https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/2/23/Igipennsylvaniac.pdf.
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