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A resource for Pennsylvania’s fourth county

It was formed in 1729 from Chester County, Pennsylvania, the fourth county ever created in Pennsylvania, because of concerns of residents that “thieves, vagabonds, and ill people” had infested the rural areas — and it was just too far to the courthouse.1

Its earliest documented European settlers arrived in around 1710. It’s the birthplace adult home (thanks to Bob Monn for the correction) of James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States and the only Pennsylvania native to serve in that office. And it was the site of the Christiana resistance where armed African Americans and abolitionists fought back when a slavemaster tried to capture four fugitive slaves in 1851.2

It is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the Lancaster Family History Conference is underway, with field trips yesterday and workshops today, then continuing through the main multi-track sessions tomorrow. The Legal Genealogist is honored to be tomorrow’s keynote speaker in the conference’s 40th anniversary year.

One of more than 40 Lancaster Roots events, the Lancaster Family History Conference is under the aegis of the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, and that’s a major-league resource so many of us may have overlooked in our early Pennsylvania research.

Because it’s not just Mennonite history that’s available there.


Now… yes, of course, it does serve as a major repository of Mennonite records: “The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society serves as the official depository for records of the Atlantic Coast and Lancaster Conferences of the Mennonite Church. It also contains many records and publications of other organizations affiliated with those two conferences.”3 Anybody who’s doing Mennonite research ought to have this website bookmarked right at the top of the research list.

But almost across the board, in every category of material it holds, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society offerings are broader — broad enough to be high on the research list for anyone looking at Lancaster County history.

Look, for example, at the personal papers held by the Society. Yes, “Many of the persons whose collections are stored in the archives were leaders in the Lancaster Conference or Atlantic Coast Conference of the Mennonite Church or were active in mission work locally or abroad.”4 But also: “Some persons, however, were lay persons who–intentionally or unintentionally–have documented their stories through diaries, photographs, letters, and other materials.”5

Its manuscript collections include mostly unpublished hand- or type-written material including (just as examples) correspondence, deeds, diaries, maps and wills — oh, and a whole category called genealogical records.6

There are thousands and thousands of photographs — “from tintypes to cabinet cards to postcards to photographic prints and more” — and more than 9,000 of these can now be found in the online collections database.7

There are more than 1,700 clippings from newspapers that focus on Lancaster County schools that “primarily contain photographs of pupils and teachers posing in front of one-room schoolhouses throughout the area from 1875 into the 1960s” — many with identifications.8

Those clippings are available free online. Other records and resources available free online include a number of indexes (obituaries and more), cemetery record listing, and Family Bible downloads. Other online resources are for members only — and they make the $52 annual individual membership work the price in spades.

What other goodies can you hope to find? Well, just as one example, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society has the title search records of three Lancaster law firms — documenting 80-100 years of property ownership on nearly 3,000 Lancaster County properties.9

Take a look at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.

A terrific resource for research in Pennsylvania’s fourth county.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Meanwhile in Lancaster County,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 29 Mar 2019).


  1. See “Lancaster History : History Since 1729,” Lancaster County, Pennsylvania ( : accessed 29 Mar 2019).
  2. See Wikipedia (, “Lancaster County, Pennsylvania,” rev. 10 Mar 2019.
  3. Archives: Organizational Records,” Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society ( : accessed 29 Mar 2019).
  4. Ibid., “Personal Papers.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., “Archives: Manuscript Collections.”
  7. Ibid., “Photographs.”
  8. Ibid., “School Clippings.”
  9. Ibid., “Title Search Collection.”
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