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Spotlight on Pittsburgh

Genealogy Research in the (Former) Steel City


Western Pennsylvania, including the city of Pittsburgh, is genealogically significant for many family historians. From its inception as a Native American trading post to its role as catalyst for the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution, the city of Pittsburgh and its surrounding western Pennsylvania counties grew rapidly as thousands of immigrants, mostly from Europe, arrived to find work in the area's steel mills, coal mills, oil refineries, factories, and farms. Even prior to this great European influx, new settlers moving west from ports in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, would often stop in Pittsburgh following their arduous trip across the mountains, anxious to take advantage of river travel for the reminder of their journey. The travel of these early pioneers down the Ohio River to new settlements in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri is the reason that Pittsburgh is often referred to as the "Gateway to the West."

If you are descended from one of the many families whose journeys have led through Western Pennsylvania, then be sure to make Pittsburgh a stop on your next research trip. You'll find no shortage of places to explore your roots!

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, (4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, 412-622-3154, padept@carnegielibrary.org) one of the nation's oldest public libraries, was donated as a gift to the city by philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, and dedicated in 1895. Outside of the beautiful building and its interesting history, the library is also home to more than 4 million resources, including Western Pennsylvania's largest genealogical collection, making it the first place to go if you have Pennsylvania ancestors. The library's Pennsylvania Department includes family histories; census enumeration schedules of Pennsylvania, 1790-1930; a surname index file; Pittsburgh newspaper marriage and death notice indexes; city directories dating back to 1815; indexes to passenger and immigration lists, and a large collection of genealogical books and periodicals. The Pennsylvania Department is located on the 2nd floor of the library in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, adjoining the Carnegie Museums of Art & Natural History.

While visiting the Carnegie, don't miss the outstanding collection of the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society (4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, 412-687-6811). Founded in 1974, the Society is dedicated to the study and preservation of family history. Their large collection, spanning the early 1750s through the early part of the 20th century, is available for reference use in the Pennsylvania Department and includes records of births, marriages, deaths, church records, cemetery transcriptions, newspapers, and family histories. Plus, be sure to check out information on the First Families of Western Pennsylvania! The WPGS library is run entirely by volunteers and is open to both members and non-members.

The University of Pittsburgh's Darlington Memorial Library (601 Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, 412-624-4491), just across the parking lot from the Carnegie Library, includes scrapbooks and special manuscript collections, including a large amount of material relating to Pittsburgh and the entire Ohio River Valley. The material is slowly being digitized and placed online as well!

The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222, 412-454-6000, hswp@hswp.org) maintains a library with an online catalog and closed stacks at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center (1212 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222). The society has built an impressive collection for those of Italian and Jewish heritage. It also has loads of material on Pittsburgh history, families, and companies, though is orientation is more toward historians and archivists rather than genealogists.

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