Centre County has a unique arrangement for the storage and access of county records and local history documents. Almost everything a genealogist would want is maintained by the Centre County Library and access is easy and free. The Pennsylvania Room, actually three rooms on the first floor of the Historical Museum at 203 North Allegheny Street, Bellfonte is the place to find everything.
Particularly wonderful is the microfilm of twelve different local Centre County Newspapers, most not available online, with an accompanying obituary index. These obituaries going back to 1814 state the date of death, the reason for their death, provide a list of relatives, and many times the person’s ancestral country. People who passed away in the 80’s or older often had front page articles detailing even more of their life.
The library has two ScanPro microfilm readers which convert microfilm to PDF and the image to a OCR text which is searchable. If you bring your own USB drive you can save these files to your USB for a small fee and then upload them to your computer. These ScanPro readers are used with a computer monitor and has an auto-focus feature making the microfilm easier to read than a traditional machine.
The library also has online searchable PDF indexes for birth, marriage and death records for use on their computer, organized by both date and surname. You can easily print single pages to reference later if you wanted, let’s say, all of a particular surname born in the county. This is a great tool to make sense of families and most indexes are by date only and to gather all the people by surname is a lot of searching.
Along several bookcases are donated genealogical research and family trees completed by various people. Its worth a check to see what work has been done already. Often times these are page after page of name, dates and connections with no evidence to support them, and no context for where and how people lived.
Lastly the Centre County Library and Historical Museum has two genealogy collections: The Spangler Collection and the J. Marvin Lee Collection. Both of these have been indexed by volunteers into the card catalog and I recommend starting here. The collections are a variety of clippings from court documents, newspapers, and church records related to families in the area and go back to the early 1800’s. It’s like looking through someone’s old scrapbooks and very fun.
The Pennsylvania Room is very quiet with several large tables for work, and has a public restroom. There is no food or drinks allowed inside the building but there are several local restaurants and a coffee shop a block away. Parking is on the street and 25 cents per 30 minutes for a maximum of 2 hours, or in the lot behind the bank across the street for up to 7 hours.
You can take photos of the indexes and documents at no charge. There is also a copier you can use to make your own copies and price is 25 cents per page. You tell the staff person the total number of copies and print outs from microfilm you made at the end of the visit. Payment is in cash only.
For up-to-date information on the Centre County Library and Historical Museum’s Pennsylvania Room and their events, be sure to visit their website www.centrecountylibrary.org/pa-room Its a wonderful place and one-stop resource for all things genealogical in Centre County, PA.