A model of what’s possible for local genealogical societies is in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Go there any day of the week, and you will find the place buzzing with volunteers and members doing research on their families. It’s exciting to be around so many people doing genealogy!
The Berks County Genealogical Society is located on the fourth floor of the Goggleworks building in downtown Reading, PA. The Goggleworks is an former factory that made aviator and swimwear goggles, and was repurposed in 2005 into a home for local artists. Outside, you’ll find ample free parking, and inside, a cafe and lots of space to wander and enjoy art, if you need a break from your research.
The shelves of the BCGC are filled with resources local to Berks County and the surrounding counties. The volunteers over the years have gone out to every church in the county, typed up and indexed each church’s baptismal, marriage and burial records. Yes, you read that correctly, every single church. In addition, they have the records of every circuit minister that traveled through the county and adjoining counties performing baptisms and marriages. In addition, the churches are listed by year they began, so you know exactly which churches to search depending on the year you need.
Obituary and marriage indexes exist for both the Reading Adler and the Reading Eagle newspapers. The obituaries and marriages from the Reading Adler have been translated from German to English so you don’t need to struggle with the both the language and the font barrier. The excellent three volume series, Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808 by Ralph B. Strassburger and William J. Hinke, is here, and an absolutely is invaluable for getting the date of arrival and origin country for many of Berks earliest settlers. Berks County Genealogical Society publishes a scholarly journal and if you are unfamiliar with the county’s history, definitely worth reading. All the back issues are in the library here.
Berks County when it was founded in 1752, originally went much further north covering what is now Northumberland County (formed 1772) and Schuylkill County (formed 1811). If you are researching ancestors in those counties in the 1700’s, a search through the Berks records is essential. The southern part of Berks County was originally Philadelphia County, so the earliest land records and wills prior to 1752, could be located in the Philadelphia records. However, the Berks County Genealogical Society does have church records going back to 1730. Reading was one of the original towns laid out by William Penn and people settled in the area soon after the Pennsylvania colony’s founding in 1682.
The back wall of the society is filled with genealogies completed by past members, ranging from several hard bound books – looking at you, Gearhart’s – to spiral bound booklets in magazine holders. Additionally there are drawers and drawers of files of family group sheets done by volunteers which can assist in kicking off your genealogy journey. Take a look at the hundreds of names available at berksgenes.org – one could be yours!
If you have ancestors who lived in Berks County, the Berks County Genealogical Society has records of them on their shelves. Many resources to get started on this search are on their website berksgenes.org. The BCGS is located at 201 Washington Street, Reading, PA and is open 7 days a week. Definitely worth joining as a member and visiting often, both for the camaraderie and the resources available.