Knowing where you “came from” is kind of a big deal nowadays. Just turn on the TV and you’ll see commercials about family tree websites and DNA testing services. Scroll through social media and you’ll see your family and friends talking about their test results.
Often times when I’m hosting a journalist or chatting with a visitor, they will share with me that one of their distant ancestors lived in one of the Laurel Highlands’ industrial towns or agricultural areas. This totally makes sense; our region was home to the earliest western settlers, filled with rich natural resources that fueled the Industrial Revolution and vast farmlands that have provided for countless families across the country. These conversations always get me thinking about my family tree, knowing that both sides of my family have lived in and around the Laurel Highlands and Pittsburgh for many, many generations. So I’ve just started to scratch the surface of my family’s heritage.
Sure, some internet sites may give you quick answers, but wouldn’t it mean more to see it for yourself, hold documents in your hands and truly experience your heritage? In the travel and tourism business, visiting a location for the purpose of researching your family’s history is called “genealogy tourism” or “roots tourism.”
So if you’re retracing your roots and your research brings you to the Laurel Highlands, here are a few places you may want to visit or organizations you can contact to get a better understanding of where you “came from.”
Westmoreland County Historical Society
362 Sand Hill Road, Suite 1, Greensburg, PA 15601
With files dating back to 1773, the history and genealogy collections at WCHS are incredible! The staff can help fulfill online information requests for a small fee and you can even schedule a personal consultation with their researcher.
Ligonier Valley Library
120 West Main Street, Ligonier, PA 15658
The Pennsylvania Room at the Ligonier Valley Library offers a bevy of state and local information with family histories, newspaper articles and plenty of books documenting local history. Beginner and advanced family researchers will love the Genealogy Forum. Members meet on the fourth Tuesday at 6:30 pm of January, March, May, September and October, with a field trip usually held in the summer. Meetings are free and open to the public.
Somerset Historical Center
10649 Somerset Pike, Somerset, PA 15501
If your family roots run into Somerset County, the historical center will blow your mind! Their huge collection includes cemetery records, birth records, church histories, genealogy newsletters, tax records, cemetery transcriptions…the list goes on.
Fayette County Genealogical Society
This nonprofit is dedicated to remembering the past and the families who came before us. The group meets on the third Saturday of each month April through November at the Uniontown Library. Bring your questions and tell us about your search for your family.
24 Jefferson St., Uniontown, PA 15401
The Pennsylvania Room is a must-visit! Many of the items in the room cannot be found anywhere else – newspapers on microfilm, tax rolls, old maps and more. Bonus: it’s super close to the Fayette County Courthouse.
County courthouses offer a wealth of information – birth records, death records, marriage licenses and property deeds. Stop by the Prothonatory Office or the Register of Wills for more information. Here’s a quick tip: our county lines were far different in the 18th and 19th century. For instance, Westmoreland County originally included present-day Fayette County and beyond. Plus, our ancestors may have traveled from their homes to the closest county seat for things like marriage licenses, regardless of their home county.