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Tracing ancestry in Westmoreland becomes easier with digitized files

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 11:07 a.m.

Researchers looking to explore family roots in Westmoreland County won't have to leave the comfort of their homes.

More than 55,000 naturalization records dating back to 1906 have been digitized and this week were made accessible on the county's website.

Prothonotary Christine O'Brien said the project took more than three years to complete.

“Part of the reason we did it was to protect the (record) books. They are fragile and rip easy,” O'Brien said.

Detailed naturalization records of as many as 14,000 immigrants who became citizens while living in Westmoreland County are part of the searchable database on the prothonotary's page of the website.

Records include information on the person's background, where they came from, how they arrived in this country, their oath of citizenship, children's names and even photographs.

Anita Zanke, library coordinator at the Westmoreland County Historical Society, said the online naturalization records will greatly assist genealogy research.

“People are trying to connect to their past, and these records will help them find clues,” Zanke said. “Basically, people are looking for relatives, and now a lot of people won't have to travel to do that so it makes it much easier for them.”

The $65,000 project started in 2009 and was paid from fees the office collects for civil and family court document filings.

Older naturalization records dating to 1802 are currently on microfilm. Those records are too fragile to be scanned into the computer system, O'Brien said.

“We're exploring the option of digitizing the microfilm,” she said.

More recent records, from 1982 to present day, were not processed in Westmoreland and not available for the digital system, according to O'Brien.

The computerized records can be found on the county's website at: http://www.co.westmoreland.pa.us.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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