The Pennsylvania Oaths of Allegiance are one of the jewels of Early American genealogy. Relatively unique among genealogy records, they give the researcher terrific keys to unlocking family stories in Pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania.
Established by William Penn, Pennsylvania was the beacon among the Colonies inviting all persons regardless of faith tradition or origin to enjoy the wealth of America. As a result, many Swiss and Germans quickly populated Pennsylvania. In 1727, due to the large influx of “foreign” immigrants – those defined as non-English – King George II decreed that all men, aged 16 or older, of non-English birth must swear allegiance to the Crown. This practice continued until 1775 or the beginning of the Revolution. And thus, we have the Pennsylvania Oaths of Allegiance dtd 1727-1775.
Because the records were and are of great interest to historians and genealogists, the original records suffered wear and tear over time they are no longer accessible to the general public. However, they have been abstracted! The book, Names Of Foreigners Who Took The Oath Of Allegiance To The Province And State Of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775. is available on HathiTrust in full text form (the entire book, every word searchable). Search it here. The arrangement is by chronological order and by ship. (wow) Here’s a sample of what you’ll find.
You can also find a transcribed index of the book on Ancestry.com. You can find the database by searching “Oaths” in the title field of the card catalog. (The card catalog can be found by clicking on “Search” and choosing the last item on the drop down menu.) Once you’ve found the entry for your ancestor, you can click on “full context,” and it will provide the list of shipmates on the same vessel as your ancestor. (Don’t overlook this, there could be relatives on the same ship!)
What You Can Conclude From the Records
Aside from the obvious fact that your ancestor took the Oath of Allegiance, you can come away from this record with more valuable information. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.
- The Ship – You may now know how your ancestor came to America
- Those On Board the Ship – Who came with your ancestor? Could he have traveled with family – of the same or different last names? Look for in-laws and cousins.
- Point of Origin – From where did the ship come? Look for him in that country. You may have just found the link across the Atlantic.
- Place and Time – The Oath was taken somewhere and on some date. This puts your ancestor at a fixed place and time in history. Now you can chase down tax records, property records, probate records, and birth, marriage, death records all from this vantage point in history.
- AGE! – And here’s the best nugget. Your ancestor had to be at least 16 years old to sign the Oath. His signature gives you an approximate age, which could be very helpful in determining his birth place and date. Bump this fact up against a marriage record or a tax record and a life timeline starts to come in to focus. Further, it can be very helpful in parsing people with the same name. If one ancestor (of the same name) signed the Oath and another didn’t, what does that say about their ages? One was older than 16 and the other was not.
If you’re looking for German or Swiss or really any non-English immigrants to Pennsylvania pre-Revolutionary War, this is a gotta-go-to record source. And there’s no excuse now to not use it since it is as close as your keyboard.