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63rd Annual Pennsylvania Prothonotaries & Clerks of Courts Conference in Reading, PA
CONTACT INFORMATION

Berks County Courthouse User's Guide

 
IN THE BEGINNING, when Berks County was created, its governmental structure was vastly different from today. The Board of County Commissioners was elected by the people. The Governor appointed several justices to preside over the Court of Common Pleas and a Clerk of the Peace was appointed to oversee the various Justices of the Peace throughout the County.
 
The clerk of the peace also served as the Register of Wills, the Recorder of Deeds, and the PROTHONOTARY. The Orphans' Court was not separate from the County Court at that time. The probate of wills was under the control of the Register General of Pennsylvania. This Register also had the power to appoint a Deputy Register in each County. In 1752, James Read filled all county offices involved with the court as well as deputy registers.
 
State law changed many times over the next 75 years and various combinations of offices were held by the same people until 1838. At this time there was an election to elect the five "row offices" - the Register, Recorder, PROTHONOTARY, Clerk of Quarter Sessions, and Clerk of Orphans' Court.
 

 
TOWNSHIP DEVELOPMENT
 
I. Original Townships: 1752
 
A. From Philadelphia County
 
ONTELAUNEE REGION
Albany
Longswamp
Maidencreek
Maxatawny
Richmond
Windsor
 
MANATAWNY REGION
Alsace
Amity
Colebrookdale
Douglass
Exeter
Oley
Ruscombmanor

B. From Lancaster County
 
TULPEHOCKEN REGION
Bern
Bethel
Heidelberg
Tulpehocken
SCHUYLKILL REGION
Brecknock
Caernarvon
Cumru
Robeson

C. From Chester County

Union (1753)
 

II. Townships by Date Creation
 
YEAR TOWNSHIP
1753 Hereford
1753 Union
1755 Greenwich
1758 Rockland
1759 District
1761 Longswamp
1781 Earl
1789 Upper Bern
1812 Pike
1821 Upper Tulpehocken
1840 Washington
1842 Lower Heidelberg
1843 Center
1844 Marion
1845 North Heidelberg
1849 Ontelaunee
1850 Spring
1851 Jefferson
1851 Muhlenberg
1852 Perry
1857 Tilden
1888 Lower Alsace
1914 South Heidelberg
 
Reading Incorporated
 
DATE MUNICIPALITY TYPE
1748 Town
1785 Borough
1847 City
 
 
III. Township Creation
 
PRESENT PARENT DATE
Center Upper Bern 1843
District Oley 1759
Earl Oley 1781
Greenwich Albany 1755
Hereford Colebrookdale 1753
Jefferson Tulpehocken 1851
Lower Alsace Alsace 1888
Lower Heidelberg Heidelberg 1844
Marion Tulpehocken 1844
Muhlenberg Alsace 1888
North Heidelberg Heidelberg 1845
Ontelaunee Maidencreek 1849
Penn Upper Bern 1841
Perry Windsor 1852
Pike Oley 1812
Rockland Oley 1758
South Heidelberg Heidelberg 1914
Spring Cumru 1850
Tilden Upper Bern 1887
Upper Bern Bern 1789
Upper Tulpehocken Tulpehocken 1821
Washington Hereford 1840
 

 
PROTHONOTARY
 
The office of the PROTHONOTARY is charged with overseeing the civil court system. It collects the fees and fines and maintains all records concerning the civil court system. For many years the older records for the PROTHONOTARY'S Office were kept in the basement of the Courthouse.
 
Seeing a need to accommodate people who need to use these records for research, plans were drawn to develop an archival room to better house these old records and offer the researcher a pleasant place to use the records. Courthouse and PROTHONOTARY staff gathered the records. They were cleaned, recorded and stored in a secure area until an area could be made ready.
 
Volunteers were called on to assist the PROTHONOTARY staff to prepare the room chosen for the Archival Center. Work progressed from June to October, 1997. The Official opening was October, 1997. The room is staffed by volunteers who, in addition to aiding the researchers, are working toward making the records more accessible. The current push is to provide an index system for the immigration records. Currently there is an index for the records from 1875 to 1926.
 
In addition, volunteers will begin repairing and preserving the older immigration records to assure that they will not be damaged while being used by researchers. These records are by far the most used records housed in the Archival Center followed closely by the divorce records.
 
The Naturalization records date from 1795. They include the application and final grant of citizenship. Information included on these records is date and port of arrival in the United States, place of origin, date of application, date of citizenship granting, signature of immigrant and sponsors. The records start after the founding of the United States. Also note that a person had to be here five years to apply, and seven years to become a citizen.

SHERIFF DEEDS

Volumes 1 through 18 grantor-grantee indexes which record the sale of a property by the Sheriff to satisfy a judgment or lien.

APPEARANCE DOCKET

Starting in 1752 to 1924, these records contain civil proceedings for all types of cases, including divorces, contesting of Wills, breach of contract, and property disputes. The information includes the court term, case number, names of Sheriff, plaintiff and defendant and an occasional case disposition. The first volumes containing the first 70 years are separated by letter, not a true index. From 1824 on the records are indexed in separate volumes.

JUDGMENT DOCKET

1770-1956 with separate indices. Contains the court term, case number, plaintiff and defendant names, the attorneys, and the case disposition.

EXECUTION DOCKET

Not as macabre as it sounds. These volumes dating from 1768 to 1960 with indices, records the money collected according to the judgment of the court. It will include the date of the writ, the court term, the case number, names of plaintiff and defendant, the amount of the judgment and the date of return and satisfaction.

MECHANICS' LIENS

From 1836 to 1937, these records show liens filed against a property by a contractor to ensure payment for services rendered or materials furnished for construction or renovation. The information includes the court term, the names of the parties involved, the case number, the amount of the judgment, the date of the return and satisfaction.

CITY LIENS

1861 - 1927. Liens filed against specific properties for non-payment of taxes or municipal services. Information includes name of defendant, court term, case number, date of filing, description of property and amount due.

LOCALITY INDEX

Indices by locality of all properties with liens filed against them.

There are a group of books that are very interesting to page through. These are called Register Books. They include a register book for midwives. There is a register for stallions, yes, for horses. There is a register book for Attorneys. There is a register book for Osteopaths, Dentists and Optometrists.

There are docket books that list divorces, drunkards, lunatics and ejectments. There are partition dockets which generally refer to the partition of real estate to satisfy a decedents wishes. There is a three volume Circuit Court. These are court records of Judges who would literally ride a pre-determined area and hold court in their community. A circuit for his area might have included Berks, Schuylkill, Lehigh County rural areas.

One final bit of humor. You will find in these books kept more than 200 years ago. Doodles! Actual doodles on the empty pages of these leather bound ledgers, you will find doodles!


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BERKS COUNTY PROTHONOTARY
Courthouse, 2nd Floor
633 Court Street
Reading, PA 19601
Telephone: 610.478.6970
 
Office Hours (Mon. - Fri.): 8 AM to 4:00 PM
Passports (Mon. - Fri.): 8 AM to 3:30 PM
 
Closed Federal Holidays, Good Friday and the day after Thanksgiving        
 
GENEALOGY ONLY E-MAILS ARE RECEIVED AND ANSWERED TUES - THURS FROM 10:00 A.M. - 4:30 P.M.  PLEASE CALL THE OFFICE DURING OFFICE HOURS IF YOU   WOULD LIKE YOUR QUESTION OR CONCERN
ANSWERED IMMEDIATELY.