In Pennsylvania, official marriage records began very late—after 1900. Since the marriage is the beginning of the family unit and has the advantage of identifying both father and mother, look for all the different kinds of marriage records first. Check all levels of jurisdiction for the marriage. Begin on the internet at county and state sites, then move to databases compiled by local genealogists as well as institutions and genealogy companies. These sources will pick up marriages recorded by churches, by families in the family Bible, by relatives in their personal diaries and journals, by the groom and his family in newspapers, by bride and her relatives in fraktur and other ethnic and cultural arts, by the minister in his account book, by military officials in pension records, and by descendants in their genealogies both published and unpublished—look everywhere you can.
Then, sort your marriage extracts by date of marriage in ten-year increments to coincide with census years, not alphabetically. You can then begin to build your Pennsylvania family tree by linking each set of documents in where they fit. Match the family in each census year before moving on to other sources. You will be less likely to get caught with the wrong ancestors. It is very easy to do, when persons carry the same surnames, marry wives with the same given names, or find more than two or more persons in the same set of records with these characteristics.
There is a large “Washington County Pennsylvania Early Marriage Index,” with more than 30,000 names compiled by the Citizens Library Genealogical Records Group. The index was compiled from a variety of sources—church records, Bibles, newspapers, ministers’ marriage returns, and bonds found in the genealogy collection at Citizens Library, Washington PA. Jean S. Morris printed a corrected source list in the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly. It is a model for the many records that can supply marriages, and her corrected source list will enable you to find the source for those marriages of interest to you.
Other indexes or compilations to come, your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle
PS Seems everyone wants their genealogy searches to be online, so they can click the data into place. Most of the good stuff for Pennsylvania is not yet online. You will have to locate the sources and find a way to search them.
I can help. Remember that I am one of the few genealogists who still makes on site searches to libraries and archives far removed from your place of residence.