Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
Philadelphia Neighborhood History
Philadelphia has over 100 separate neighborhoods, each with its own historical memories. The collections of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania contain countless materials that document the rich histories of Philadelphia’s communities. The following is a brief discussion of the diversity of sources available at the Society. Please refer to our on-line catalog or a Reference Librarian for further assistance.
For many neighborhoods, some of the best information available can be found in the records of the social, cultural and economic organizations serving the interests of the local citizens. In addition, personal accounts that often reflect the private lives of Philadelphians can be found in diaries, memoirs and correspondence. The following is a brief discussion of the various sources available; additional information may be found through the on-line catalog and the manuscripts catalog (available on-site only):
Diaries and Journals
Some examples include the diaries of Anna Keyser Baker of Philadelphia (1874-1876) and Joseph J. Mickley & family (1852); and the memoirs of William F. Miskey (1816-1892). Additional diaries may be found in the description for Manuscript Collection #1995.
Business and Industry
Many business collections contain examples of the types of records created and maintained by men and women in their roles as business owners and entrepreneurs. Information found in these accounts includes data about manufacturing, consumer services, and neighborhood and household economic activities. A list of many available records may be found in the description for Manuscript Collection #108.
The Society holds the records of literally dozens of organizations, societies, clubs and similar groups, in which members of the local community served as leaders or benefited as participants. A list of many available records may be found in the description for Manuscript Collection #756.
Prints and Drawings
The Society’s collection of photographs, prints and drawings includes a countless number of images pertaining to Philadelphia’s rich urban past. Notable subjects include city streets, churches, clubs and societies, residences, and neighborhoods. Specific collections to consider include the Society Print and Society Photograph Collections, the Philadelphia Record Photograph Collection, and many smaller family collections from the Collections of The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, now at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Maps and Atlases
A wealth of information may be found in the many maps and atlases that document the region. The earliest atlas for Philadelphia was published in 1858, just four years after the city was reorganized. By reviewing atlases, researchers can acquire a sense of the development of a neighborhood or region. Maps often complement this information, though they frequently offer less detail regarding individual properties. Please refer to the graphics and map catalogs (available on-site only) for further information.
The library contains an extensive selection of contemporary and recent publications discussing multiple aspects of Philadelphia’s diverse communities. Publications of many local and regional civic, religious, philanthropic and political organizations are represented. In addition, privately published biographies, histories and narratives are available. All publications can be located through the on-line catalog. Subjects of particular interest include individual neighborhood histories, city-wide histories, personal narratives and biographies, and charitable organizations.
Community newspapers and newsletters can provide a sense of the social and cultural history of specific regions and neighborhoods. The collections of The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, now at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, contain dozens of examples of these publications. Please refer to the on-line catalog or a Reference Librarian for further details.
Family history research can be conducted using a combination of published and unpublished sources, including church and cemetery records, newspapers, city directories, and manuscript collections. Please refer to the on-line catalog, the manuscripts catalog (available on-site only) or a Reference Librarian for further details.
Many of the Society’s published and unpublished holdings are available through Discover, our online catalog. Our site also contains links for collection-specific finding aids, and several databases are available in our library. Reference questions may be directed via email to email@example.com or by calling 215-732-6200 x209.
While The Historical Society of Pennsylvania encourages historical preservation and research, it does not certify buildings or locations as historic. If you would like a house or building to receive historical certification, you may wish to contact your local historical commission. In Philadelphia, it is the Philadelphia Historical Commission (Room 576, City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19107) at 215-686-7660. To request state historical markers, contact the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (300 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120) at 717-787-3362. Other local repositories for Philadelphia architectural history are the Athenaeum of Philadelphia (219 S. 6th St., Philadelphia, PA 19106), 215-685-4830 and the Free Library of Philadelphia (1901 Vine St., Philadelphia, PA 19103), 215-686-5322.