Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
Information about sources can be obtained through the Society’s online catalog and on-site manuscript catalog (PC-1); the actual sources, however, are not accessible online. Below we detail the Society’s core collection of vital records, as well as offer suggestions for additional resources and tips on how to access these records.
Research Tip: As you search for vital records, it is important to keep in mind that the initiation of civil registration throughout Pennsylvania transferred the official maintenance of many records to various city and county agencies. In Philadelphia, for example, civil registration commenced on July 1, 1860; this date varies by city and/or county. As a result, the Society’s resources of vital records after 1860 include only microfilm indexes for deaths and marriages up to the early 1900s. Further, the HSP does not hold certified copies of vital records. Please refer to the final page of this hand-out for the locations of various Philadelphia and Pennsylvania vital records.
Clark, Jane Adams. “Research Tips: Location of Some City of Philadelphia Records,” in Penn In Hand, vol. 10, no. 4 (Summer 1989). (UPA F 146 .G3)
Woodroofe, Helen. A Genealogist’s Guide to Pennsylvania Records. (RDESK F 148 .W66 1994)
Note:This source offers a fairly comprehensive overview of the Society’s genealogical catalog (PC-7), organized alphabetically by county.
The Society’s collection of birth records includes published compilations of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania births covering various time periods, geographical regions and religious affiliations, such as Pennsylvania German Church Records (Ref F 160 .G3 P427 1983). To access these resources, as well as our numerous bible, baptismal, and church records, consult the online catalog using subject headings such as births, birthrecords, or the name of the specific church or denomination to which a family belonged, as well as the family surname. See also:
Fisher, Charles A. Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875. (REF F 148 .F5 1947)
Pennsylvania Vital Records from the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (3 vols). (REF F 148 .P48 1983)
Death and burial records can be accessed through various published, unpublished and microform sources. For example, the Board of Health Death Records for Philadelphia offers cemetery returns for the period 1803-1860. The Society also has the microfilm index and register of Philadelphia Death Records that allow researchers to identify a death occurring in Philadelphia between 1860-1903. Also of use are cemetery and undertaker records, such as those for Mt. Moriah Cemetery and the Oliver H. Bair Funeral Home. To access these and similar sources, consult the online catalog using assorted subject headings which can be as general as “cemeteries” and “undertakers’ records,” or as specific as the name of the burial ground or undertaker firm name. Below are the call numbers for several key death record resources:
Board of Health Death Records, 1803-1860. Cemetery returns. (XR 499:1-15)
Philadelphia Death Records Index and Register, 1860-1903. (Indexes: XR 895:1-18; Registers: XR 895:19-58)
Research Tip: Records for deaths occurring in Pennsylvania after 1906 are maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Records. For details on obtaining copies of records, please refer to the address noted at the end of this hand-out. Also, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), available through many genealogical websites such as www.ancestry.com, offers a searchable database of more than 60 million death records.
Wills and Administrations:
The Society’s collection of wills and administrations varies by date, township and county. Most of the records are maintained on microfilm. For a complete listing of our holdings by county, please refer to the subject-heading “probate records” under the name of the specific county in online catalog (e.g.- Bucks County Probate Records). Below we list resources useful in identifying Philadelphia wills at the Society:
Abstracts of Philadelphia Wills: 1682-1825. (Ph 2A:1-11)
Index To Philadelphia Wills & Administrations: 1682-1850 (4 vols). (INDEX MFilm KFP 144.8 .P5 W54 1972)
Philadelphia Wills: 1682-1900. (Will Books: XW Pa Ph:1-116; Indexes: XW Pa Ph:117-118)
Much as birth and death records vary by township and county throughout Pennsylvania, the same is true of marriage records. Researchers should consult various published and unpublished resources when searching for marriage notices, as well as church records and newspaper announcements, as found throughout the online catalog. Our manuscript catalog (PC-1) also contains a large collection of marriage certificates, which can be located using individual surnames. Below we list the Society’s holdings of indexes to Philadelphia marriage records both before and after the initiation of civil registration:
Marriage Records Recorded by Various Philadelphia Mayors and Aldermen: 1800-1895. (Ph 25A:7, 10-19; XR 803:1-3)
Philadelphia Marriage Records Index and Register, 1860-1916. (Indexes 1860-1885: XR 875:1-6; Registers 1860-1885: XR 875:7-13)
Note: The Marriage Register after 1885 must be obtained from the Philadelphia Marriage Records Department at City Hall, Room #415.
Vital Records in Newspapers:
Newspapers also serve as an important source for locating Pennsylvania vital records. In many cases, searching newspapers requires a specific, or at least an approximate, date. However, indexes to genealogical data have been created for several prominent Philadelphia newspapers, and are listed below. Our collection of original newspapers can also be searched in the online catalog under “newspapers” (also in our manual catalog PC8) while our holdings of microfilmed newspapers are listed both by title and date in the Greenfield Microform Center:
Abstracts from the Pennsylvania Gazette, 1728-1791 (4 vols). (INDEX UPA/Ph AN 51 .P46 P483)
Genealogical Abstracts from the American Weekly Mercury, 1719-1746. (INDEX MFilm UPA/Ph AN 51 .A44 P48w)
Marriages and Obituaries in the Philadelphia Saturday Bulletin, 1857-1860. (INDEX UPA/Ph F 158.25 .P46 1974)
Necrology from the Bulletin Almanac, 1923-1960. (INDEX UPA/Ph CT 213 .K45 1967 FOLIO)
Notices of Marriages and Deaths in Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 1791-1839 (7 vols). (INDEX UPA/Ph AN 51 .P68 P48d)
Public Ledger Death and Marriage Index, 1836-1875 (18 volumes). (INDEX MFilm UPA/Ph AN 51 .P83 P482-489)
Sunday Dispatch: Index to Obituaries, 1868-1883. (INDEX MFilm UPA/Ph AN 51 .S86 P48w Folio)
Philadelphia Passenger and Naturalization Records:
In Philadelphia, no single government or public agency was responsible for recording “oaths of allegiance” or naturalizations until the latter part of the 1800s. Much like vital records, Philadelphia passenger lists appear only sporadically and are often compiled and organized by time period, destination, geographical point of origin or ethnicity. A search of such records can be located using the online catalog, as well as by browsing through the Society’s open Reference Stacks in the Reading Room. Below we list several useful sources for locating passenger and naturalization records:
Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. (INDEX CS 68 .F537 1981)
Note: This index is supplemented annually.
Filby, P. William, ed. Philadelphia Naturalization Records, 1789-1880. (INDEX F 148 .F535 1982)
Note: Filby’s index is a 1982 re-issue of the original, 11-volume WPA compilation, Index to Records of Aliens’ Declarations of Intention and/or Oaths of Allegiance, 1940.
Abstracts of Philadelphia Passenger Lists: 1883-1948. (XR 857:1-61)
Note: The Society maintains the abstracts of these records only; the original records are available through the National Archives.
Additional Repositories for Vital Records:
Research Tip: Copies of official Philadelphia and Pennsylvania vital records can be obtained from the repositories listed below:
Philadelphia City Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 685-9400. The City Archives maintains birth and death records for Philadelphia residents from July 1, 1860 to June 30, 1915, as well as marriage records from July 1, 1860 to December 31, 1885.
Philadelphia Marriage Records Department, City Hall, Room #415, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 686-2234. The Marriage Records Department maintains all Philadelphia marriage records from October 1, 1885 to the present.
Philadelphia Register of Wills Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (215) 685-9400. The Register of Wills Archives holds original Philadelphia wills and administrations from 1683 up to, but not including, the past five years (i.e.- to 1995). Wills and administrations from 1995 to the present are maintained by the Register of Wills, City Hall, Room #180, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 686-6263.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Records, P.O. Box 1528, New Castle, PA 16103-1528, (724) 656-3100, www.health.state.pa.us. The PA Division of Vital Records maintains all Pennsylvania birth and death records from January 1, 1906 to the present.
National Archives Mid-Atlantic Region, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 606-0112, http://www.archives.gov/midatlantic/. The collections of the National Archives include Philadelphia and mid-Atlantic immigration records from 1800-1948 (PA, MD, DE, VA & WV) as well as all U.S. census records up to 1920, and select military service records.
Clerk’s Office of the county where the birth, marriage or death took place. Many county offices maintain birth and death records before 1906 and duplicate copies of records on file with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after 1906.
Local LDS Family History Center. More than 3,000 Family History Centers, operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are located nationwide and abroad. The Centers maintain an extensive microfilm collection of many Pennsylvania records. For the location nearest to you, call (800) 346-6044, or visit their searchable database at www.familysearch.org.