Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
HSP's "Family History & Genealogy" subject guide provides an overview of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's core collection of vital records, including cemetery, church, baptismal, and Bible records, as well as family histories and newspaper announcements.
Please refer to our online catalog for more information about our books, images, journals, manuscripts, maps, and other items in our collection. You can also contact a Reference Librarian for further assistance.
Research Tips and General Reading
As you search for vital records, remember that different levels of government maintained vital records at varying times. You may need to consult federal, state, county, or city sources to find what you seek, and only some of those records will be available at HSP. Please refer to the list of repositories at the bottom of this page for more details about various Philadelphia and Pennsylvania vital records.
However, depending on the time and place you're researching, you may find that no government records exist for the information you seek. Instead, you may need to consult church records, newspapers, or family records to find evidence of births, deaths, marriages, and other events.
See HSP's "Family History & Genealogy" subject guide for more tips on how to find these other records.
If you're looking for Philadelphia passenger and immigration records, please note that 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. See HSP's "Family History & Genealogy" subject guide for more tips on how to find these immigration records, or see an HSP Reference Librarian.
Some vital records are now available online. HSP offers visitors to our library free access to AncestryInstitution.com; FamilySearch.org is free for all users. See an HSP Reference Librarian for further assistance using these resources in the library.
For more general reading, check out Helen Woodroofe's A Genealogist’s Guide to Pennsylvania Records (call # RDESK F 148 .W66 1994). This source offers a fairly comprehensive overview of HSP's genealogical catalog as of that date, organized alphabetically by county.
Additional Repositories for Vital Records
For Philadelphia vital records, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania maintains a list of Philadelphia-area repositories that hold vital records, and summarize what records can be found where. Visit GSP's Philadelphia County resource page; the list of repositories is available under "Research Resources."
The Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Records, maintains Pennsylvania birth and death records from January 1, 1906, to the present. Follow this link for an overview of the process of obtaining certified copies of these records. Thanks to a law signed in 2011, Pennsylvania birth and death records become public records 105 years after the date of birth or 50 years after the date of death.
For Pennsylvania vital records before 1906, contact the county clerk's office of the county where the birth, marriage, or death took place. Search online for your county's clerk's office or visit this list of clerk's offices compiled by Pennsylvania's Division of Vital Records.
The National Archives at Philadelphia holds some Philadelphia and mid-Atlantic immigration records from 1800-1948 (PA, MD, DE, VA, WV), as well as U.S. census records up to 1940 and select military service records. You can learn more about its genealogical holdings here.
Of course, some birth, marriage, death, immigration, and other vital records are now available online. HSP offers visitors to our library free access to AncestryInstitution.com; FamilySearch.org is free for all users. See an HSP Reference Librarian for further assistance using these resources in the library.