Further Resources for Genealogists & Family Historians

HomeFurther Resources for Genealogists & Family Historians

Further Resources for Genealogists & Family Historians

Explore the origins and diversity of Pennsylvania and the United States, from the colonial period to contemporary life. At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, there is something for everyone: students, educators, genealogists, scholars, you. Since 1824, HSP has been dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing the stories of Pennsylvania and the nation. With over 21 million records including manuscripts, 600,000 graphics items, and 60,000 published volumes spanning 350 years of history, HSP bridges the past and present.

HSP serves thousands of onsite and online visitors each year with extensive digital resources, curricular materials, and a personal research service. HSP also hosts public programs and lectures, educator workshops, and publishes a scholarly journal and a popular history magazine.

HSP is also one of the most complete and professional genealogy centers in the nation—and the largest in the Mid-Atlantic region. HSP collects genealogical materials from Pennsylvania and every other state east of the Mississippi River. However, its collections also cover pre-migration from Europe, the genealogical “stepping stones” across the Caribbean, and out-migration to Canada. HSP offers a variety of tools and resources for genealogists and family historians, including:

Online catalog, Discover

Digital Library with over 90,000 images

Digital history projects and exhibits

Genealogy databases

Subject guides and finding aids

Pennsylvania Legacies, HSP’s illustrated history magazine

Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, HSP’s scholarly journal

• Family papers & manuscript collections

• Wills, probate records, and deeds

• Tax and census records

• Genealogical scrapbooks and research folders

• Church records

• Birth and marriage records

• Death and burial records

• Passenger and immigration records

• Published sources, newspapers and periodical

Family Papers and Manuscript Collections

HSP holds many diaries, journals, family trees, and related family documents and manuscripts that contribute to the understanding of many family histories. Collections of particular interest might be those of Pennsylvania’s founding families, including Penn, Logan, Norris, Pemberton, Drinker, Shippen, Cadwalader, Chew, Biddle and Powel.

You can search our Discover online catalog for family names, town or township names, or other locations and landmarks that may provide insights into your family history. Descriptions of all manuscript collections are available in that online catalog, and many collections have finding aids online or at HSP that provide more information. Visitors to HSP's library should also look for names and other terms of interest in our manuscripts card catalog, known as PC1 (and not available online), which serves as a name index for many manuscript items.

Wills, Probate Records, and Deeds

HSP holds microform copies of wills and deeds for many Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware counties. Generally indexed and often abstracted—especially helpful if you're looking for family connections—these records are typically available for the period from the first year of record through the 19th century. HSP also has indices to letters of administration for many counties, as well as Orphans Court records for Philadelphia and other counties.

For a complete listing of our holdings by county, please search our online catalog for the subject-heading “probate records” and the name of the specific county in which you're interested (e.g. Bucks County Probate Records).

For Philadelphia, HSP has indices to wills and administrations up to 1900, as well as abstracts of wills up to 1825: 

Abstracts of Philadelphia Wills: 1682-1825 (call # Ph 2A:1-11);

Index To Philadelphia Wills & Administrations: 1682-1850 (4 vols). (call # 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)

However, estate inventories and administrations for Philadelphia County are not available at HSP. Please ask a Reference Librarian for further information. You may also be interested in consulting the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania's online resource guides, which summarize where to find various counties' wills, deeds, and other records.

Some probate 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.

Genealogical Scrapbooks and Research Folders

Originally compiled by members of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (GSP), the society’s collection of scrapbooks and family history folders contain original research pertaining to literally thousands of family lines. The family history folders may contain a single sheet of paper or hundreds of pages of research and correspondence. Many items are listed in ourDiscover online catalog; other items are indexed solely in GSP'sManuscript Archives Surname Index. You should search both resources for a surname that interests you.

Tax Records

Available in both original and microform format, tax records for Philadelphia and other tri-state localities can reveal information on family relationships, occupation, residences, and general economic status. Information on specific years and localities may be found in our Discover online catalog.

Church Records

A large number of the records of the region’s many churches, meetings, and synagogues may be found within HSP's collections. Available in original, transcribed, abstracted, and microform format, these records offer invaluable access to information on births, marriages, deaths, burials, and community activities. Information on specific churches and denominations represented in our collections may be found through our Discover online catalog.

In addition, HSP partnered with Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, to make our collection more accessible to researchers. As part of this partnership, Ancestry.com has digitized more than 7.5 million Pennsylvania vital records from HSP’s collection, including church, cemetery, and undertaker records from every county in the state from 1708 through 1985. All of these records are available online for free for Friends of HSP, as well as to visitors to HSP’s library at 1300 Locust Street in Philadelphia and to Ancestry.com subscribers.

Birth and Marriage Records

Pennsylvania began issuing birth and death certificates in 1906. Before that time, some Pennsylvania counties kept birth registers as early as the Civil War, and some counties kept marriage registers even earlier. For example, check outPhiladelphia's marriage registers, available on microfilm at HSP.

HSP’s collection of birth records includes published compilations covering various time periods, geographical regions, and religious affiliations, including Pennsylvania German Church Records(call # Ref F 160 .G3 P427 1983), Early Pennsylvania Births, 1675-1875 (call # REF F 148 .F5 1947), and Pennsylvania Vital Records from the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (call # REF F 148 .P48 1983). Search in HSP's online catalog using subject headings such as births, birth records, or the name of the specific church or denomination to which a family belonged, as well as the family surname, town name and county name to see what records may be available.

HSP holds several indexes to Philadelphia's 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.+++++++++++++++

HSP's collection also contains a large number of marriage certificates, which can be located in our manuscripts card catalog (PC-1) under an individual's surname.   

In addition, a number of newspapers have been indexed for marriage notices, and church records are also an excellent source for information about births and marriages. Search our online catalog by county name to see what birth and marriage records may be available.

Some birth and marriage records are now available online. HSP offers visitors to our library free access toAncestryInstitution.comFamilySearch.org is free for all users. See an HSP Reference Librarian for further assistance using these resources in the library.

Death and Burial Records

Death and burial records can be accessed through various published, unpublished and microform sources. In many instances, official records of deaths were not compiled until after the Civil War. However, church records often contain information about deaths or burials in church graveyards.

Philadelphia maintained semi-official records of deaths prior to 1860, documented in the Board of Health Cemetery Returns, 1803-1860For the period after 1860, the Philadelphia Death Register, 1860-1903 is the most comprehensive source for Philadelphia County. Please also see our research guide about Vital Records.

Records for dozens of current and past cemeteries in the region are also available at HSP, including Mt. Moriah CemeteryLaurel Hill CemeteryOdd Fellows Cemetery, and Greenwood Cemetery.

The society’s collections also include a number of undertakers' records. Most notable are those of the Oliver H. Bair Company, theAndrew J. Bair CompanyDavid H. Bowen and Son, and Kirk & Nice, Inc. HSP partnered with Ancestry.com to digitize the index to the Oliver H. Bair Company records. The index is available online for free for Friends of HSP, as well as to visitors to HSP's library and to Ancestry.com subscribers.

Pennsylvania records for deaths occurring after 1906 are maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Division of Vital Records. These records are now available to the public for deaths that occured at least 50 years ago.

Some death and burial records are now available online. HSP offers visitors to our library free access toAncestryInstitution.comFamilySearch.org is free for all users. See an HSP Reference Librarian for further assistance using these resources in the library.

Census Records

The society holds census indexes and films for Pennsylvania from 1790-1900 (and the entire country for 1850). Materials available for additional states vary widely. Please see our guide on Census Records or speak to a Reference Librarian for further assistance.

Many census 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.

Passenger and Immigration Records

While HSP does not hold many original passenger or immigration lists, its collections do include an extensive number of indexes and published abstracts. Notable among them are Filby’sPassenger and Immigration Lists Index and Philadelphia Naturalization Records, 1789-1880and Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1883-1948[microfilm]. HSP also offers a variety of sources focusing on immigration from particular regions, including series aboutGermans to America (1840-1897); Italians to America (1880-1905);Migration from the Russian Empire (1875-1891); Pennsylvania German Pioneers (1727-1808); Irish immigration, especially The Famine Immigrants (1846-1851); Norwegian Immigrants to the United States(1825-1850); Emigration from the United Kingdom to America (1870-1880); and more.    

Note that some published sources are now available online. HSP's online catalog includes links to some of those sources (if available, the link will appear in that item's record in the catalog), or you can try searching in Google.com or another search engine to see what you can find online.

Some immigration records are also available online. HSP offers visitors to our library free access to AncestryInstitution.com;FamilySearch.org is free for all users. You may also want to visit EllisIsland.org and Stephen Morse's One-Step Webpages, which include searching tools for Ellis Island and other immigration records. See an HSP Reference Librarian for further assistance using these online resources in the library.

Published Sources

The library contains one of the largest collections of published family histories, many of them rarely available elsewhere. In addition, published biographies, personal narratives, church histories, and general county and township histories provide a wealth of genealogical information. Search our online catalog for more information about surnames, towns, counties, organizations, and landmarks that may fill in the gaps in your family history.

Newspapers and Periodicals

A number of newspapers have been indexed for obituary and marriage notices. Particularly noteworthy are the indexes toPoulson’s Daily Advertiser (1796-1839); the Philadelphia Public Ledger (1836-1875); the Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily CourierMarriages and Deaths Index (1834-1854); the Index to Obituaries from the Sunday Dispatch (1868-1883); and Necrology from the Bulletin Almanac (1923-1966). Other newspaper indexes may be available by searching in our online catalog.

Aside from these indexes, many newspapers are available in original or microform format. HSP also offers visitors to our library free access to NewsBank's database, "Pennsylvania's Historical Newspapers," which includes primarily 18th- and 19th-century newspapers.

Friends of HSP at the Contributor level ($1,000) level and above also receive a free subscription to GenealogyBank.com, one of the largest online newspaper archives for family history research.

Philadelphia Repositories

The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania maintains a list of Philadelphia-area repositories, including a summary of which vital records can be found where. Follow this link for thePhiladelphia County resource page; the list of repositories is available under "Research Resources."

In addition, HSP has launched a Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) to make better known and more accessible the often hidden archival collections held by the many small, primarily volunteer-run historical organizations in the Philadelphia area. Follow this link to explore HSP's regional directory of small repositories; finding aids for those collections are available on the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) finding aid website.

Major recent acquisitions have included the holdings of the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, dramatically increasing the library and archive’s genealogical material for over 90 ethnic groups.

The main holdings of the Balch collections are records of ethnic benefit groups, politics and community advocacy, and ethnic media, such as newspapers, pamphlets, and other printings. The ethnic and cultural groups primarily represented within the Balch materials are:

  • African-American
  • Chinese
  • German
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Irish
  • Latino
  • Japanese
  • Jewish
  • Native American
  • Polish
  • Puerto Rican
  • Slovak
  • Ukrainian

The Balch Institute’s records are not limited to ethnic history. They also contain information regarding genealogy, family history, neighborhood history, political history, women’s history, and labor history.

Research-by-Mail

Are you unable to visit the Historical Society’s library? Or have you hit a brick wall with your research and want some expert help?

For a pre-paid fee, a skilled staff researcher at HSP will work on your research topic and search through our extensive archive. While results cannot be guaranteed, we will make every effort to help by documenting all sources consulted during research.

Fees for this service are $35/hour for Friends of HSP and $60/hour for nonmembers. (Friends of HSP receive 40 percent off!) There is a minimum of two hours for an  initial request. The research fee includes the cost of up to 20 photocopied pages of supporting documents. Additional hours are discounted at $30/hour for Friends of HSP and $50/hour for nonmembers.

Please click here to submit a research request.

If you have additional questions about HSP’s Research-by-Mail services, please contact our research team at researchbymail@hsp.org or 215-732-6200 ext. 222

Rush Service

Research requests usually take 6-8 weeks to process. If you would like us to complete your request within 2 weeks, add rush service to your order for an additional $20/hour.

Premium Service

With premium service, staff will research not only in HSP’s archive, but at other nearby repositories in Philadelphia. If a staff researcher believes that you could benefit from premium service, he or she will discuss this option with you. Premium service costs an additional $15/hour.

Customized Services

HSP offers customized services, including professionally designed family history books and in-depth genealogical research. Click here to learn more.

Other Library Services

HSP offers additional library services, including exact citation photocopies, advanced paging services, and research strategy interviews.

Have a research question that can be answered in less than 10 minutes? Please contact ReadyReference@hsp.org or 215-732-6200 ext. 209.

Need high quality digital copies of documents or images? Click here or contact our Rights and Reproductions team at rnr@hsp.org or 215-732-6200 ext. 333.

Friends of HSP:

Friends of HSP enjoy benefits whether they are in Philadelphia or the Philippines.

  • Online access to HSP collections
  • Online access to genealogy databases               
  • Online access to workshops, classes, lectures, and other events
  • Discounted Research-By-Mail services          
  • Discounts on Rights & Reproduction services              
  • Online access to genealogy workshop videos               
  • Half off JPASS (access to JSTOR)  
  • Time Travelers reciprocal membership          
  • Online shop discount         
  • Sidelights newsletter           
  • Print subscription to Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (PMHB)
  • Print subscription to Pennsylvania Legacies
  • Online access to the entire archive of PMHB and Pennsylvania Legacies

HSP is also proud to announce its newest benefit: access to three new genealogical databases, as part of its Genealogical and Biographical Database Project. These databases contain collections rich in information on individuals, including the records of:

Philadelphia Home for Infants collection

This collection includes records not only of the Philadelphia Home for Infants, but also the Children’s Aid Society, the Union Temporary Home, and the Children’s Bureau.

The collection includes annual reports, board minutes, case histories, financial records, scrapbooks, articles, reports, publications relating to child welfare, and a few photographs.

Philadelphia Job Placement Office collection

The Philadelphia Placement Office register contains the daily entries of a Philadelphia employment agency from 1898 to 1901.

The 2,647 entries, listed chronologically over the course of 300 pages, convey a wealth of information about potential employees and employers. A typical entry includes the name, street address, and type of work or type of worker sought by either the employee or employer. Beyond this basic information, entries often provide ages, previous work experiences, family facts, and personal observations written down by the agent of the office.

The Home Missionary Society collection

​The Home Missionary Society of the City of Philadelphia (HMS) was a Methodist organization that formed in 1835 to meet the spiritual needs of Philadelphia.

This collection contains one volume of visitation records from the HMS. The volume contains over 5,000 entries from 1883 to 1889 that document visits made to the homes of Philadelphia residents in need of assistance. In each of the cases, it was the woman of the household who was interviewed by the HMS to determine the needs of the family or individual. The HMS provided coal, groceries, cash, and apparel to thousands of people during this six-year period.

These new databases, the first in a series of databases under development, are now available online for Friends of HSP. Researchers may use them for free while inside HSP’s historic library and archive, but only Friends of HSP may access them remotely. This means that Friends of HSP will be able to access records from churches, parishes, cemeteries, burial grounds, undertakers, and funeral homes – all from the comfort of their own home. Join today and start exploring!

Click here to learn more about benefits.

JOIN OR RENEW