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HSP Launches Two New Databases for Genealogists, Scholars

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is pleased to announce the addition of two new databases to its HSP Encounters system: the Russian Brotherhood insurance claim records (1900-1953), and the Philadelphia public school records (1835-1907), the first of a twelve-volume set.

To genealogists, family historians, and scholars, these new databases are a boon for historical research into the activities of fraternal benefit societies and the experiences of public school children in early 20th century Philadelphia.

Hidden British Gems at HSP

HSP's Historian and Head of Reference Services Dr. Daniel Rolph recently featured several "hidden gems" from HSP's collections in the International Society for British Genealogy & Family History's latest British Connections newsletter.

All of the items materials discussed below may be found via HSP's online Discover catalog. If you have any questions about getting started researching your family history, contact HSP's Reference team at readyreference@hsp.org

British author Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1898 his famous poem, “The Explorer,” which contains the appropriate following lines:

“Something hidden. Go and find it.

Go and look behind the Ranges—Something lost behind the Ranges.

Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), located in Philadelphia, is a private organization founded in 1824, whose collection is composed of some 21 million manuscripts, 700,000 books, and over 500,000 graphic items. This massive amount of data also includes hundreds of unique and diverse volumes relative to the history of the British Isles. These collections are currently sitting on the HSP’s “ranges” of shelving, “lost and waiting” for the public or researchers to come and discover. The records, pertaining to their ancestors, are available for consultation either by a personal visit or via the Research-by-Mail service offered by the society.

The above volumes are a treasure trove of resource materials which the family historian may use in order to obtain family and vital record information. The records mare in publications from throughout the entire British Isles, be it England, Wales, Scotland, or Ireland. In some cases these records are online although many are not. Whereas many researchers are forced to visit multiple institutions or pay exorbitant fees via the Internet in order to acquire British records, these volumes are all gathered together at a single repository.

Thus, one may wonder “how, when, and why did The Historical Society of Pennsylvania obtain such a vast amount of British-related publications?” The answer lies to a marked degree with Albert Joseph Edmunds, an English immigrant born at Tottenham, County Middlesex, who came to the United States in 1885. Edmunds eventually served as a cataloguer for The Historical Society of Pennsylvania from 1891 to 1936. Prior to this, Edmunds had been employed as a cataloguer at the Leeds Library in England and had worked as a librarian at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He eventually became a world-renowned scholar of comparative religion and of spiritualism.

During his tenure at HSP, Edmunds succeeded in acquiring numerous volumes relative to the history of his native country, also leaving behind over 36 linear feet of his own papers, diaries, etc. which are housed at HSP.

In this small article, it is impossible to relate in full, the totality, scope, and sheer volume of fascinating data awaiting the would-be researcher. These publications contain a vast amount of local and family history as well as folklore. In addition, there are numerous articles pertaining to nature, art, military, and the early architectural history for almost the entire British Isles.

By making use of this material, the family historian may contextualize much of his or her ancestor’s residence since the volumes are filled with lithographs of landscapes or buildings, illustrations of family tombstones, coats-of-arms, vital records from church registers, obituaries of various individuals found in family sketches, queries, and so on.

One should also visit the general website of the society to view the online catalogue Discover in order to do a basic search. Searches can be done by name, author, title, or place. Note that the British-related volumes have not been digitized. It will require an actual visit by the researcher. If one can’t make a personal visit, the society’s Research-by-Mail service can also be used to acquire the necessary information.

The following is a very brief and randomly selected listing of a small number of volumes found within the British collection. Also, if one would like the full bibliographic citations for anything listed below, I would refer the reader to Discover once again. Remember as well that these are all hard-bound, original volumes, not xeroxes or print-outs.


  • The London Gazette | Nov. 1665 to 25 July 1797
  • The London Chronicle, Vols. 1–LXXX | Jan. 1757 to Dec. 1796
  • Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser | Jan. 1787 to Nov. 1787

Miscellaneous Volumes

  • The Reliquary, 1860–1894 | 34 volumes of folktales, armorial crests, genealogies, etc.
  • John Morton, The Natural History of Northamptonshire: with Some Account of the Antiquities… (London: R. Knaplock, 1712)
  • James Hakewell, History of Windsor and Its Neighbourhood (London: Edmund Lloyd, 1813)

Primarily Medieval-related

  • Calendar of State Papers |186 volumes
  • Patent Rolls, 1216–1485 | 47 volumes
  • Treasury Books, 1660–1725 | 10 volumes
  • Papal Registers, Feudal Aids, all of which are valuable in doing early surname research and distribution

Publications of the Harleian Society

  • Various “Visitations” of the Herald’s for the counties of England, with coats-of-arms and family pedigrees, primarily for the 16th–18th centuries, over 120 volumes
  • Thomas Dugdale, Curiosities of Great Britain: England & Wales…Historical, Entertaining & Commercial | 8 volumes, including 19th century renderings of buildings, maps, landscapes, etc.
  • Francis Grose, Esq., Famous Antiquities of England and Wales | 7 volumes, includes such early lithographs of the famed Stonehenge, descriptions of ruins, dated from the 18th century
  • Parliamentary Writs: Medieval to the Modern Era (House of Lords/House of Commons volumes) | State Trials, volumes covering periods from 1495–1741.
  • Gazetteer of the British Isles: Statistical and Topographical, ed. John Bartholomew, (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1887)
  • An Entire and Complete History, Political and Personal, of the Boroughs of Great Britain… (London: B. Crosby, 1794) | 2 volumes
  • British Army List, 1763–1850 | These volumes include names, rank, death information, with later volumes giving details relative to battles, various “Regiments-of- Foot” or the Infantry as we would say were involved in throughout the world, during the days of the British Empire.


  • Francis Blomefield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk… | 5 volumes, first printed in 1739, accounts of various manors, rectors, vicars, family histories, back to Medieval times
  • William Berry, County Genealogies: Pedigrees of the Families of the County of Kent, 1830 | Berry was the Registering Clerk for the College of Arms in London
  • Edward Wedlake Brayley, A Topographical History of Surrey (London: G. Willis, publisher, 1850) | 10 volumes with lithographs of churches, landscape views, ancestral estates, data concerning Medieval to Modern eras)
  • Augustine Page, History of Suffolk: A Supplemental to the Suffolk Traveler or Topographical & Genealogical Collections Concerning That County (Ipswich and London, 1844)
  • John Collinson, History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset (Bath, 1791) | 3 volumes
  • Parish Register of Almondbury (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Parish Archaeological Section, 1988) | Vol. 3, 1683–1703
  • Leeds Parish Registers: Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials: 1695-1722 (Leeds, 1909)
  • The East Anglian: Notes & Queries…Counties Suffolk, Cambridge, Essex and Norfolk (London: 1864-1910) | 17 volumes, contains genealogical queries, pedigrees, origin of place-names, family coats-of-arms, etc.
  • Shropshire Parish Registers (on various diocese), Shropshire Parish Register Society | Over 48 volumes, covering primarily the 17th–18th centuries


  • J. Y. W. Lloyd, The History of the Princes, the Lords Marcher, and the Ancient Nobility of Powys Fadog, and The Ancient Lords of Arwystli, Cedewen, and Meirionydd (London: T. Richards, 1881–1887) | 6 volumes
  • Cambrian Quarterly Magazine and Celtic Repertory: 1829–1833 | 5 volumes
  • Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1864–1962 | 115 volumes
  • Bye-Gones, 1880–1896


  • Parish Register Society of Dublin, with miscellaneous registers such as: Church of St. Michan: 1685–1686; Church of St. Peter & St. Kevin: 1669–1761, etc.
  • Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland  (Dublin: 1881–1931) | containing articles relative to church records, gravestone inscriptions, etc.
  • Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 2nd Series, 1906–1974 | Volumes 12 to 80
  • Ordnance Survey Letters: Letters Containing Information Relative to the Antiquities of the Counties of Armagh- Wexford, of the Ordnance Survey in 1835 (Reproduced under the direction of Rev. Michael O’Flanagan; Bray, 1927-1933) | 34 volumes, gives data concerning myths, local history of various towns, parishes, etc.


  • Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow: 1573-1833 (published from 1870–1916) | 14 volumes
  • Walter MacFarlane and James Toshach Clark, Genealogical Collections Concerning Families in Scotland: 1750–1751, (Edinburgh: Univ. Press, 1900), ed. from the original manuscripts | 2 volumes
  • W. Innes Addison, Roll of Graduates of the University of Glasgow, 1717–1897 (Glasgow: James MacLehose & Sons, 1898)
  • James Patterson, History of the County of Ayr: With a Genealogical Account of the Families of Ayrshire, (Edinburgh: 1847) | 2 volumes

Though Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and other online sites for British Isles research are indeed helpful, hands-on research is still highly productive in the digital age.

Working here at the society for over 31 years, I actually researched my own Rolfe/Rolph family coat-of-arms, which enabled me to discover that I had more material obtained from within our British collection upon the subject than was available through the College of Arms in London!

Doing British research at HSP can be a rewarding experience. It definitely should be consulted prior to spending time or money at expensive online sites, or before hiring private researchers within the British Isles.

Born and raised in Kentucky (10th generation), Dr. Daniel Rolph has been researching his own family lines for some 50 years, primarily out of the British Isles and specifically his Rolph/Rolfe line back to 16th century England. Dr. Rolph is the Historian and Head of Reference Services at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a position he has held for 31 years. Dr. Rolph authors two blogs for HSP: Hidden Histories and History Hits.


HSP, LCP Welcome December 2016 Fellows

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) and The Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) jointly award approximately 25 one-month fellowships for research in residence in either or both collections during each academic year. Fellows hail from across the country and around the world, utilizing both institutions' collections in contemporary scholarship.  

HSP and LCP proudly welcome the December 2016 fellows:

New Books Now Available in the Genealogical Collection


Below is a sampling of some of the new genealogical and family history books that were recently added HSP's library. Check them out on your next visit, and click the links for further information from our online catalog Discover.

Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: John Alden

REF F 63 .M39 v.16 p. 5

Who Was Who in America, v. 26

REF E 176 .W64 v.26

A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames by George Redmonds

REF CS 2470 .Y675 R43 2015

Colonial Records of the Swedish Churches in Pennsylvania, v. 6A-B

UPA E 184 .S23 S94 v. 6A-b

Porter Genealogy by Janice Roden

Fa 929.2 P844r 2016

My Somerset County Heritage by Clyde Irvin Coughenour, Jr.

Fa 929.2 C854c 2016

The Aisenbrey Family by Heinz Aisenbrey

Fa 929.2 A299a 2012

Fostering Family History Services by Rhonda L. Clark and Nicole Wedemeyer Miller

REF Z 688 .G3 C58 2016

Intelligible Heraldry by Christopher Lynch-Robinson and Adrian Lynch-Robinson

CR 21 .L9 1948a

The Hereditary Register of the United States 1973

E 172.7 .H47


Tune-in as HSP's Lee Arnold explores the history of Thanksgiving

In the run-up to this year's holiday season, Lee Arnold, HSP's Senior Director of the Library & Collections and Chief Operating Officer, spoke with Kids Corner's Kathy O'Connell about discussing family history around the Thanksgiving table, as well as with NewsWorks Tonight's Dave Heller about the history of the holiday and unique Philadelphia Turkey Day traditions. 


Amid holiday tumult, library director recalls hidden Thanksgiving "history"

Amid holiday tumult, Lee Arnold, HSP's Senior Director of the Library & Collections and Chief Operating Officer, takes a humorous look at hidden Thanksgiving "history."

The story we have all been told, about a happy confluence between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, really didn’t happen.  In fact, the Wampanoag, on that crisp 4th Thursday of November, just wanted to have a nice quiet feast without all those foreigners peppering them with silly questions: Where are we again?; Is there any place to get a nice cuppa’ tea?; What do you think of Brexit?, etc.  Every time one of the Pilgrims would come to the Indian village, hinting for an invitation (“Don’t have any T-day plans…” or “Sure would be nice to be with loved ones on the holiday…”), the Wampanoags would just close their windows, turn off the lights, and pretend they weren’t home—just like they had to do with the Pilgrims the month before on Halloween.

The only Wampanoag who actually set foot in Plymouth Plantation was a Native cat which the Pilgrims called Francine but her Indian name was Fri-Tṑ-Lay-Fḗt (which roughly translates to “She whose toes smell like corn chips”).  She didn’t come to Plymouth because she liked the Pilgrims; she was usually just looking for voles.  But this day a hungry Pilgrim named Vivica bribed Francine with two freshly shucked quahogs.  Francine not only led them to the Wampanoag smokehouse where they found ample supplies of venison and wild turkey, but she also led them to the Wampanoag pantry where they found cases of canned cranberry sauce and enough Sam Adams Pale Ale to fend off the cold till at least the New Year.

In the end the Wampanoags did set extra plates at the table (but did not put out the good silver) and taught the Pilgrims how to make a wish using the, aptly named, turkey wishbones; the Pilgrims taught them how to belch and re-notch their belts after over-eating. [We all know what the Wampanoags really wished for.]  Francine, ultimately, was felis-non-grata in both communities.  The Wampanoag changed her name to Bi-Valv-Kit-Tḗ (which roughly means “Cat who sells soul for small shellfish”); the Pilgrims soon forgot her heroic service that fall day and kept yelling “scat” and clapping their hands whenever she was seen in the Plantation with a vole in her mouth.  They also wouldn’t let her play with any yarn on the Sabbath and she had to sit still during 3-hour sermons at Wednesday evening services.  And then there were the mandatory choir rehearsals on Thursdays, and…well, Francine had simply had it and moved to Rhode Island.

New Issue of PMHB Free to Read Online

PHILADELPHIA, PA - The October 2016 issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (PMHB), "Immigration and Ethnicity in Pennsylvania History," has now been published.

How do people from different cultural backgrounds and identities coexist, interact, and flourish together, and on what terms? In this special issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, we bring together scholars of Pennsylvania history to revisit some of these questions using current approaches to immigration and ethnicity.

Latest Issue of Pennsylvania Legacies Explores Citizenship in the Keystone State

What does citizenship mean? What are its rights and obligations? Who should be welcomed as a citizen and who excluded? These questions have come to the forefront of the current presidential race, but anxiety and controversy about what citizenship means have been a common refrain in America’s—and Pennsylvania’s—history. This issue of Legacies explores how Pennsylvanians have understood, exercised, and fought for citizenship from the earliest days of the republic to the present day. 


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