Philadelphia Information Locator Service
Genealogical Resources at the Philadelphia City Archives
The Archives now has self-service coin-operated microfilm readers and a reader-printer. The free readers have been retired from public service. The cost of the readers is $ .25 for each 15 minutes. The cost of copies is $ .75 per page.
For birth and death records after 30 June 1915, one must make application to the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records, Room 1009, 1400 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (215-560-3054)
Note: The State records are not open for inspection.
The registration of births in Philadelphia City and County began on 1 July 1860 under the provisions of an Act of the Pennsylvania Assembly approved on 8 March 1860. Under the provisions of this act, the birth records from 1860 to 1904 were to include the full name of the child, sex and color (race), date and place of birth, full name of the father and mother, the father's occupation, the name and address of doctor or midwife making the report, the date of the certificate and the date of registration. Unfortunately for genealogists, only the mother's first name is given on these records, not her full maiden name.
From 1860 to 1903, the information on returns by the doctors and midwives was transcribed into registers kept for the purposes of registering births. Although it is inconsistant in the early years, eventually two registers were used for each year: the first volume covered the first half of the year from January to June; the second volume covered the period from July to December. Indexes were prepared from these volumes. From 1865 to 1903, one index volume covered each year's births. These indexes are subdivided by first letter of last name and, after 1878, by month of birth. There is no alphabetical index for one year or a comprehensive index for the entire period. One note of caution: the page numbers are duplicated in each of the volumes - therefore January will start on page 1, volume 1; July will start on page 1, volume 2.
One can view the actual monthly returns submitted by the midwives and doctors. To do so, note the month of record in the first column of the birth register and the doctor/midwife's name in the second column from the right. Then go to the appropriate microfilm for that year, month and doctor/midwife's name. The returns are filed alphabetically by the name of the doctor/midwife. Hospital returns are filed at the end of the alphabet.
The Board of Health changed the forms used for the recording of births in 1904. The birth records from 1904 to 1915 add the mother's maiden name and occupation, if any; age and place of birth of both parents, and birth number of the child. The time of birth and the legitimacy of the birth are also recorded. This information is not transcribed in any register. Separate card indexes were prepared for each of the births. The actual returns were filed under the name of the doctor or midwife. These returns are filed by year, then alphabetically by the name of the doctor or midwife. Hospital returns are filed alphabetically at the end of the year's returns.
All birth registers and original returns of births ("doctor's returns") are available on microfilm both at the City Archives and through the Genealogical Society of Utah.
The death records kept by the Board of Health from 1803 - 30 June 1860 (known as "Cemetery Returns") contain the name and age of the deceased, the date and cause of death, and the doctor's name. These records are arranged by cemetery.
Under the Act of 1860, records starting on 1 July 1860 were to contain the full name of the deceased, sex, color (race), age, marital status, place of birth and occupation, date and cause of death, address of the deceased, name of the cemetery and date of interment, and parents' names for minor children only. The undertaker's name and address also appear on the original returns but not on the death register until 1902.
The returns starting in 1906 adds the date of birth for the deceased, his or her parents' names and parents' places of birth. An informant's name and address is also available for many of these records.
The death returns from 1860 to June 30, 1890 are filed by week and then alphabetically by cemetery. Burials outside of Philadelphia, with the exception of major cemeteries, i.e. Holy Cross, Fernwood, etc., are filed in a category titled "Out of City." To locate the actual death return, one must use the index to the register, view the appropriate page of the death register, and note both the week of record (which is located in the first column) and the cemetery. Then look at the microfilm list for the appropriate week.
The death returns from 1 July 1890 to 31 December 1903 are filed by certificate number. The numbers are on a fiscal year running from 1 July to 30 June. Therefore the low numbers (# 1 - approx. 13,000) are in the second half of a calendar year (July - December) and the high numbers (approx. # 13,000 +) are for certificates in the first half of a calendar year. When viewing the index, note the number of the certificate and go directly to the microfilm of the certificates. If the certificate that is sought is # 22,078 of 1896, you want to retrieve the microfilm of FY 1895-1896, not that of FY 1896-1897.
Starting on 1 January 1904, the certificates were filed numerically within a calendar year.
The Cemetery Returns were indexed by the W.P.A. and have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. All death registers from 1860 - 1903 are available on microfilm. The Genealogical Society of Utah finished microfilming all actual death returns 1860 - 1915 in 1997.
For a list of total number of deaths between 1860 and 1905, click here.
1 July 1860 - 30 December 1885
The marriage records give the date of marriage, names, ages, races, generic places of residence and birth for both the bride and groom, minister's name and address, and denomination of marriage performed.
Most of the indexes are arranged alphabetically by first letters of last and first names, and then by year. If one of the parties to the marriage was Thomas Green and the marriage occurred on 31 August 1873, then one would look at the "G" volume, open to the section which included all people whose first names began with the letter "T" and then look at 1873. There are no separate indexes for men and women - all names are filed in the same index. Most of the indexes of this type stop between 1877 and 1880 so one would then have to look at the yearly indexes for the years 1877 - 1885.
All marriage indexes, registers and original returns have been microfilmed.
Note: The City Archives also has microfilm of marriage licenses issued by the Marriage License Bureau from 1 October 1885 - 30 December 1915. These records are available for viewing only. The City Archives may not issue any copies of them.
For marriage records from 1 October 1885 to the present, contact the Marriage License Bureau, Room 413 City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 19107 (MU6-2233)
1793 - 1930
The City Archives possesses the naturalization records of seven of the ten courts indexed as part of the W.P.A. Index of Naturalizations and republished as Philadelphia Naturalization Records, edited by P. William Filby. These courts are the Common Pleas Court, Philadelphia County District Court, Quarter Sessions Court, Mayor's Court, Recorder's Court of the Northern Liberties and Kensington, Criminal Sessions Court and General Sessions Court. The Archives will make photocopies of the naturalization records for a $ 5.00 fee for each set of naturalization papers.
The naturalization process usually includes two steps: the declaration of intention and the petition for naturalization. The declaration of intention may be taken at any time after the alien has arrived within the United States. The information contained within the declaration was very detailed before 1828-1838, often with the name of the declarant, place and date of birth, port and date of emigration and immigration, approximate age, and name or title of the monarch whom he is renouncing given. At various dates between 1828 and 1838, the individual courts switched to a shorter declaration form requiring only the name of the declarant, approximate age, and name or title of the monarch to be given.
The petition for naturalization occurred at least two years after the declaration of intention and after the alien had resided within the United States for at least five years. Uniformly, the petition for naturalization will give no biographical or genealogical information before 1906.
There were two major exceptions to the rules cited above. Minors, those children who arrived in this country under the age of 18, only had to reach their majority and reside within the country for five years before making a final petition for naturalization. The requirement that a declaration be filed was waived. These petitions will give the year and port of entry for the petitioner. Military service in the Union or United States forces and an honorable discharge allowed aliens to omit both the declaration and four years of residency requirements. Only one year of residency within the United States was required. The military petitions will given the length of service and the unit in which the petitioner served.
Starting in 1906, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service issued a standard form to be used by all courts in the United States. The declaration of intention would give a detailed physical description of the applicant as well as important genealogical information about date and place of birth. The petition required the name of the ship, port and date of entry, and names of family members, ages, and places of birth.
With rare exceptions, no woman was naturalized prior to 1923, after the passage of the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote.
All naturalization records held by the City Archives have been microfilmed.
Note: for records of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania State Archives, Box 1026, William Penn Memorial Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 17108; for records of the United States Circuit and District Courts, contact the National Archives, Mid-Atlantic Regional Branch, 9th & Market Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107 (597-3000).
City directories contain an alphabetical listing of city residents giving name, residence, and occupation. These are generally published annually around the beginning of each year. There was only sporadic coverage in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and again from 1918 to 1935. For instance, there are no directories covering the period 1931-1934. The information is considered to be current as of October of the preceding year.
Directories before 1855 include only those residents of the City of Philadelphia, and the built-up areas to the north and south, including Northern Liberties, Spring Garden, Kensington, and Southwark. The 1855 directory, the first after the Consolidation Act of 1854, includes separate listings for many of small communities outside of this built-up area, including Bustleton, Chestnut Hill, Fox Chase, Germantown, Mount Airy, and others.
Many of the directories also include a section on businesses. Starting in 1868, a separate business directory series was issued. Prior to this year, a business directory was usually found at the end of the city directory.
The 1929 and 1930 directories also have a street and house directory organized by street and number of the house, listing the residents of the address.
1683 - 1952
The deed records held by the City Archives are very extensive. In addition to the major deed and mortgage book series starting in 1683, the Archives also has sheriff deed books from 1736-1905, partition deeds found within the Common Pleas and District Courts, warrants and surveys of the Province of Pennsylvania from 1683 to 1759, and miscellaneous instrument books. Copies of deeds are available at a cost of $ 2.00 per page, unless otherwise noted below.
The deed books are organized more or less chronologically according to the date of recording, not according to the date of the deed. One can access these deeds by consulting the grantor (seller) and/or grantee (buyer) indices. Genealogists can find deeds very helpful in discovering family relationships. The recital clause after the description of the property will list everything that has occurred since the last time a deed was executed. If a property stays within a family for more than one generation, or if an estate is selling the property, then many important family relationships will be revealed. This recital clause details the right of the seller or sellers to sell a property.
Sheriff's deeds can be accessed through defendant and purchaser indices. The Sheriff will sell any property confiscated through a court action. (Note: copies of these deeds are available at $.50 per page. [$ 2.00 minimum copying fee]) The City Archives also possesses microfilm copies of the sheriff's deeds of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for viewing only.
When a large estate is broken up among several heirs, the heirs sometimes cannot agree upon a fair and equitable arrangement of division. They petition the court to appoint a master or arbitrator to create such a division and agree to abide by the court's decision. The result are the partition deeds. (Note: copies of these deeds are available at $.50 per page. [$ 2.00 minimum copying fee])
A three-step process occurred whenever William Penn sold land in his colony. The first step, after the initial purchase of an unlocated set amount of acres, was the issuance of a "warrant" from Penn to the Surveyor-General to survey out this set amount of acres. The survey would then be made and returned to Penn's land office. Upon the receipt of this survey return, a patent could be drawn up for the land. The Archives has transcriptions of most of the warrants and surveys for Philadelphia, Montgomery and Berks counties before 1759. (Copies are available at $.50 per page. [$ 2.00 minimum copying fee]) The Archives also has microfilm of the patent books for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The miscellaneous instruments books contains various legal documents which a person wants to have recorded, including business agreements, partnerships, manumissions, sale of property outside of Philadelphia, certificates of naturalization, etc.
Another little-used source material are the letter of attorney books in which instruments in which one person empowers another with the power to act in their behalf are recorded.
Note: for deeds after 1951, contact the Department of Records, Room 153, City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
The City Archives does possess a myriad of other records in which some genealogical nuggets may be mined. These include:
Common Pleas Court
---->Divorce dockets 1851-1875 (docket entries only - papers not in custody of Archives).
---->Insolvency petitions and bonds (indexed - not a complete run)
Guardians of the Poor
---->Support Bonds (indexed)
---->Apprenticeship indentures (partially indexed)
City and County Commissioners
---->Tax Assessment Registers ca. 1769 - ca. 1820 (varies by ward or district)
---->Street Lists of Voters, 1928-1929, 1934, 1948-ca. 1980.
For other genealogical resources in Philadelphia, visit these sites:
---->Genealogical Pathfinder at the Free Library of Philadelphia ---->Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
---->Genealogical Computing Association of Pennsylvania