Founded in 1681, Philadelphia was one of the original three counties established by William Penn, along with Bucks and Chester. The city of Philadelphia originally encompassed an area from the Delaware River on the east to the Schuylkill River on the west; on the north bounded by Vine Street, with a southern boundary of Cedar (aka South) Street.
City of Philadelphia 1800
(Map illustration from The Independence Square Neighborhood.
Published by The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, Philadelphia, 1926.)
In 1854 the city incorporated to include all of the townships and boroughs surrounding the original city plan, and took on the familiar shape of the 135 square miles we see on maps today.
Registration of births in Philadelphia City and County began on 1 July 1860 and continued through 1906 when Pennsylvania began recording vital statistics. Duplicate records continued to be recorded in Philadelphia until 30 June 1915 when the task of vital statistics recording was taken over entirely by the state of Pennsylvania.
1 July 1860 – 30 June 1915 – Philadelphia City Archives (Birth Returns from Physicians and Midwives to the Philadelphia Board of Health can also be found among the Vital Records collections available through the FHLC for viewing at an LDS Family History Center near you. Click here -> for the Philadelphia City Births Index, (July) 1860 - 1906, which is also available on the FamilySearch website, however as of 10/26/2012 the images of birth records are not available.)
Registration of marriages in Philadelphia also began on 1 July 1860 and continues through the present at Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau (Room 415), Orphans’ Court, in Philadelphia City Hall. Philadelphia researchers should know that the Philadelphia Marriage Indexes from October 1885 through December 1951 are available online at FamilySearch.
Marriage records are available for the following dates at the following repositories:
1 July 1860-October 1885 – Philadelphia City Archives (& FHLC; LDS Family History Centers)
October 1885 – December 1915 – Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau, Orphans’ Court, City Hall Room 415; Philadelphia City Archives; (& FHLC; LDS Family History Centers)
January 1916 to Present – Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau, Orphans’ Court, Philadelphia City Hall, Room 415.
Philadelphia began recording deaths through burial records (called ‘Cemetery Returns’) in 1803 and continued to record deaths in Philadelphia city and county up until 1906 when the state of Pennsylvania assumed this role. Duplicate records were kept in Philadelphia until 30 June 1915 when this responsibility shifted entirely to the state of Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia researchers should know that original images of the Philadelphia Death Records are available online from 1803 through 30 June 1915 at FamilySearch.
(*Please note the death record images on Family Search include the original Philadelphia Board of Health “Cemetery Returns,” 1803-1860 [missing; 1836], and Death Certificates, 1 July 1860 – 30 June 1915.)
The Philadelphia Department of Records records all property transactions in the city, and maintains historical deeds and property transactions at the Philadelphia City Archives. You can view the descriptions of the city holdings through their website page titled "Architectural Research Resources at the Philadelphia City Archives and the Department of Records."
Deed Transfer Sheet
(Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Department of Records)
Fellow of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, and archivist at the University of Pennsylvania, James M. Duffin has written a detailed and very helpful 27 page PDF guide to Tracing Philadelphia Property Ownership Using Online Deed Records in Philadelphia. (See Links to Philadelphia County "Online Historical Deed Indexes" below.)
Any researcher planning a visit to Philadelphia would do well to make the time for a visit to the Register of Wills in Philadelphia City Hall, Northwest Quadrant, rooms 180-187. The will and administration index books are housed in room 187.
Philadelphia wills from 1682 through 1980 are available on microform and can be viewed on reader/printers in this office. (although the Register of Wills maintains records to the present, the more recently recorded documents are computerized.) Copies of probate records cost $2.00 per page. Please note, no Administration files are available on microform; these original documents were never filmed and are stored in the Philadelphia Register of Wills Archive.
Philadelphia will indexes and abstracts covering various years are available at a few repositories in Philadelphia, and also through LDS Family History Library Catalog for rental at Family History Centers. However, the Philadelphia Register of Wills is the only repository in possession of original Philadelphia Administration files – these files are not available anywhere else, through any other institution. Philadelphia Administration Indexes from 1683-1842 were filmed by the LDS (FHLC #384816), but post-1842 indexes to present were never filmed.
If researchers have specific questions about procedure to obtain probate records, they can contact the Philadelphia Register of Wills office at 215-686-6261 or 215-686-6269.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania Discover Online Catalog [Combined resources of the GSP, HSP and Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies collections.]
Greater Philadelphia Geo-History Network [More map Resources]
PhillyHistory.org [Philadelphia Department of Records Photo Archives]
Philadelphia City and County Online Applications [This page contains links to available Philadelphia Governmental online digitized records; most are fee based.]
Philadelphia City and County "Agency List" [The "catalog" of the Philadelphia Records Department City Archives.]
Philadelphia Department of Records Online Historical Deed Indexes [Historical Deed Indexes are Free]
PACSCL [Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collection Libraries]
Workshop of the World [Survey of 150 industrial sites in seventeen Philadelphia neighborhoods.]
ONLINE RELIGIOUS ARCHIVES & LIBRARIES
Philadelphia Archdiocese Catholic Records [Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center]
PLEASE ALSO SEE: GSP compiled information sheet for Philadelphia Catholic Resources [PDF]
Catholic Cemeteries - Archdiocese of Philadelphia [includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties]
Presbyterian Historical Society Genealogy Resources [4th and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia]
PHILADELPHIA NEIGHBORHOOD, LOCAL CULTURAL & PRESERVATION SOCIETIES
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia [American Architects and Buildings; Philadelphia and surrounding counties map resources.]
Center for Northeast Philadelphia History [Sponsored by the Historical Society of Frankford]
Kensington History [Encyclopaedia of Kensington History - Ken Milano's Site]
(Philadelphia County Ward Map courtesy of Kristin Bryson & Bare Roots Publishing)