Philadelphia County

Founded in 1681, Philadelphia was one of the original three counties established by William Penn, along with Bucks and Chester.

(Map illustration from The Independence Square Neighborhood. Published by The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, Philadelphia, 1926.)

(Map illustration from The Independence Square Neighborhood.
Published by The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, Philadelphia, 1926.)

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.

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 FamilySearch Catalog for viewing at an LDS Family History Center near you. The Philadelphia City Births Index, (July) 1860 – 1906, may be searched on the FamilySearch website. The images of birth records are available only at Family History Centers and FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries, including GSP. For more information, see our FamilySearch Affiliate Library page.


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. Also at FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries (including GSP), Family History Centers, and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

October 1885 – December 1915 – Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau, Orphans’ Court, City Hall Room 415; Philadelphia City Archives. Also at FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries (including GSP), Family History Centers, and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

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.”

James M. Duffin, Fellow of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and archivist at the University of Pennsylvania, 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 should allow 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.


1. GSP Philadelphia County Repository Guide

2. Historical Society of Pennsylvania Discover Online Catalog [Combined resources of the GSP, HSP and Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies collections.]

3. Independence Seaport Museum Archives & Library

4. Free Library of Philadelphia Map Collection

5. Free Library of Philadelphia Newspaper Collection

6. Greater Philadelphia Geo-History Network  [More map Resources]

7. Grand Army of the Republic Museum & Library

8. [Philadelphia Department of Records Photo Archives]

9. Philadelphia County PA GenWeb Project

10. Philadelphia City and County Online Applications [This page contains links to available Philadelphia Governmental online digitized records; most are fee based.]

11. Philadelphia City and County “Agency List” [The “catalog” of the Philadelphia Records Department City Archives.]

12. Philadelphia Department of Records Online Historical Deed Indexes [Historical Deed Indexes are Free]

13. PACSCL [Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collection Libraries]

14. Temple University Library Collections [Includes the Philadelphia Jewish Archive Center Collection.]

15. Workshop of the World [Survey of 150 industrial sites in seventeen Philadelphia neighborhoods.]


1. Philadelphia Archdiocese Catholic Records [Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center]

 ALSO SEE: GSP compiled information sheet for Philadelphia Catholic Resources [PDF]

2. Catholic Cemeteries – Archdiocese of Philadelphia [includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties]

3. Presbyterian Historical Society Genealogy Resources  [4th and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia]

4. Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia

5. Haverford College Library, Quaker and Special Collections

6. Episcopal Diocesan Archives of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh)

7. Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College

8. Christ Church Philadelphia Online Genealogy Search

9. The Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia


1. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia [American Architects and Buildings; Philadelphia and surrounding counties map resources.]

2. Bridesburg Historical Society

3. Center for Northeast Philadelphia History [Sponsored by the Historical Society of Frankford]

4. Chestnut Hill Historical Society

5. East Falls Historical Society

6. The Historical Society of Frankford

7. Germantown Historical Society

8. Kensington History [Encyclopaedia of Kensington History – Ken Milano’s Site]

9. Friends of the 1799 Lazaretto Researchers

[Lazaretto Historical Information Brochure HERE. Friends of the Lazaretto Membership Brochure HERE.]

10. The Southwark Historical Society

11. Historical Society of Tacony

(Philadelphia County Ward Map courtesy of Kristin Bryson & Bare Roots Publishing)

(Philadelphia County Ward Map courtesy of Kristin Bryson & Bare Roots Publishing)

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