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Genealogical Sources Survey for the  Main Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library Conducted in January of 2005


This survey was taken at the Main Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, located at 19th & Vine Streets, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The Main Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia has a very large local history collection and it is here that their genealogical material is contained. The local history collection is housed in the Social Sciences and History Department, located at the center section of the south side of the building on the second floor.


The library has a number of published genealogies and family histories, but for the most part they are in the “closed” stacks and cannot be browsed, but must be ordered and one must wait for their retrieval.  The library’s computer catalogue shows only 282 items listed for all genealogical entries and some are undoubtedly duplicates under different headings, but the same book. It would appear that the Free Library of Philadelphia has not taken an active interest in genealogy due to there already being several excellent resources in downtown Philadelphia for genealogical researchers (The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania).


The library does have in their genealogical collection the bibliographies compiled by Marion J. Kaminkow. In fact, it has the following Kaminkow volumes:


Genealogies in the Library of Congress; a bibliography. Edited by Marion J. Kaminkow. Baltimore; Magna Carta Book Company, 1971. Two Volumes.


Genealogies in the Library of Congress; a bibliography. Supplement 1972-1976. Edited by Marion J. Kaminkow. Baltimore: Magna Carta Book Company, 1977.


Genealogies in the Library of Congress; a bibliography. Second Supplement 1976-1986. 2nd Edition. Edited by Marion J. Kaminkow. Baltimore: Magna Cart Book Company, 1987.


A Compliment to Genealogies in the Library of Congress; a bibliography. Twenty Thousand Additions from Forty-Five Libraries. Compiled and Edited by Marion J. Kaminkow. Baltimore: Magna Carta Book Company, 1981.


Besides the Kaminkow volumes, the library also has these bibliographies, or catalogs of published family histories and genealogies:


Genealogies Catalogued by the Library of Congress Since 1986; with a list of established forms of family names and a list of genealogies converted to microform since 1983. Washington, DC: Cataloguing Distribution Services, Library of Congress, 1991.


The American Genealogist; being a catalogue of family histories. 5th Edition. Albany: Munsell, 1900.


Genealogical & Local History Books in Print. 4th Edition. Springfield: N. Schreiner-Yantis.Volumes 2-5, 1985-1992.


Genealogical & Local History Books in Print, Family History Volume. 5th Edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996.


Local history is one topic that the Free Library of Philadelphia is very good for. The library has a number of histories of Philadelphia, with the most popular and useful being the following:


Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the olden time; being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes and incidents of the city and its inhabitants and of the earliest settlements of the inland part of Pennsylvania from the days of the founders. Embellished with engravings by T. H. Mumford. Enlarged, with many revisions and additions, by Willis P. Hazard. Philadelphia: Leary, 1909. Three Volumes.


History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884. By J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1884. Two Volumes.


Philadelphia: a 300 year history. Edited by Russell F. Weigley, Associate Editors, Nicholas B. Wainwright, Edwin Wolf, 2nd. New York: W. W Norton, 1982.


While two of the three titles are old-timers, they are still considered the standard histories of Philadelphia.


As hard as it seems to believe, this large metropolitan library in one of America’s largest cities, only subscribes to one genealogical periodical, that being the local one published by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. They currently have the following volumes and numbers:


The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine. Philadelphia, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Volumes 1, number 1, (06/1895) to Volume 42, number 3, (04/2002) bound, volume 43, number 1 (06/2003) to volume 43, number 3 (06/2004) unbound.


Only recently the library discontinued the following:


Everton’s Family History Magazine, also known as Family History Magazine, and formerly known as Everton’s Genealogical Helper.


This periodical was discontinued as of November of 2004, but perhaps with the recent reorganization of this company, the library might be re-subscribing. Another periodical that was recently discontinued was The American Genealogist, which was stopped in 2002, after having received it since 1932. Presumably with the advent of the internet and with the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (GSP) and the Pennsylvania Historical Society (HSP) being nearby, the library feels their money can be better spent on other items and they have left GSP and HSP to service the genealogical community.


Looking at the one periodical that the library does subscribe to, you see that The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, as the name suggests, concentrates on families of the Pennsylvania area. The publication does not have a query section presently, as queries are now regulated to the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania’s newsletter, Penn in Hand, which is issued twice a year. This periodical issues an annual index at the end of the year.


When it comes to indexes of genealogical periodicals, that library is not that bad. Of the more well known indexes to genealogical periodicals, the Free Library of Philadelphia has the following:


(Munsell’s) Index to American Genealogies; and to genealogical material contained in all works such as town histories, county histories, local histories, historical society publications, biographies, historical periodicals, and kindred works, alphabetically arranged. 5th Edition. Albany: J. Munsell’s Sons, 1900.


Donald Lines Jacobus’ Index to Genealogical Periodicals. Revised Edition. Newhall: C. Boyer, 1988.


Genealogical Periodical Annual Index (GPAI). Volumes 1-, Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books 1963-current.


The New England Historical and Genealogical Register; index of persons, index of subjects, index of places, volumes 1-50. Editors and compilers, Josephine Elizabeth Rayne, Effie Louise Chapman, Theodora Kimball. Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1989.


The library does not list in their catalog database the following sources, which are also useful:


PERSI 2000. Periodical Source Index. CD-ROM. Salt Lake City: Allen County Public Library, 2000.


Annual Index to Genealogical Periodicals and Family History. Inez R. Waldenmaier. 8 Volumes. Washington, D.C. 1957-63.


Swem’s Virginia Historical Index.


While their genealogical book collection is not that great, the Free Library of Philadelphia does have an excellent newspaper collection for the City of Philadelphia. They have the following runs of newspapers:


            Philadelphia Bulletin             1847 to 1982

            Philadelphia Inquirer            1860 to date            

            Philadelphia Press                1857 to 1920

            Philadelphia Tribune            1912 to date

            Public Ledger                       1836 to 1934

            Pennsylvania Gazette           1728 to 1789


These newspapers, as well as many others, are all available on microfilm, except for the Pennsylvania Gazette, which has been published in facsimile. The most recent issues of the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Philadelphia Tribune, are available in the original until they are eventually microfilmed.


The Philadelphia Library has a large manuscript and rare book collections department, which is accessible to the general public. While some of this collection is listed in the computer database online, most of it is not and therefore there are a number of printed catalogues for different collections of this department, which must be used. One such published catalogue is the following:


Edwin Wolf 2nd. A Descriptive Catalogue of the John Frederick Lewis Collection of European Manuscripts in The Free Library of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, 1937.


There are a number of historical manuscripts in the rare book department and undoubtedly genealogical material could be gleaned from them. However, much of the special collections department tends to be more literary oriented, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, children’s books, etc.


The large holdings of this library is currently available to browse through the library’s computer database, either online at remote sites, or at the library itself. The old card catalogue was discontinued some years ago. Some of the library’s holdings are not in the computer database, so it must be looked up through printed catalogues (For example: much of the material in the rare book department as mentioned above).


When it comes to doing genealogical research, the library is very useful. The library has a number of photocopiers available in many departments throughout the library, plus there are numerous microfilm and microfiche readers available in the newspaper collections department, as well as the government documents department. This aspect of the library is very useful, as the researcher rarely has to wait to use a microfilm or microfiche reader. The library also participates in the interlibrary loan program with other affiliated libraries in the United States, as well as the world, provided you have a library card and acquire a PIN number from them, which are both free. The program can be accessed online, which is a real advantage, and the book shipped to your local neighborhood library.


While the Free Library of Philadelphia’s genealogical section appears small, it is only because the library is so big!  Even though the genealogical section is comparatively small when seen against the backdrop of the whole library system of Philadelphia, there are however a number of resources located outside of the genealogy and local history section of the library, which are generally considered “genealogical” and could prove very useful for researching genealogy and family history.


The following sources would be very useful for potential genealogical researchers: Philadelphia City Directories of all kinds, biographies and collective biographies, such as the Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography in 32 Volumes, the Federal Census of Philadelphia, 1790-1930, with either indexes or enumeration district descriptions, government publications of all kinds (The Free Library of Philadelphia is a Government Depository Library), numerous guides for street name changes, county map changes, telephone directories for Philadelphia  (1879 to present) and other major U. S. cities, plus a number of local church histories are all available.  The library also has a very good map room with local ward and fire insurance maps, from the earliest times to the present, plus gazetteers for most countries. Finally, there are also some cemetery/burial returns, court records, military records, naturalization records, ship passenger lists, and tax records, that are located within the various departments of the library, but not specifically in the small designated “genealogy” section of the local history collection.

Kenneth W. Milano is available to do research at the Philadelphia Free Library, contact him at

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