Deeds, Wills, Maps, and Property Histories

Background Reading and Lists

The Source. SSH 929.1072 So84a2. Good essays on land and probate records.

Ancestry's Red Book. SSH 929.1072 R245b. Lists land and probate records by states and gives county courthouse addresses.

The Genealogist's Address Book. SSH 929.1025 B444g. Lists numerous addresses of interest to genealogists.

House Histories. SSH 728.3709 L626h . Shelved with 929.1 L626h. The best one volume book about doing a house history.

Houses and Homes. SSH 973 H817a. Shelved with 929.1 L626h.

Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs. SSH 929.1072 F917u.

Artifacts and the American Past. SSH/STX 973 Sch37a.

Using Maps in Genealogy. Government Publications Department (GPD) I 19.2:G29/28.

Pennsylvania Land Records. SSH 974.8 M924p. Shelved with 929.1072 H756I. The best one volume description of Pennsylvania land records.

Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP)

Ask for Researching your Family History at the Central Library, a handout available at the Social Science and History Department reference desk.

The Newspaper Department has a handout on doing house histories. Ask for it at the Reference Desk in that department.

The books listed below are only SOME of the useful ones available at FLP.

Local histories contain much information about early land holders. Good lists of local histories can be found in United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress, SSH 016.973 Un31u, A Bibliography of American County Histories, SSH 016.973 F472b, and Consolidated Bibliography of County Histories in Fifty States in 1961, SSH/STX 016.973 P442c. Pennsylvania County and Regional Histories. Microfilm 974.8 P3823c. Many Pennsylvania county histories have been microfilmed. Ask for a list at the Map Collection. Bibliography of Pennsylvania History with suppls. SSH 016.9748 P3843b. Good for lists of Pennsylvania local histories. For material after 1970, use the database America: History and Life, accessible at the Parkway Central Library or through a subscribing library. For histories of SOME Philadelphia neighborhoods, inquire at the Social Science and History reference desk.

Pennsylvania Archives. SSH 974.8 P3823a. A Guide to the Published Archives of Pennsylvania is shelved with Pennsylvania Archives. See the following headings in the guide: Name of county, Tax Lists, Donation Lands, Depreciation Lands, Forfeited Estates, Indian Deeds, Land Warrantees, Last Purchase Land Warrantees, Maps, Proprietary Manors, Rights, Warrants, and Welsh Purchasers.

Warrants and Surveys of the Province of Pennsylvania Including the Three Lower Counties, 1683-1759. SSH 929.3 P53w. Includes Philadelphia City and County, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Kent, Lancaster, York, New Castle, and Sussex Counties, and the town of Reading.

Guide to the Mortgages of the General Loan Office of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1724-1756. SSH 929.3748 G941t.

Guide to Records of the Sale of Commonwealth Property in Philadelphia County, 1780-1798. SSH929.3748 G941tr.

Philadelphia Land Titles. Map Collection (MAP) 347.2 P53l. A very small collection of published land titles.

Index of Wills and Administration Records, 1682-1782, 1783-1810, 1811-1831, 1832-1850. SSH 929.3 W6751. Philadelphia wills.

Philadelphia Preserved: Catalog of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Art Department (ART) 720.9748 H629a. There are archival photographs and drawings on microfilm in the Art Department for some of the buildings listed in this reference.

Inventory of Buildings Within the Chestnut Hill Historical District. MAP 917.4811 M71i.

Historic Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. MAP 720.9748 M711h. Shelved as 914.4811 M71h.

Historic America: Buildings, Structures, and Sites Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey. ART/STX, Government Publications Department (GPD)/STX 724.973 H629a.

Guide to the State Historical Markers of Pennsylvania. SSH 917.4804 B468g.

African-American State Historical Markers. SSH 974.811 P53g.

Local Businesses: Exploring Their History. SSH 338.7407 K463l. Shelved with 929.1.

The Map Collection has one of the best collections of Philadelphia maps in the world. Included in the collection are ward atlases, Hexamer and Sanborn Insurance Maps for Philadelphia, Hexamer General Industrial Surveys, Delaware Valley aerial photographs, city ward boundary changes, and Philadelphia street name changes. Some resources are available online on the Map Collection Digital Collection site. Sanborn Insurance Maps for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware are available in the Map Collection as well as online in the Sanborn Maps Geo Edition database. This electronic resource is available at all FLP locations, and outside the Library with a library card number and PIN. The Map Collection also includes early atlases of suburban and other Pennsylvania counties (a good source for early land owner names), an extensive collection of country and state gazetteers (place names), and much other material of interest to genealogists: Philadelphia Street Name Changes. 917.4811 P53mo2. Descriptive List of the Map Collection in the Pennsylvania State Archives. 016.912748 P384d. U.S. Atlases: a List of National, State, County, City, and Regional Atlases in the Library of Congress. 016.912 Un33u. Land Ownership Maps in the Library of Congress. 016.912 Un33la. Ask the Map Librarian for assistance.

PACSCL Photography Directory: Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, and Delaware. Print and Picture Collection (PIX) 779.074 P1a. Print and Picture Department. A print and online subject index to the holdings of hundreds of photographic archives. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of this ESSENTIAL directory. Philadelphia Photograph Subject Headings. MAP/PIX 025.4997 P53p. Lists photograph subject headings used at the Urban Archives, Samuel Paley Library, Temple University. List of Subject Headings for Photographs in the Suburbs Photograph Collection: Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. MAP/PIX 025.4977 L696o. Lists photograph subject headings used at the Urban Archives, Samuel Paley Library, Temple University. The Print and Picture Collection (PIX) has many photographs, prints, and other graphic material related to Philadelphia. Make inquiries at the PIX reference desk.

A History of the Region of Pennsylvania North of the Ohio and West of the Allegheny River.... SSH/STX A974.8 Ag6. A brief account of the division of this area for public purposes, including donation and depreciation lands.

Genealogist's Guide to Pennsylvania Records. SSH 929.1072 G286g. Lists Historical Society of Pennsylvania holdings for PA counties as of the 1980s. A good source for lists of deeds, land records, and probate records by Pennsylvania county.

Many branch libraries of the Free Library have neighborhood related holdings.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP)

To make full use of the HSP collection, you must be able to use ALL of their catalogs. Some are online. Go to and click on "Online Catalogs".

Generally, HSP has deed indexes for the period 1683-1880s, deeds for the period 1683-1830, will indexes and wills for the period 1682-1900, and administration indexes for the period 1682-1900.

There are numerous indexes to the photographic collection of HSP. These should be examined in detail. There are indexes to collections of prints and photographs, a map and atlas catalog, a graphics catalog, an index to the records of the Philadelphia Contributorship and indexes to the records of the Franklin and Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Collections.

"Archives of the City and County of Philadelphia, Part 2" in Penn In Hand (the newsletter of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania), Vol. XVI, No. 1, Mar 1995. A useful description of the deed, exemplification, tax, and photographic holdings of the Philadelphia City Archives. "Probate and Related Records in Pennsylvania," Penn in Hand, Vol. IX, No. 1, 1987. Essential reading for an understanding of the relationship between property and probate records in Pennsylvania.

National Archives - Mid-Atlantic Branch (NARA)

Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives. GPD 016.9291 Un3g. Has interesting chapters on land records and cartographic records at the National Archives.

The Archives: a Guide to the National Archives Field Branches. SSH 016.973 Sz71a.

United States Direct Tax of 1798: Tax Lists for the State of Pennsylvania. An extremely useful resource. Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Pennsylvania, 1862-1866. Shelved with SSH 917.4811 F775n.

Pennsylvania State Archives (PAA)

Guide to Genealogical Sources at the Pennsylvania State Archives. SSH 016.9293 P384g2. Describes the holdings of PAA.

Guide to the Photographs at the Pennsylvania State Archives. ART/PIX/SSH 016.9748 P384g.

Philadelphia City Archives (PAR)

The Philadelphia City Archives holds information essential to the researcher. They are located at 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia. The phone number is 215-685-9400. The Archives web site is

Department of Records, City Hall (CHR)

Deed transfer sheets. These documents help trace the chain of title for Philadelphia property from the 1950s back to the 1870s.

Register of Wills, City Hall (CHW)

Wills and Administrations for Philadelphia, 1682 to the present with indexes. The best place to do research on probate records. Many of the will and administration folders that contain the original documents are at the Register of Wills Archive at 3101 Market Street.

Orphans Court, City Hall (CHO)

ALWAYS check the index to Orphan's Court records for disputes among heirs, for final disposition of property, and for guardians appointed for minors.

Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC)

PHC has a vast Philadelphia photograph collection. Ask to see the files by house number (there are not many of these) AND by street block; e. g., ask for the file 400 Richmond Street. AND the file for the 400 block of Richmond Street. Tell the archivist what you are trying to do and then take advantage of his or her knowledge of the collection. The collection is especially useful for getting pictures of buildings that no longer exist; e. g., the areas demolished to make way for I-95.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)

The LDS collection is the largest collection of genealogical material in the world and is worldwide in scope. Numerous microfilm reels of deeds, land records, and probate records are available for loan for a nominal fee.

Local Historical and Civic Associations

Local historical societies and civic associations are good sources for photographs of specific neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods even have their own small libraries and photo archives; e.g., GermantownWissinoming,University CityFrankford, and others. Most may be found on the Internet.