Philadelphia has an incredible history, but it’s not always easy to know how to begin finding it. Research? You could go to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s awesome map collection, the Library Company, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the stately Athenaeum, City Hall, the City Archives, Temple’s University’s Urban Archives, or the Penn libraries – to start. It can be a little daunting.
There’s nothing wrong with some exploratory legwork, but you can get a head start on history from the comfort of your computer. I’m going to tell you a few secrets here, because I like you.
Places in Time is the brainchild of Jeff Cohen, a Bryn Mawr professor who knows everything there is to know about research in Philadelphia. The site’s a bit of work to navigate, but well worth it.
Temple’s Urban Archives are online too. I’ve really enjoyed browsing their image collections.
Want to know more about the history of city planning in Philadelphia or specific neighborhoods? See Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a Penn Libraries project.
The Philadelphia Contributionship is a property insurance company founded in 1752. Its digital archives include select property surveys that include a great amount of deal. A wonderful resource for researching specific buildings – and if you can’t find a particular building surveyed here, check the card catalog at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in person.
The City’s PhilaDox system is a beast to navigate, but it’s an incredible resource for finding historical deeds – again, this is most useful for researching the chain of title associated with specific buildings. You can also get this information on microfilm from the City Archives, I think.
Finally, for some first-person perspective on the city, check out PhilaPlace, which links people’s stories to a map of the city.