Since the city of Philadelphia did not record vital statistics until 1860, in many cases the local church is the only source of information for records of births and marriages. However, you should try to gain as much information as possible from civil records to obtain names, dates, and addresses where the family lived. PAHRC does not have a diocesan-wide index to the records. Thus, the most important piece of information you can provide is to indicate where a family lived, thereby establishing the correct parish.
1. The first resource to utilize when researching your family history is your family members. Conduct interviews, asking elderly relatives for stories and information about their families and their childhoods. Also, ask your relatives if they have any documents, such as citizenship papers, marriage licenses, or birth and death certificates, as well as other kinds of artifacts that may have been handed down across the generations, including photographs, prayer books, wedding invitations, birth announcements, school report cards, diplomas, military discharge papers, etc. that may contain relevant information.
2. Next, for more information, search online databases or contact Philadelphia area institutions that have records such as vital records indexes (birth, marriage, and death certificates), Federal and State census returns, naturalization papers, passenger departure and arrival records, newspaper online indexes (articles and obituaries), social security death index, city directories, and military records. Philadelphia city directories from 1785-1867 are available online on the Internet Archive and GeoHistory websites.
While there are a couple of free genealogical websites or databases that contain these records, such as FamilySearch, other sites, such as www.ancestry.com, are subscription based. Many local public libraries provide access to ancestry.com.
Write to or visit appropriate repositories to obtain materials not available online. These include: government archives, such as Philadelphia City Archives, vital records offices, courts, and other agencies, such as the Social Security Administration; public libraries; and private libraries and archives, such as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania.
3. Visit cemeteries where family members are buried, and/or contact the Archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries Office for information if you have approximate death dates.
4. Each step along the way, take time to organize your data and add to your family tree. Always remember to take careful notes and document all your sources. Family trees can be created using standardized forms or genealogy software on your computer.
5. Once you have collected the appropriate information, you can fill out and send to PAHRC marriage and baptismal request forms. PAHRC will conduct research into baptismal and marriage records prior to the year 1920. All records after 1920 must be obtained from the individual parish. Sacramental records are confidential and are not open to the public for research.
Genealogical research demands a great deal of time, and because of the volume of requests, we must charge for this service as follows: $25.00 for an initial search of one hour and correspondence and $15 for each additional hour of research.
Typically, the search for one family (father, mother, children) takes approximately 2-3 hours. The more detailed information that you can provide will help keep research time to a minimum. Please send a check to cover the cost of one or two hours of research, depending on the scope of your request. You will be billed for subsequent hours of research, if necessary.
Please note: PAHRC also has some admission records for boys’ orphanages, including St. John’s Orphan Asylum, St. Joseph’s House for Homeless Boys, and St. Francis’ Industrial School in Eddington. Researchers interested in orphanage records for genealogical purposes should fill out a baptismal request form, indicating an approximate date for the child’s admission. There is a $25.00 charge for these requests. Researchers looking for their own orphanage record should contact PAHRC by phone or email for further instructions.