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Philadelphia Studies: People & Neighborhoods

City Directories

City directories, the precursor to the telephone book, are an invaluable resource for understanding the history of a city's businesses, organizations, and residents. Temple University maintains an excellent guide for understanding the use of city directories in research.

Penn's holdings of Philadelphia city directories can be found in Franklin by searching "Philadelphia (Pa) Directories" as a subject, or in our microfilm collection. First consult an index of the microfilm directories, City directories of the United States, 1860-1901: guide to the microfilm collection, available in the Van Pelt Reference Stacks at Z5771.2 .C58 1983. Directories are listed alphabetically by city. For Philadelphia, city directories include Boyd's, Gopsill's, McElroy's, as well as Macpherson's directory of 1785, the first American city directory. Each listing will tell you where to locate that directory in the microfilm, which is located in the Van Pelt Microtext Center. 1st Floor, Van Pelt Library.

Early (1785-1865) directories of Philadelphia are available online via the Internet Archive.

Selected early directories are available in Excel format, transcribed by students and faculty at the University of Delaware.

Finding Census Schedules from an Address

Note: Some Ancestry functionality is currently limited for off-campus users. Browsing Census schedules by enumeration district is currently available on-campus only. 
For 1940 Census schedules only, see also http://1940census.archives.gov/,  an open access project of the National Archives.

Ancestry.com is a useful tool for accessing census schedules.  Unfortunately for researchers of cities, it was designed primarily for genealogists, and therefore is much easier to search by name of resident rather than location of residence. In order to research your neighborhood of interest:

  • Find a range of addresses and intersections representative of your neighborhood of interest (use Google Maps, etc.).
  • Go to Ancestry Library Edition
  • Navigate to US Census Collection, then year of choice.
  • Navigate to Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, and note how the city is divided up (wards, enumeration districts, etc.).
  • For 1880-1940, use Obtain EDs in One Step to find correct enumeration district by street intersection. I recommend hitting "cancel" to access the "LARGE CITY ED FINDER." For 1880, you can also use An urban finding aid for the 1880 federal population census of Philadelphia
  • Go back to Ancestry and find the ward and enumeration district of interest.  You may have to flip through many pages to find your location of interest.

Historical

Philadelphia Social History Project

The Philadelphia Social History Project (PSHP), directed by Theodore Hershberg at the University of Pennsylvania, was a pioneering effort by an interdisciplinary group of scholars and students to study the historic social, economic, and demographic dynamics of Philadelphia.

Finding Biographies in Franklin

Book-length biographies can be found in Franklin by searching for a name as a Subject (e.g. Eakins, Thomas 1844-1916), or by searching the place or occupation plus Biography as a subject (e.g. Physicians Pennsylvania Philadelphia Biography). Other sources of biographies of Philadelphians are listed below.

How to Find Property Ownership History

Penn Libraries provides access, though the City of Philadelphia, to ownership records of individual parcels in the city. To access both current and historical records, you must use two different tools, DOR Parcel Explorer and Philadox.

  • Start with DOR Parcel Explorer, available through the library website.
  • Log in with the user name and password provided.
  • Zoom in to the area of interest in Philadelphia, until you can see the outlines of individual properties (parcels).
  • Click on a parcel in your area of interest. Write down the numbers next to BaseReg and Parcel.
  • Access PhilaDox (through library website).
  • Expand the folder for Reg. Plans. The first part of the BaseReg number corresponds to the numbers in this folder.
  • In the folder that opens below, find the number for your BaseReg. Browse through the scanned pages to find your parcel.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Map Company helped fire insurance companies set rates in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with these detailed maps of each built structure, its use, dimensions, height, building material, and other relevant features (fire alarms, water mains and hydrants, for example).

Neighborhoods

Philadelphia neighborhoods are fluid entities without fixed boundaries. The resources below describe commonly accepted neighborhood boundaries. (For demographic or other data on neighborhoods, see Social & Cultural.)