Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Jefferson M. Moak


In the Delaware Valley and the United States, the study of genealogy transformed from a pursuit of the elite in the nineteenth century into the most democratic field of historical research. The search by genealogical researchers for materials of importance that assist with pedigree building, family histories, and searches for heirs has resulted in the combining of government and private records originally created for other uses.

[caption id="attachment_27083" align="alignright" width="300"]Admiral Sir William Penn's Family Tree Featuring his Son William Penn, the Founder of the Pennsylvania Colony. This genealogy chart for Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-70) and Dame Margaret Jasper (1644-96) shows their immediate descendants. The most notable is their first son, William Penn (1644-1718), the founder of the Pennsylvania colony. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The rise of “Jacksonian democracy” in the late 1820s spurred the socially elite of Philadelphia and elsewhere to pursue their genealogy, if for no other purpose than to prove that bloodlines created an American “aristocracy” entitled to the benefits of rank. Historian François Weil named this phenomenon “patrician genealogy.” American genealogical research started principally in New England, where systematic research undertaken by antiquarians and amateur genealogists led to the establishment of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1845.

Philadelphians had few resources to aid the study and publication of genealogy before the Centennial of 1876. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, established in 1824, purchased some genealogical texts, and an active “genealogical department” reported on its activities. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, first appearing in 1877, devoted some space to the transcription of documents of genealogical import. The Centennial inspired investigation into many facets of American history and the publication of county histories with biographical sketches of leading citizens and their antecedents.

Following the Centennial, hereditary societies whose members claimed ancestry to key American events proliferated, including the Sons of the Revolution (Pennsylvania Society established 1888, New Jersey Society 1891), the Sons of the American Revolution (1889), the Daughters of the American Revolution (1890), the Society of Colonial Dames (1891), the Society of Colonial Wars (Pennsylvania Society 1893, New Jersey Society 1894, Delaware Society 1897), the Colonial Society of Pennsylvania (1895), the Mayflower Society (Pennsylvania 1896), and the Welcome Society (1906). In addition, existing veterans’ societies such as the Society of the Cincinnati, Society of the War of 1812, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States transformed into hereditary societies as the veterans died out. A contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1894 noted that “the rage for new patriotic societies is becoming more virulent every day.”

Interest Grows

[caption id="attachment_27082" align="alignright" width="200"]Cover of the 1895 Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. Members of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with genealogical interests banded together to form the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in 1892 and soon began publishing a series entitled Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. (Archive.org)[/caption]

The growth of these societies led to a great interest in the study of genealogy and the establishment of institutions to foster research. Members of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania with genealogical interests banded together to form the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in 1892 with the goals of promoting genealogical research and acquiring and preserving vital records maintained by government and religious societies. Like its counterpart in New England, the Genealogical Society soon began publishing a series entitled Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. Galvanized by the same desire, residents of Chester, Delaware, and Camden Counties established their own historical societies in 1893, 1895, and 1899, respectively (the historical societies of Bucks and Montgomery Counties had been in existence since 1880 and 1881). The establishment of formal state archives in the Delaware Valley occurred in Pennsylvania in 1903, Delaware in 1905, and New Jersey in 1920. These centers also attracted genealogical researchers.

Early in the twentieth century, genealogists recognized the importance of preserving tombstone inscriptions and paper records. Weathering of early tombstones and closure of many old cemeteries resulted in the loss of information of genealogical value. The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania worked to copy cemetery records and publish tombstone inscriptions. New Jersey “tombstone hounds” collaborated to found the Genealogical Society of New Jersey in 1921 dedicated to the preservation of New Jersey family history.

The standards of genealogical research improved throughout the twentieth century with the increasing availability of primary source documents. Lineage societies tightened the genealogical process, requiring that submitted lineages be reviewed by an independent genealogist along with documentation for every event.

Although amateur genealogy in the early twentieth century primarily centered on a desire to connect one’s lineage to someone notable, some genealogists became interested in achieving something more extensive by the late 1940s and early 1950s. Correspondence with potential family members formed the basis of their initial research, followed by searches of original records found in historical societies and archives to confirm the oral traditions. The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania changed the format of its publication, which it retitled in 1948 as Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, to offer a forum for area genealogists.

Better Access to Records

As historical societies throughout the Delaware Valley served increasing numbers of genealogical researchers, their professional staffs sought to improve access to their records with genealogists in mind. The formation of new archives, including the Philadelphia City Archives (1952) and county archives in Chester (1982), Montgomery (ca. 1980s), and Delaware (2003) Counties, opened local access to thousands of records with genealogical potential, including deeds, naturalizations, and vital records. Both the National Archives and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) created regional centers in the Delaware Valley for researchers and genealogists in the 1960s.

The full shift in genealogical thought and practice from nineteenth-century elitism to a democratic acknowledgment of the place of one’s personal ancestors in history followed both the Bicentennial celebrations of 1974–76, which in Philadelphia not only increased patriotic fever but also emphasized the ethnic origins of Americans, and the broadcast of the TV series Roots in 1977. Researchers recognized that their ancestors witnessed and participated in events found in history books. Finding that sense of place helped personalize history for the researcher.

In the post-Roots era, the Delaware Genealogical Society (1977), the Old York Road Genealogy Society (1978), the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia (1979), the Central Jersey Genealogical Club (1994), the Main Line Genealogy Club (2002), and the Bucks County Genealogical Society (2012) were but a few of the societies that formed to provide genealogists with support and training. In 1977, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogy Society Inc. was incorporated in Washington, D.C., and soon had chapters throughout the country, including Philadelphia (1989), New Jersey (1991), and Delaware (2012).

The 1990s witnessed a major change in the genealogical landscape. The decision by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to change its relationship with various genealogical and lineage societies from partner to landlord led to a loss of the sense of common purpose once enjoyed by all, as well as some important genealogical holdings. With its vast genealogical and archival holdings continuing to attract many researchers, the Historical Society continued as a major genealogical research mecca in the Delaware Valley. It hosted many genealogical events, often with the assistance of the Greater Philadelphia Area Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (established in 2004 and revived in 2012). The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania left the Historical Society building in the 1990s. It continued to publish genealogical materials and embraced training of genealogists as one of its prime missions. In 2016, it established a new office in Northeast Philadelphia.

From Shoeboxes to Digital Archives

[caption id="attachment_27085" align="alignright" width="300"]A Family Tree for the Ulrich Family Tracing Their Ancestors to Participants in the American Revolution. To join the Daughters of the American Revolution, a prospective member must prove that she is a lineal bloodline descendant of an ancestor who participated in the American Revolution. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

By the twenty-first century, the advent of computer technology and the Internet increased access to many records once lost in the boxes and vaults of archives throughout the world. Initially led by the Genealogical Society of Utah (the genealogical arm of the Mormon Church, which developed the free website familysearch.org), for-profit firms including Ancestry.com and Fold3.com delved into various archives and historical societies to digitize records of genealogical value. This proved a double-edged sword: the digitization of the records fulfilled archivists’ desire for preservation but resulted in a decline in visitors to sites where they could benefit from archivists’ insight and expertise in interpreting these records.

The Internet also provided a forum for many genealogists to connect families, share research, and assist in the creation of online tools. FamilySearch.org welcomed and trained individuals to transcribe and index their holdings. FindAGrave.com and BillionGraves.com are two sites that have relied heavily on the efforts of local volunteers. Their work has resulted in the publication of the location of millions of graves found in thousands of cemeteries throughout the United States.

The search for ancestral roots spurred creation of many free and for-profit genealogical websites. Genealogists’ desire to locate and organize records has led to a greater understanding of American history and citizenship from a local and personal perspective: their research has greatly assisted the work of other historians in finding and piecing together the fabric of American culture.

Jefferson M. Moak is a professional archivist, historian, and genealogist. He has worked at the Map Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia ’76 Inc., the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Philadelphia City Archives, the National Archives at Philadelphia, and the Independence Seaport Museum. He has undertaken extensive research into the architectural, cartographic, and neighborhood histories of Philadelphia. He has served on the board of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and works as verifying genealogist for several lineage societies in the Delaware Valley.

Maps and Mapmaking

[caption id="attachment_16527" align="alignright" width="300"]A color map of Philadelphia county, with colored lines outlining different neighborhoods. A box of statistics is compliments the other labels on the map. Mapmakers required a variety of specialists to produce accurate maps. John Melish printed this 1819 map of Philadelphia County after three years of surveying, consulting with engravers, and gaining approval from the state legislature. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As the country's largest city, and for a time capital of the new nation, Philadelphia was well situated to chart the young republic's changing geography. Using its capacity to attract all the manufacturing elements necessary for successful publishing—printers binders, colorists, engravers and others—Philadelphia became the home of the nation's first full-time geographical publisher and soon became the center of the American map publishing industry.        

In the early years, the major market for cartographic products centered on geographies, general atlases, and gazetteers that served the republic's increasing appetite for maps. Map publishing in Philadelphia began with Mathew Carey (1760-1839), who had already published several periodicals. His initial venture centered on his plans in 1792 for publishing an American edition of Guthrie's Geography  (1786) with maps as illustrations. In 1795, he issued the first edition of Carey's American Atlas, which contained some of the first depictions of the individual states of the union. Carey was a general publisher; maps were not his primary product. However, he led the way in using the "cottage industry" of individuals and small firms found throughout Philadelphia to provide needed services.   

Carey's domination of Philadelphia publishing during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did not prevent others from relocating to take advantage of the commercial opportunities found within the city. The nation's first full-time geographical publisher, John Melish (1771-1822), a native of Scotland, settled in Philadelphia in 1811 after many travels around his new country. Melish has been considered one of the founders of the American commercial map trade.

Melish assumed the mantle of America's premier map publisher and geographer from Carey after the publication of his Map of the United States. This ranked as a significant and influential milestone in American cartography. Recognizing the curiosity of Americans about their own country especially after the War of 1812, he furnished a large-scale map of the entire United States as well as all of the North American British and Spanish possessions that bordered America. This map, which first appeared in 1816, became an invaluable tool in determining boundaries, which were still in flux between the United States and its neighbors, including Florida, Mexico, and Canada. The 1818 edition of the map was used for delineating the boundaries between the United States and Spain and was specifically mentioned in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819.  For the first time, it gave Americans a view of the vastness of a country augmented by the Northwest Ordinance and the Louisiana Purchase

[caption id="attachment_16528" align="alignright" width="575"]A map of the United States and surrounding areas with colored lines outlining the states and boundaries. John Melish’s Map of the United States became an invaluable tool for government entities and a curious public. As the boundaries of the United States shifted, Melish published updated versions of the map, resulting in five map revisions between 1816 and 1822. (Library of Congress)[/caption]


Magnet for Talent

Carey's and Melish's contemporary presence in Philadelphia drew significant talent to the city in the fields of cartographic engraving and printing. Chief among this talent was Benjamin Tanner (1775-1848), who relocated his engraving business from New York to Philadelphia by 1805 and serviced both Carey and Melish. He was joined in Philadelphia by his younger brother, Henry Schenck Tanner (1786-1858), by 1810. The younger Tanner worked principally with Melish.  Melish’s death in 1822 cleared the way for Henry S. Tanner to succeed him as the premier American map publisher.

Others soon migrated to the city to compete with Tanner. Samuel Augustus Mitchell (1792-1868) entered the Philadelphia cartographic scene with his 1831 edition of A New American Atlas.  Mitchell’s maps and atlases covered the entire spectrum of map publishing: atlases, state maps, guidebooks, and special maps. Mitchell's maps could be found throughout the country. His greatest contribution to American cartographic knowledge came from the many and various geographies compiled under his auspices.  

By the 1830s, schools looked for current and well-illustrated geographies and primers as part of their educational programs. Mitchell recognized the need for these textbooks and in 1839 issued his first school geography and atlas. Reviews throughout the country of his work were favorable, and within a few years a Mitchell's geography became standard in many classrooms, both secular and religious. Among his most popular titles were Mitchell’s School Geography, Mitchell’s Primary Geography, Mitchell’s Ancient Atlas, and Mitchell’s Ancient Geography. Many of these texts, first appearing between 1839 and 1845, underwent reprintings and revisions into the late nineteenth century. One biographer stated that the Mitchell company enjoyed an annual sale of over 400,000 copies of its works.

[caption id="attachment_16529" align="alignright" width="191"]A color lithograph showing elegant designs surrounding figures of a woman dressed in patriotic colors, George Washington, and other figures surrounding text advertising a company. The color lithography techniques mastered by Peter S. Duval allowed his studio to produce intricate color images, like this 1850s advertisement for his P. S. Duval & Co., quickly and inexpensively. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The introduction of the lithographic art into printing provided a cheaper form of reproduction for large as well as limited runs of maps. The first known lithographic map produced in the United States appeared in 1822, but no Philadelphia imprint appeared until 1830 when Cephas Childs (1793-1871) printed Plan of Land situate in Passyunk Township, Philadelphia County, Belonging to the Heirs of Henry Hill Esqr. Deceased. Childs hired Peter S. Duval (ca. 1804-86) in 1831 to run the lithographic shop, and Duval quickly rose to the top of the profession. Duval experimented in color lithography in the early 1840s and mastered the technique by early 1843. This innovation became crucial for the effectiveness of new forms of maps, including the cadastral (or land ownership) county map, the county atlas, and the fire insurance map. 

The lithographic revolution spurred the cheap production of limited-run editions of maps. Maps now commonly appeared as appendixes to city directories; published briefs of title; annual reports of railroad, canal, and other transportation companies; auctions of property; and land development surveys. Publishers such as Mitchell still relied heavily upon the old copperplate engraving techniques, but this was cost effective only if there was a large publishing run.

More Than Just Maps

Maps were only a part of the lithographer's business. Map publishers, however, continued to act as the managers of projects, raising the cash necessary for a successful production, engaging surveyors to conduct the surveys and consult official records, hiring lithographers and printers to engrave and print the product, and delivering the finished map. 

Map publishers relied heavily upon subscriptions to finance their projects. A promoter would announce a project and seek subscribers to help underwrite the costs. These promoters or their agents would work with local newspapers to advertise their projects. Most counties had no detailed commercial maps prior to 1850, and local editors strongly urged residents of the area to support the various projects, often relying upon local pride to help the cause. The practice of allowing the speculator to become the "publisher" while requiring the address of the printer on the map might lead one to assume that dozens of publishers worked in Philadelphia. In truth, there were only a few; most of the county maps published in Philadelphia came from the Robert Pearsall Smith Map Manufactory.  Between 1846 and 1864, Smith issued over 200 different maps that carried over 70 publishing names. A typical county map project, such as those for Mercer County, New Jersey (1849); Jefferson County, New York (1855); Adams County, Pennsylvania (1858); and Elkhart County, Indiana (1861), might last for over two years between the initial prospectus and surveys to the issuance of the completed map.

The large land ownership wall map reached its zenith in 1860-1861 with the Smith's publication of Map of the Vicinity of Philadelphia by D. Jackson Lake and Silas Norman Beers. This map covered the region from Wilmington to above Trenton and measured about five- to six-feet- square.  At least fifteen editions are known to exist, each with a different variation in the title and the inset plans.

Current events and topical subjects provided much business for mapmakers. Mitchell and others were quick to issue maps of the Mexican-American War, Texas, and the Far West during the 1840s. The Civil War devastated the county map business as publishers changed their focus to meet new demands for mapping the war. 

[caption id="attachment_16530" align="alignright" width="575"]A color map of the united states with different color outlines and shading around different states. There are labels visible throughout the map. P.S. Duval used inexpensive color lithography techniques in this 1861 military map to tint states and territories based on their political standing during the Civil War.(Library of Congress)[/caption]


City Consolidation Mapped

Publishers did not ignore the potential of street and road maps of cities, states, and other geographical areas. City maps were often included in the general atlases, although some individual maps of Philadelphia occasionally appeared, both as separate items and as part of other publications, such as city directories. The consolidation of Philadelphia city and county in 1854 spurred the publication of several maps of the newly enlarged city, several of which were issued by Rufus L. Barnes (1794-1868), who had worked in map production since the early 1830s.  Barnes also produced several large maps of Pennsylvania in the 1840s and 1850s. John L. Smith (1846-1921) assumed the business upon his retirement. The Barnes-Smith firm operated a retail store unlike many publishers.  

Urban areas presented a unique and complex approach to map publishing. Unlike the county maps, in which roads and houses were few and scattered, the density of cities called for new methods of mapping. R.P. Smith created a prospective map of Philadelphia in 1849 that depicted lot lines, addresses, and building outlines but failed to garner the financial support necessary to carry the project any further. At the same time, George T. Hope created the first American fire insurance map (Maps of the City of New York), which appeared between 1852 and 1855. One of the contributors to this map was Ernest Hexamer (1827-1912), who moved to Philadelphia to create the Maps of the City of Philadelphia, which first appeared in 1857.  Hexamer continued to supply fire insurance maps to Philadelphia until the firm was merged with the Sanborn Map Company of New York in 1915.

Following the Civil War, publishers seized upon a new format to rekindle the county map business to help satisfy the American need to celebrate its history before and during the Centennial. The Philadelphia map publisher Henry Frederick Bridgens (1825-72) converted his Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania (1860) into an atlas with the same title in 1861, thus giving birth to the county atlas. The growth of the county atlas started slowly owing to the disruptions of the Civil War. By 1866, only six county atlases had been published. With the war over, however, fifty-five additional titles appeared between 1866 and 1870 as the atlas replaced the map as the principal format for dispensing land ownership information in America. All but nine of the sixty-one titles that appeared in this period had New York or Philadelphia imprints.

[caption id="attachment_16589" align="alignright" width="248"]color portrait of Mathew Carey Map publishing in Philadelphia began with Mathew Carey (1760-1839), who had already published several periodicals. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Philadelphia's position as the center of American map publishing was increasingly threatened not only by publishers in Boston and New York during the 1850s and 1860s, such as J. H. Colton, Henry F. Walling, and Frederick Beers, but also by new firms in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, including Rand, McNally & Company. Some of the Midwestern companies initially relied upon Philadelphia printers and lithographers for their technical work. Soon they transferred their business to local printers or, in the case of Rand McNally, chose to consolidate all facets of the business under one roof.  

New Firms Despite Competition

Despite the increasing competition, the city continued to attract new firms. Starting in 1865, the G.M. Hopkins Company emerged as one of the mainstays in American urban cartography. Louis H. Everts (1836-1924) moved from the Midwest to Philadelphia to produce many county atlases and county histories during the 1870s. Ormando Wyllis Gray (1829-1912) relocated his map publishing operations from Boston in about 1871 and concentrated on more general map publishing.   

Hopkins introduced the urban real estate atlas format with the Atlas of (the late borough of) Germantown in 1871. The urban atlas publishers included pertinent information important to real estate brokers, insurance companies, and railroads. As the form matured, the atlas type became standardized in that each street, property and building was carefully plotted with boundaries noted.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of Philadelphia map publishing firms concentrated on publishing real estate atlases.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked a decline in Philadelphia's influence on the American map publishing industry. William M. Bradley & Brother continued publishing many Mitchell imprints into the 1890s, but this series faded and with it went Philadelphia's share of the general map and atlas business as Rand, McNally & Company of Chicago assumed the role of leader in this field. Much of the success of Rand McNally lay in new production methods revolving around wax engraving not embraced by the Philadelphia publishers and engravers. A survey of those map and chart publishers in Philadelphia listed in the 1906 city directory shows that most of them focused upon county and urban atlases and street maps. 

Philadelphia map publishers continued their dominance over the American urban atlas throughout the first half of the twentieth century. They produced many atlases of American cities. These publishers often opened offices in other cities to coordinate their mapping activities there. The Depression had an adverse effect on urban atlas publishing similar to that of the Civil War on the county wall map. The deaths of the founders of the significant firms brought second-generation ownership without the marketing skills to maintain significant operations in a changing market. The 1930s and 1940s saw a consolidation of some map publishers and the removal from Philadelphia of others. Lewis L. Amsterdam (1899-1991) founded Franklin Survey Company in 1928 after spending time as a map salesman for other companies. During the twentieth century, the Franklin Survey Company, now Franklin Maps, absorbed both the Hopkins and J.L. Smith companies. Located in King of Prussia since 1986, it continued the tradition of map publishing started by Mathew Carey in 1793.  

Jefferson M. Moak is a professional archivist, historian, and genealogist.  He has worked at the Map Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Philadelphia City Archives, and most recently as senior archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia. He has undertaken extensive research into the architectural, cartographic, and neighborhood histories of Philadelphia, publishing several guides to Philadelphia research, including Atlases of Pennsylvania (1974), Philadelphia Mapmakers (1976), Philadelphia Street Name Changes (1995, 2000), and Architectural Research in Philadelphia (2001-2002).

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