Exploring Different Uses of Historic Congregational Records

Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 S. Sixth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Last year Christ Church Preservation Trust and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia embarked on a three year project to digitize the records of 11 of Philadelphia’s oldest congregations, thanks to CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources’ Digitizing Hidden Collections Project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Congregations include Christ Church; First Baptist Church, First, Second and Third Presbyterian Churches; Gloria Dei, Mikveh Israel, St. George’s United Methodist, St. Paul’s Episcopal, St. Peter’s Episcopal and the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. This program explored the use different scholars have made of these early records (1708-1870) as well as others and unveiled the unified website that will showcase these records.


J.M. Duffin, Senior Archivist, University Archives and Records Center, University of Pennsylvania, “Endowments, Tangled Titles and Mapping: Religious Records as Tools for Property Ownership Research in Philadelphia.”

Religious archives can sometimes be seen as only a source of genealogical or demographic data but they often contain much more. I shall give examples of how I’ve used the records in Christ Church’s archives to assist with my research and mapping of eighteenth century property ownership in Philadelphia.

Dr. Ann Norton Greene, University of Pennsylvania, “Mining the Minutes”

Some reflections on the possibilities and limitations of using minutes as historical sources, based on the use of the minutes of the annual convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in writing a chapter of This Far by Faith: Tradition and Change in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Jubilee Marshall, Senior, Villanova University, “Investigating Black Burials Through Church Records”

I will discuss my senior thesis, which focuses on black burial grounds in Philadelphia prior to 1850, and how I was able to use burial registries, vestry minutes, and other types of religious records to uncover how race impacted burial practices (and vice versa) in the time period.

Jean K. Wolf, Principal, Wolf Historic Preservation, Ardmore, PA, “Religious Records: Finding Vital Crumbs that Lead Researchers down New Paths for Data”

As a musicological researcher of 18th-century composers’ lives and music manuscripts in European churches and archives, a move to the Philadelphia area enlightened me to the restoration needs of American cultural resources. After a degree in historic preservation and over 25 years of documentation of the built and landscape environment, I will exemplify that religious baptismal, death, and trustee minutes are critical keys that can open doors to further research.

Project Updates


AASLH 2019 Presentation: Working Collaboratively – Digitizing the Records of Philadelphia’s Historic Congregations

Exciting news! On August 29th from 1:45 – 3 pm, representatives working on the CLIR (Council on Library and Information Resources) Project – Christ Church Archivist Carol Smith, Walter Rice of R & R Computer Solutions, and Nancy Taylor of Presbyterian Historical Society – to Digitize the Records of Philadelphia’s Historic Congregations, will be presenting their work at the American Association for State and Local History 2019 Conference.

The project consists of six congregations and three archival repositories who have made an effort to digitize the records of eleven of Philadelphia’s historic congregations and make their records available digitally. All of these items are available on this site!

This session will explore how working collaboratively and sharing resources makes great initiatives possible. For more information about the session and conference, click AASLH.

May Open House

On May 2, 2018, the Athenaeum hosted an open house for consortium members and their guests. Attendees learned more about the project, the historical records to be digitized, and the scanning equipment.

Exploring Different Uses of Historic Congregational Records

A seminar held at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia on April 3, 2019 featured talks by Jim Duffin, Dr. Ann Norton Greene, Jubilee Marshall, and Jean Wolfe on the different uses of historic congregational records and unveiled our new website.

History After Hours: Death and Taxes 

A Museum of The American Revolution Event

At the Museum of The American Revolution’s History After Hours event, Death and Taxes, on April 16th, representatives of the “Digitizing Philadelphia’s Historic Congregations project” demonstrated the new website, which brings together newly scanned records from a number of Philadelphia’s historic congregations.

Not surprisingly burial records were among the ones displayed! Visitors could get an overview of the project
as well as viewing specific records.