Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Philadelphia: country's worst place to research family history

This is a geeky post, but I'm beyond furious with the rapacious tactics of Philadelphia government in holding their historic records hostage.

Philadelphia is the worst place for genealogy I have ever seen.

The Historic Society of Pennsylvania charges you $8 to walk in the door and is open half a day, four days a week. The Germantown Historical Society is open only a few hours on two days a week and charges you $10 to walk in the door.

Philadelphia City Archives: The website says "Welcome to the City of Philadelphia" but the miserably uncooperative Philadelphia Archives is a hell-hole offering ruined, scratched, unreadable microfilms and surly employees who try not to notice when somebody is trying to get their attention. I believe they hate their customers.

The deeds, wills, etc. are barely indexed at all - last time I went, you had to pull a (scratchy) microfilm for your letter of the alphabet and search through virtually unreadable white-on-black handwritten lists of people in un-alphabetical order. In contrast, nearby Montgomery County has properly indexed and digitized all its records and you can search the index and print out the documents yourself in a matter of minutes.

But back to the Philadelphia Archives: there are not enough microfilm machines and "The free readers have been retired from public service." You pay to sit down at a reader AND pay to print: $2.00 per page.

You pay exorbitantly every time you turn around. They demand $20.00 for a one-page late 19th century marriage record even when you look it up and print it yourself. Other places, this would cost 50 cents.

The unfriendly and unhelpful staff does not answer emails. They often do not even answer the phone.

Traffic = atrocious. Parking and hotels: appallingly expensive.

If you are willing to pay the gigantic price (the aforesaid marriage record would cost me $45 if I asked them to print the single page and send it to me), it takes six months. They suggest patience.

My suggestion if you are unlucky enough to have ancestors in Philadelphia: do as much of your research as you can without going there. Pay for online databases, rent films at the FRIENDLY and HELPFUL local Family History Centers, look for records any other place you can and only as a last resort visit the City of no Brotherly Love.

End of rant.


At 5:56 AM, Blogger pete said...

your rant is well understood..a number of years ago i tried to obtain my grandfather naturalization papers from Westchester county(NY)..after filling out the paperwork online, printing it and mailing it with $25.. i waited and waited and waited.. numerous phone calls netted my nothing.. finally i gave up..i considered it a donation to my county of

At 1:27 PM, Blogger hajarwan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Unique and useful to follower. Best of luck to you!

Freshwater Pearl

At 10:07 AM, Blogger doris. said... might be better, "membership" is cheaper, you can sit at home your 'jammies (or whatevs) and the car stays in the driveway. (Not affiliated with them, either.)


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