The Catholic Gene will occasionally highlight archives, libraries, or research facilities that contain Roman Catholic records related to genealogy.  Today’s Archive Spotlight features the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC).  As the name implies, PAHRC focuses on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia which currently includes Pennsylvania counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery.

What’s Available

PAHRC has many resources pertaining to the history of the Archdiocese.  However, for genealogical purposes, the most important records are baptismal and marriage records, orphanage records, parish information, and newspapers.

PAHRC holds pre-1920 baptismal and marriage records for parishes within the current archdiocesan boundaries (in the 1800’s the then-diocese of Philadelphia included most of the state of Pennsylvania, but the records now reside in the current diocese). The most important thing to note, however, is that these records may not be viewed or searched by visitors because they are considered to be confidential.  Staff members will research the records for a fee of $25 for the initial hour of research and $15 for each additional hour.  PAHRC claims that most searches take 2 or 3 hours and are completed in 4-6 weeks. To request a lookup, see the Request Forms page.

Post-1920 baptismal and marriage records are maintained within the parishes and are not located at PAHRC.  It should be noted that if your ancestors were Catholic and were born or married prior to 1860, the church records will be your only source of information since vital registration was not required in Pennsylvania until 1860.

PAHRC also has some records for boys’ orphanages such as St. John’s Orphan Asylum (1845-1970), St. Francis Industrial School (1888-1970), and St. Joseph’s House for Homeless Industrious Boys (1904-1940).

PAHRC answers requests for parish information that is also useful in research. For example, if you know an ancestor’s address from either the census or another record, PAHRC can tell you the parish for the address as well as any “ethnic” parish nearby.  Since many parishes have closed in the city, they can also let you know what parish now holds the records from closed churches.

PAHRC holds one of the largest collections of Catholic newspapers in the United States and includes newspapers from throughout the U.S. and some foreign as well.  The collection covers newspapers from the 1820’s through the 1940’s.  The collection also includes Irish-American and German-American newspapers. Notable also is perhaps the largest extant collection of Redpath’s Weekly.

Some of the papers included in the collection are:

  • The United States Catholic Press (Hartford)
  • The Catholic Miscellany(Charleston)
  • The Catholic Herald (Philadelphia) 
  • The Catholic Mirror (Baltimore)
  • The Catholic Advocate (Louisville)
  • The Pilot (Boston)
  • The Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati)
  • The Freeman’s Journal (New York City)

If your ancestors were active in the church or had relatives who were priests or religious, these newspapers could provide useful information.

PAHRC maintains an online catalog of their collections and a good blog with historical highlights from their vast materials.

Practical Details

PAHRC is located on the grounds of St. Charles Seminary in Wynnewood, PA. The address is 100 E. Wynnewood Rd., Wynnewood, PA 19096.  Phone: (610) 667-2125  Fax: (610) 667-2730  Email: pahrc89@gmail.com

Hours of operation:  PAHRC is open Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. but visitors should call for an appointment in advance.