Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brick Walls of Philadelphia

I must admit to disliking research in Pennsylvania...records are everywhere and it's hard to figure out what to look for where. I blame it on it being a commonwealth, so much is still kept at the county or township level...Grrrr!  Maybe I'm just spoiled by Maryland. Go to the state archives and BINGO!! It's all there! County records, Baltimore City records, churches, criminal, courts, land, etc etc.

So my mom's danged Philadelphians drive me nuts, not only for their chosen city, but these were not close-knit families in recent generations. Lots of mysteries, lots of brick walls. (Thank goodness for the Philly records on the LDS website - found a lot of death & marriage records there.)

One brick wall was my great great grandmother's parents. Her name was Pauline Phillips, she was born in 1851, married Melvin Hopkins in 1872 in Philadelphia, and died in 1949. Her death certificate said her father was named Joseph, and back when I started this search, I looked everywhere for him to no avail. Census, city directories, cemeteries, no luck. I even went to Philly.

This past year, I renewed my search, using online records and starting with the census. The earliest census I found her in was 1860 living with a Margaret & Richard Phillips both 60, his occupation listed as perfumer, a Mary, age 25, Pauline age 9, Charles age 6 and Joseph age 5. No relationships are given, but it seemed unlikely the Mary would be the mother of a 9 year old, so I figured she was Richard's daughter and the younger ones, his grandchildren. (Never found Richard or Margaret in the 1850 Census, which is weird, since their kids were all born in PA.)

After 1860, Richard was gone from the census and gone from the city directory after 1861. Margaret was in 1870 Census with Pauline, 18 and Joseph, age 16. In 1880, Margaret 84, grandmother, with Joseph, 23,  as her grandson. (He is listed as an umbrella maker, so if he worked in my other great great grandfather's business, that may be how my great grandmother met my great grandfather, the business owner's son!)

I searched newspapers for obits and found a legal notice for Richard's estate and a death notice for a William, son of Richard & Margaret, both in 1861. I found all three death certificates at LDS too, with burial sites, cause of death, age and address, which all jived with what else I had. Sweet!

Richard Death Cert

Margaret Death Cert

BUT, I still didn't know who or where Pauline's parents were! I assumed they died before 1860, and since Richard died in '61, hoped to locate a family plot where he was buried.His death certificate said he was  buried 6th Street Union Cemetery, which subsequently closed and the bodies relocated. (I've tried all the possibilities and have yet to find him.)  His son William was buried at New Philadelphia Cemetery, another tough one to track down. Margaret was buried at Odd Fellows Cemetery, but died so much later I don't hold out much hope when I finally receive their records.

I even ordered Joseph's death certificate hoping that his father's name would be listed on it. But apparently his wife did not know his parents names when she filled out the death certificate. He was buried at Mount Peace cemetery, for which I am also awaiting records.

Seeing how I had hit a dead end, I decided to send away to the Register of Wills in Philadelphia for Richards estate records. He was a man of some means, as the 1860 census lists his real estate property value at $20,000. I was hoping against hope that he had a will or at least an administration on record.


About a month later I got a response from the register of wills with an amount due for copies and I quickly sent off the $12 check, very excited to get the results! Within a week I had the copy of Richard's will in my hands! And what a gold mine of information it was! You can see the whole file HERE. Both his and his wife's signatures are on it, plus a cool inventory of one of his properties.

He listed not only all of his properties, but also his sons' and daughter's names. His daughter was Mary Jane Carpenter, wife of J. C. Carpenter, his son William B. Phillips, another  son J. Wills Phillips and the best news of all, the grandchildren of his deceased son Charles R. Phillips!!! Woo hoo !!

What is really amazing is that Richard wrote this will in such detail just one day before he died.

I ran right to the census looking for Mary Jane, .J. Wills and Charles to see what info I could dig up. (I already knew where William was). I found Charles age 20,  in the  1852 & 1854 city directory and the 1850 census with the occupation of plasterer with his wife Mary, 17!  (I also found quite a bit about the Carpenters, and have tracked them up to the 1940s. Still haven't found anything about J. Wills.)

Charles' death record

Mary's death certificate

 I looked up death certificates for Charles and Mary,  and found them. He died in 1857, of tuberculosis, at the age of 28. Death records were not required before 1860, but his doctor had filed this little scrap of paper with his info on it… how lucky was that? Mary died in 1865, also of TB, leaving her children to be raised by their grandmother. Her death certificate showed her being buried at the Ebenezer Vault (an ME Churchyard) and you can see Charles' little note says vault as well. I will be trying to  locate those records you can be sure.

So a couple of mysteries solved, and a few more created, I'll keep you posted!


  1. Wow, that's a lot of information you found. Congratulations!

  2. Those buried at 6th Street Union Cemetery were moved to Philadelphia Memorial Park in 1971. They have limited info on index cards, but there could be other there with the same last name.

  3. There is also an Ann Philips that was buried at 6th Street Union (aka Union Burial Ground). Limited info on

  4. Thanks! I've found his wife and some children, just not him! Tried Phila Mem, Greenmount and a few others with no luck.

  5. I'm researching Sixth Street Union, I'll keep his name in mind while I'm looking. Good luck.

    1. Have you found a Sarah Ann Moore, died 21 Feb 1879? I believe her husband was William and may be there too.