Briefs of Title

How to Get the Most from this Index

About This Project
Historical Context
How to Use the Index
View Index
(Large File)
In Action: An Example

Click on the headers from the index to jump to the section which describes them.
InstCollVolNo.PageOwner Last NameOwner First NameName, Boundaries, Approximate LocationWardTownship or NeighborhoodDateJM Data

To Access A Brief:

When you have found a Brief in the index that you want to see, note the information in the five grey-shaded columns to the left. The first, “Inst” tells you what institution holds this brief; at the moment, there are only two:
HSP The Historical Society of Philadelphia
FLP The Free Library of Philadelphia

The link to each offers contact information, location, and hours.

The second column contains the Collection, in the case of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania this is a call number. The Free Library only has one collection, and therefore this is the number of the unbound Brief.

The Briefs at the Historical Society have been bound into volumes of about 20 to 25 briefs each. To access one of these, fill out a call slip with the Call Number, listed here under “Coll” or Collection, and the Volume number, listed in the third column. The final two columns give the location in the bound volume of Briefs where the one you are searching for can be found.

At the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Briefs are stored in the Map Collection, and, along with a paper index to just these briefs, are cataloged under 347.2P53L. You may request Briefs at the Map Collection Desk using this number and the “Coll” number for any Brief stored at FLP.

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To Search by Name:

The Index is in order by owner’s last name, but Briefs of Title had no consistent format when they were published, and some Briefs are more forthcoming than others in placing such information within easy bibliographic reach. Therefore, when the owner who ordered that the Brief be created—the owner who was developing the land and selling it in smaller parcels—is not readily identified, any recent name from the chain of title has been used.

If you have a partial chain of title for your property, try searching for the last owner before subdivision first, but it may also be worth trying a few other mid-nineteenth century names as well.

Corporate names omit initial article. So, for instance, “The Germantown Land Association” will be listed under “G” as “Germantown Land Association.”

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To search by Location:

As noted above, there is no consistent format for Briefs of Title. While this makes it difficult to find owners’ names, it makes it impossible to specifically describe the land covered by each brief. In some briefs, the land is hardly described at all, having titles such as “Four lots of ground in the City of Philadelphia,” with any more specific definition absent or buried so deeply that it was not practical to search for it. Since no consistent description was possible, street names—as many as possible—have been included in the Location field to describe the approximate location of the land covered by the deed.

In order to search by location, you should go to the page displaying the complete index, ordered by name, and press “Ctrl-F” or the equivalent text-searching command in your browser software, and search for the street on which your property lies, examining each matching entry to see if the other streets listed fit the location sought. Additionally, searches could be conducted for other neighboring streets.

Some lots are known by a name rather than an address, for instance "Bush Hill Estate" or "Emlenton." This is a carry-over from the days of large farms and country estates. The location of these lands may have been common knowledge to a Philadelphian of the day, so they are rarely described in great detail. Therefore, it is worth searching for the last name of a likely owner in the “Location” field as well, as sometimes the name of the estate includes that of the owner as well, for example “Kenderton Lots.” At the time of the compiling of this index, there may not have been sufficient indication that “Kenderton” was also the name of a previous owner, and therefore the name would not have been entered in “Owner” as well.

Since browsers are only capable of conducting precise text-string searches with this function, you should keep your query general. For example, search for only “Susquehanna” not “Susquehanna Avenue and Fifteenth street” and then look through those entries for the one that contains Fifteenth Street as well. Also, you should be sure to try variations: search for both “Fifteenth” and “15th" if you are looking for a property on Fifteenth street, since this index represents the work of at least two individuals.

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About the Township/Neighborhood:

The City of Philadelphia once encompassed only what is now generally referred to as “Center City,” while the outlying areas of Philadelphia County were divided in many small Townships or Boroughs. Most of these areas have retained, with some modifications and more-or-less unofficially, their names as neighborhoods. Where included in Briefs, these names are included without descriptors, such as “Township” and Borough.”

Although nearly all of these Briefs are technically located in the “City of Philadelphia” today, some were also in what was originally defined as the “City” as separate from and inside the “County of Philadelphia” (today, the two are coterminous). These are simply denoted “City” where it is explicit that the area referred to is the pre-incorporation (original) city, bounded by Spring Garden and South Streets, between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.

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Ward and Street Changes:

All entries in the index appear as they were printed in the published Brief. This means that nothing has been converted to modern standards. This has two particularly important effects that researchers should be aware of:
  • Street names have changed repeatedly over the course of Philadelphia’s history. For instance, Vine Street was called “Sassafras” until the mid-nineteenth century. If a Brief lists the property as being located on “Sassafras” street, then that is the street listed in the location column. If a street has changed its name since the 1830’s, which represents the beginning point for this index, one should search for each subsequent name.
  • Like streets, wards have changed several times. Click here for a page offered by the City of Philadelphia on these changes. As in the case of streets, the ward listed on the Brief is that which was printed, not the current ward.

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    The Column "JM Data":

    This index represents a combination of two indexes, one of which contained significantly more fields of information about the Briefs of Title it indexed. In order to make full use of this information, for these records it has been included in a field called “JM Data,” as the more detailed index was compiled by Mr. Jefferson Moak. In this field, formerly separate field are concatenated together, and these, along with their original headings, are separated by sets of four hyphens.

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  • John M. Chenoweth, Fall 2005
    for HSPV 600, Documentation, University of Pennsylvania, J. Cohen, Professor.