The Philadelphia Contributionship’s Digital Archives

May 18, 2021

By Carol W. Smith, Archivist, The Philadelphia Contributionship

Over the years the records of The Philadelphia Contributionship have been used for multiple types of research. Homeowners seeking to restore their homes look to see if a survey existed; genealogists check to see where their ancestors lived. Scholars use them for even more varied purposes; architectural historians might look at the patterns of building, others might investigate the types of businesses that were insured and descriptions of the factories.

Labor historians might be interested in the first job description found in the Contributionship’s 1752 minutes outlining the duties of the clerk, social historians might be interested in how the yellow fever epidemics impacted business forcing the dismissal of meetings to give just a few examples. Taken as a group the surveys provide a wealth of information on building materials, demographics and more. In the past those interested in using the records would contact the company directly.

Articles of Agreement or Deed of Settlement. Photo by Will Brown

That all changed in 2004 as The Philadelphia Contributionship, in conjunction with the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, began the processing of creating a digital archives for the Company’s key documents and insurance surveys. This entailed scanning all of the extant early surveys from 1752-1906, the company’s minutes from 1752-1842 and key documents including the original parchment Deed of Settlement. At more than 44 feet, it required delicate handling and multiple scans which were then digitally stitched together.

These records are available for all to explore through the company’s own website

Click on the Archive tab which takes you to the Philadelphia Architect and Builders website (PAB) website.

This site has made a huge difference to researchers; now instead of the four or five research requests a month; we have 50 or more visitors to the site, a number we’d be hard pressed to handle in house. So if you have a Contributionship fire mark with a policy number you can now look it up yourself and find the survey, location and early owners. Or you can check to see if the home you own had been previously insured by the company and what it looked like then or even if one of your ancestors held a policy.

Happy searching!