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Jim Leonard, Commissioner of the Department of Records for the City of Philadelphia Download

Download December 27th, 2018

City of Philadelphia Commissioner of Records, James Leonard, discussed the city’s Archives and its recent move to new facilities.  He described the mission of the department, to maintain a record of the city’s transactions and spoke of the collection’s holdings which range from a 300 year+ William Penn city charter through recent land transactions.

Since its establishment by the Home Rule Charter in 1952 the City Archives has been a resource for students, genealogists (their biggest users)  and writers and it tells us much about life in the the city,  with records of the Alms House and Philadelphia General Hospital, of the County Prisons, and of the City and County criminal courts.  He spoke on the value of using the staff to help with a search, noting that they can suggest records the average person wouldn’t know about, tax records and land recordings, ‘indentures’ and event the water department rolls, all of which can help identify an early Philadelphian.  Health Department records show how the city tried to control disease.  He also discussed the controversial – and anonymous – ‘red line’ map, a document showing the racial make-up of the neighborhoods and the city’s early efforts to ensure fair housing and civil rights.  Jim discussed the tasks and work leading up to the move and the advantages of the new facilities: temperature and humidity control, display areas, increased storage, and more room for research.  He also described the selection and installation of the required public art piece, the wallpaper mural ‘Resistance’ depicting unfair housing and sites of racial discrimination, along with sites of importance to the struggle for freedom and equality.

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