A Foray into the Archives
Written by: Jada Yolich
One of the best parts about my position has definitely been visiting Philadelphia’s local archives. Archives, unlike libraries, house primary source manuscripts and documents, so they are absolutely critical to historical researchers. The past lives on through these documents and they provide researchers a close proximity to historical events, as close as a researcher can possibly get without time travel! Because a lot of the documents are old and fragile, they can only be looked at while in the archive and cannot be removed. And even when you are looking at them, there are specific procedures you have to follow as to not damage the already delicate materials.
Within these last few weeks, I’ve made quite a few visits to the archives located in Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. It’s been really fun to read through the letters and personal accounts of 17th century Philadelphians. It gives a very intimate look into what life was like at the time. I also looked at a lot of financial documents, as enslaved people appeared most often in this genre of documents. The personal lives of enslaved people were not usually well documented and because they were treated as property, they were often inserted into the written record via financial documents, mostly in things like wills and tax forms. Unfortunately, because of copyrights, I can’t upload any of the photos I took of the manuscripts to this post. But just think a ton of really-hard-to-read cursive and yellow pages!