My Virtual Road Trip to Philadelphia

This week I am joining in on Elizabeth O’Neal’s July Genealogy Blog Party by designing and carrying out a virtual research trip! Elizabeth challenged participants to select one ancestor for whom little information is known then to plan and conduct research from home.

For my virtual research trip I selected my ancestor James Emlen.


Pre-Trip Planning:

James Emlen is my 4th great-grandfather. Currently I have no facts or sources for him in my tree. I know his name from locating his daughter Mary Emlen in the Hinshaw Index, and later in the monthly meeting birth records, associated with a father named James Emlen and his wife Sarah Farquar. There were no vital dates for James and the index card on Ancestry was nearly illegible. This entire branch of my tree were Quakers and this family in particular lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The first of James’ seven children was born in 1816, providing me an approximate marriage date of the mid 1810s and an approximate birth date of the 1880s.


To locate records that provide evidence of the following information…

  • Vital Records
    • Birth
    • Marriage
    • Death
  • Census Records
  • Other
    • Additional Quaker records
    • Land records
    • Identity of his parents
    • Identities of his children


  • – Search for vital records, census records, Quaker records
  •– Check the Wiki to see what else is out there once I know the time frame and locations he was in, follow up on searching vital records that didn’t come up on Ancestry
  • – Look for a headstone
  • County Genealogical/Historical society websites – Anything unique that might be out there


First stop…! I started with a search of the Quaker records, since I noticed in the Hinshaw Index that there were more entries than I had accounted for in my tree already. Turned out there were hundreds of search results for a James Emlen in Quaker records…all of which were in locations that were logical for him to be in. Time to settle in for some serious reading…

Apparently, James was quite active in the Quaker community. He is frequently mentioned in minutes as being assigned various tasks for the meeting and he was an Elder. I managed to find all of his vital records throughout meeting minutes and member lists. I was even able to extend my tree two generations using those records! It turns out James married not Sarah Farquhar, but Sarah Foulke, widow of a Mr. Farquhar.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery in the Quaker records was a 12-page memorial essay presented at a meeting one year after James’ death. It included several pages quoting his writings and a detailed biographical account. You can bet I’m going to transcribe this in a future blog post, so stay tuned for that!

Finally moving out of the Quaker records, I quickly located US Census records for each year James would have been enumerated, as well as his parents and guardians for years he would not have been enumerated. I also picked up some tax records for James, his father and his grandparents.

Emlen 1820 Census James.jpg

Next, I made a quick stop at FamilySearch, but found not much to offer in the way of new records. With no time to linger I also made a quick check of FindAGrave and, again, came away empty-handed. Not discouraged, I switched out my last planned stop for something spontaneous. (It’s not a genealogy road trip if you don’t make an unplanned stop, right?)

Having just searched through hundreds of pages of digitized Quaker records that are physically housed at Swarthmore in Philadelphia, and finding Quaker family in those records who lived right there in Philadelphia, I reasoned that perhaps there are more sources related to these ancestors in archives at Swarthmore and other local repositories. I hopped over to ArchiveGrid and simply entered the surname Emlen. Of course, I would have to wade through 25 pages of results, and of course many of those results were unrelated to my family, but my findings were beyond anything I could have imagined!

I learned that there were 7 collections relevant to my ancestors split between Swarthmore, Haverford and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Among those collections are:

  • 200 pieces of correspondence to and from James’ wife Sarah Foulke, who was a minister in her own right
  • Some paperwork and letters from James
  • Estate accounts from James’ grandfather
  • A diary from James’ father (also called James) who was part of the Quaker delegate to signing the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, including a play-by-play account of the proceedings

I can’t wait until I can find a time to visit Philadelphia to research these collections!


Post-Trip Conclusion

Overall this was a very successful virtual research trip for me. The only objectives I was unable to achieve were locating burial information and land records, although as of yet there is still potential for this information to be found. I have certainly not completed a reasonably exhaustive search for those two details.

I will certainly devote some future posts to sharing my findings about this family, so if you are interested in hearing more about James’ life I hope you will return for those posts in the next few weeks. Thank you so much to Elizabeth O’Neal for inspiring me to dig into this family! I hope you will check out her monthly Genealogy Blog Parties to join in with your own response posts!

5 thoughts on “My Virtual Road Trip to Philadelphia

Add yours

  1. Ellen, Very nformative piece. We can’t overlook written records. I’m sure many people will follow your procedure. By the way you have numerous defendants of George Edgar Earley in the Philadelphia-New Jersey area.

    Regards, Jim Earley Medina,OH

  2. I love the way you planned your trip as well as your itinerary! I’m sure having a good plan contributed to your success. Thank you for sharing your story in the Genealogy Blog Party! 🙂

  3. Quaker records are fabulous. My husband has a Quaker line in North Carolina early on and I’ve been able to fill in so much of the family info because of those records. Congratulations on your success.

  4. I’m descended from James’ brother Dr. Samuel Emlen. We can trace the Emlens back to England in the 1600s thanks to the good records the Quakers kept. Also the Emlen family bible.

  5. It was fun and informative to follow along on your journey, from itinerary to clues to conclusions. Wishing you luck following up on what you hope to find next!

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