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December 1, 2021

Researching Your Family History at CHS

The California Historical Society’s (CHS) research library and archive contain extensive collections of rare books, manuscripts, newspapers, ephemera, maps, and photographs documenting the history of California and its peoples. While we do not specialize in genealogical materials, we do have resources in our holdings that might be helpful for people seeking information on their ancestors. Read on to learn more about the directories, ephemera collections, California portraits collection, and manuscript collection often used by people researching family history.

 

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Researching Your Family History at CHS

The California Historical Society’s (CHS) research library and archive contain extensive collections of rare books, manuscripts, newspapers, ephemera, maps, and photographs documenting the history of California and its peoples. While we do not specialize in genealogical materials, we do have resources that might be helpful for people seeking information on their ancestors. Director of Library & Collections, Frances Kaplan prepared this informative article about what you can expect to find at the CHS North Baker Research Library when searching for family history.

Please know that our research library does not hold vital records (e.g., birth certificates, marriage licenses, records of civil unions and domestic partnerships, divorce decrees, death certificates, etc.) nor does it conduct birth, death, marriage, or obituary searches for patrons. For this type of information, please contact the Office of the County Clerk in the county where the person resided, or your local public library for access to genealogy databases such as Family Search, Ancestry, or My Heritage.

Read on to learn more about the CHS directories, ephemera collections, California portraits collection, and manuscript collection often used by people conducting genealogical research.

DIRECTORIES

CITY DIRECTORIES – These are like phone books, with people listed alphabetically and businesses listed by type. If you have someone’s name or the name of a business, this is a good place to start looking. Our collection includes a few directories from the 1850s, and a full set from 1862 to the 1980s. San Francisco city directories from 1850 to 1982 are also available online through the San Francisco Public Library.

REVERSE DIRECTORIES – Organized by address (street and house number), these are lists of people who had telephones. Check your building address to find who lived or worked there. Our set starts in 1927 and continues off and on into the 1960s. 

BLUE BOOKS – Published annually so that members of “society” could recognize and socialize with one another, blue books indicate residents’ visiting hours, where they lived, and what clubs they belonged to. These books incorporate information similar to both city directories and reverse directories and are also useful for learning about particular neighborhoods. Our collection includes books from 1891 to 1931.

 

Souvenir & directory of prominent Afro-Americans. Pacific Coast. Published: [S[an] Francisco, Calif.] : Valleau & Peterson, printers, [1890?] Description: 48 p. : ill. ; 18 cm. Other Title: Running title: Souvenir & directory of Colored People. [Vault 297]

EPHEMERA COLLECTIONS

The ephemera collections consist of a wide range of materials—advertisements, brochures, folders, programs, leaflets, pamphlets, announcements, guides, tickets, invitations, newsletters —pertaining to the state of California and each of its counties. Dating from 1841 to 2001, the collection includes ephemera created by or related to civic associations and activist groups; churches, clubs, and societies, especially fraternal organizations; labor unions; hotels and resorts; festivals and fairs; sporting events; schools and universities; government agencies; elections and political parties; businesses; theaters and art galleries, and other subjects.

The California Business Ephemera Collection may have information on the business a person owned, worked for, or frequented. The California Ephemera Collection and the San Francisco Ephemera Collection may hold information on a club or organization that someone belonged to, or an event they attended.


CALIFORNIA PORTRAITS COLLECTION

The portrait collection holds photos of individuals organized alphabetically by last name. 


MANUSCRIPT COLLECTIONS

The CHS archives hold approximately four thousand manuscript collections, including overland and sea diaries, journals, family papers, and organization and business records. Search our catalog and finding aids to find out if your family member, or a business or an organization they belonged to, is featured in our archives.

Letter from Eiko Fujii to Fred S. Farr, June 15, 1942_ Fred S. Farr papers and photographs, MS 685_ California Historical Society

OTHER RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

California Genealogical Society and Library
2201 Broadway, Suite LL2, Oakland CA 94612
510.642.6481

Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library
417 Irving Drive, Burbank CA 91504-2408
818.843.7247 or 818.THE.SCGS

ONLINE RESOURCES

  • Ancestry Library Edition, available online at many public libraries
  • Heritage Quest, available online at many public libraries, or remotely with a library card
  • Family Search, available online at many public libraries, or remotely with a library card
  • Digitized newspapers are a wonderful source of information and may be accessed through your local public library or by searching the California Digital Newspaper Collection hosted by the University of California at Riverside

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