Banner - Vital Check

The Online Archive of California (OAC) is home to a vast, loosely organized collection of materials, chiefly from state and local governments, universities, libraries and museums. 

There isn't a very good search function here, so it takes a lot of patience to wade through the available materials.  But like the 49'ers themselves, your tedium may be paid off with some valuable nuggets. 

Search on a topic of interest, and you're taken to results that list both offline and online content.  If you want to view only the digital (online) material, then take note of the Limit To box (on the right side of the results page), and click the link: Online items available.

Beyond that, there's little organization to the archive material.  You can browse by contributing institution, but who really cares about that.  You can also browse by collection title, which is only occasionally useful. There are no subject, keyword, format or theme headings that otherwise help organize the materials here, nor is there an Advanced Search page, a standard feature at most archive sites.

Also, don't go looking for family history databases also common to many other archives.  There are no California vital record look-ups (births, deaths, etc) or online census records, though you may find ancestry information from just a general search.  Seems a shame, but there you have it. 

In contrast to the set-up at OAC, the archive material at Calisphere is beautifully organized into broad generational themes:

  • 1780-1880:    California in Transition
  • 1848-1865:    Gold Rush Era
  • 1870-1900:    Closing of the Frontier
  • 1900-1940s:  Emerging Industrial Order
  • 1929-1939:    The Great Depression
  • 1939-1945:    World War II
  • 1950s-1970s: Social Reform

There are scores of sub-themes (e.g., Civil Rights under Social Reform), and hundreds of individual topic areas (Black Panthers).  Calisphere is organized by the libraries of the University of California.  This seems a very large collection, but again, nothing in the way of family history databases. 

Lastly, there is also the official site of the California State Archives  housed by the Secretary of State.  Very little of their material is available online, but there are some interesting collections here:

California government history is covered by pages devoted to Governors, legislative histories, and even the working papers of the 1878-79 California Constitutional Convention. 

There's a collection of the Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Investigation Records

Family history researchers
will find some useful resources at this site, such as:

  • California Youth Authority records, 1891-1931,  covering records from the Whittier State School, Preston School of Industry, and the Ventura School for Girls.  Records include individual names, the school they attended, and the year, along with a pointer to offline records.

  • Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Maps, 1855–1875, includes the name of the grantee, the place granted, and the date.  There's also a detailed explanation of the CA land grants.

  • Oral History Guide Interview Summaries

More historical archives and research materials can be found at these excellent resources:

 Historical Newspaper Archives         

 Genealogy Tools                                US Historical Newspapers        

 European Historical Newspapers        International Historical Newspapers

Court Record Searches                        Public Records Searches 

Intelius - Public Records Information