Research

Document Archives

The Document Archives is the region’s largest collection of historical materials covering hundreds of years of San Diego history. The Archives houses over 45 million documents: public and architectural records, books, maps, scrapbooks, manuscripts, newspapers, ephemera, diaries and oral histories.

Search our online catalog for archival collections, architectural drawings, books, ephemera files, oral histories, scrapbooks, serials and unpublished manuscripts. Online Catalog

THE RICHARD AMERO BALBOA PARK COLLECTIONS

The Amero Collection consists of over 250 binders primarily detailing the history of Balboa Park, including the 1915 and 1935 expositions. The collection contains book, newspaper and magazine articles, research notes, government reports and correspondence obtained from archival collections across the country. Other subjects include Mission San Diego de Alcala, Old Town, Mission Bay, Horton Plaza, Native Americans, architecture and local history. Also included are biographical files on well-known individuals including opera singer Schumann-Heink, landscape architect Samuel Parsons, architect Frank P. Allen, Jr. and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. For more information: Amero Collection.

ARCHIVAL COLLECTIONS

These extensive collections document all facets of San Diego history, from the personal to the political. Collections such as the Ephraim W. Morse Collection and George White Marston Civic Collection provide a valuable chronicle of early San Diego business and civic developments. Collections of diaries provide intimate glimpses into the lives of San Diego citizens and their communities, such as late nineteenth-century Chinatown resident, Ah Quin or San Diego’s first female physician, Charlotte Baker. Archival collections may focus on particular people, businesses, clubs, events or on specific subject matter. The notebooks of E.H. Davis are invaluable to understanding San Diego’s Native American population and backcountry, while the San Diego County Water Authority Collection details the history of local water development. For more information: Archival Collections.

ARCHITECTURAL RECORDS

The Architectural Drawings Collection contains the work of more than 75 different architects including Irving J. Gill, Richard Requa, Hazel Waterman, Lillian Rice, William Templeton Johnson and Sim Bruce Richard.  There are architectural drawings for nearly 900 projects including public and commercial buildings as well as private residences. The Document Archives is currently developing a Digital Architecture Collection of drawings, and invites local architects to contact us about the submission process.

BIOGRAPHICAL & SUBJECT FILES

The Subject Files consist of more than 1,000 folders of newspaper clippings and other documents arranged alphabetically by over 1,200 subjects. Search for files on associations, businesses, neighborhoods, events, communities and more. The Biographical Files contain over 260 binders of newspaper clippings and other documents arranged alphabetically by last name. They are a historically rich starting point for research on thousands of past San Diego residents. For more information: Biographical Files and Subject Files.

BOOKS

The Research Library contains more than 2,500 reference books related to all aspects of San Diego history as well as the history of California and the Baja region, many written by local authors. Categories include religion, the social and natural sciences, politics, economics, education, the military, transportation, water, arts and recreation, architecture and biography. The books are an excellent secondary resource providing historical context for our archival materials. For more information: Books.

EPHEMERA

Ephemera are documents created specifically for a transitory purpose such as theater programs, restaurant menus, postcards, information leaflets, advertising literature, recipes, pamphlets, brochures, tickets, fliers and posters. The Ephemera Collection contains over 3,000 files documenting the social history of everyday life in San Diego.

MAPS

Over 2,000 sheet maps are available illustrating the geographic transformation of the San Diego region, including one of the earliest known maps of San Diego, the Pantoya map of 1782. The collection includes maps of the San Diego City area (1849 to present); subdivisions; topographic quadrangles; assessor’s maps for 1957-58; an aerial 1928 photomap collection of western San Diego County containing several hundred high elevation exposures; and a set of Sanborn fire insurance maps.

NEWSPAPERS & SERIALS

Extensive runs of local newspapers are available on microfilm and in hard copy. The San Diego Herald (1851-1859), San Diego Union (1868-1916) and San Diego Sun (1881-1939) are available on microfilm. Bound volumes are available of the Daily Transcript (1937-1977) and the Sentinel (1922-1985). Also included are the San Diego Reader (1972-current) and many local neighborhood newspapers. The Serials Collection consists of recurring publications of historical societies, businesses, local clubs and other organizations. Examples include San Diego Magazine, the California Historical Society Quarterly, The Golden Era, Touring Topics, California Garden, The Theosophical Path, The Modern Clubwoman and a complete archive of our own Journal of San Diego History.

 

ORAL HISTORY

The Oral History Collection is one of the most important on the West Coast, documenting 150 years of regional history. Begun in 1956 with interviews of over 300 pioneer San Diego County residents, the collection now numbers over 1,600 interviews, providing unparalleled insight into our social, cultural and political history. The Legacy Oral History Program, launched in 2015, continues to capture our community’s first-person narratives. For more information: Oral History Collection.

PUBLIC RECORDS

The Document Archives includes extensive San Diego County public and judicial records. Included are court case files, minutes of the Board of Supervisors, local ordinances, Coroner’s inquest reports, probate records, tax lists, school reports, deed records, marriage licenses and mining records. For more information: Public Records.

SCRAPBOOKS

Scrapbooks are a rich resource of historical commentary and a personal reflection of culture and social mores. Our collection includes scrapbooks on railroads, the Expositions, the WPA, local theaters, clubs and communities as well as more personal collections. The Ernestine Schumann-Heink Scrapbook Collection chronicles the opera singer’s professional career from 1883 to her death in 1936, while the International Theosophical Headquarters Scrapbook features news clippings from 1896-1978 covering the activities of the Theosophical Society and its renowned founder, Katherine Tingley.

UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPTS

Unpublished manuscripts include master’s theses and doctoral dissertations about San Diego history completed at local and state universities. This collection also contains unpublished memoirs, biographies, research papers and profiles of San Diego neighborhoods and communities. These manuscripts are an excellent and often unique supplement to the reference library materials.