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Archives Spotlight: San Francisco

The National Archives is on the West Coast, too!

The National Archives at San Francisco (located in San Bruno, California) contains over 55,000 cubic feet of Federal records from the 1850s through the 1980s. The records come from northern and central California, Nevada (except Clark County), Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The Trust Territory was administered by the United States from 1947 to 1994 and comprised what are now the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau.

The Leo J. Ryan Federal Building in San Bruno, California, is 12 miles south of San Francisco and holds the regional archives and research facility, a Federal Records Center, and a records management center.

Those interested in the history of Alcatraz and its inmates should know that the National Archives at San Francisco holds case files, identification photographs, and warden’s notebook pages for most listed inmates from 1934 to 1963. Before 1934, Alcatraz housed a military, rather than a Federal, prison. The National Archives only holds the Federal prison records. The inmates are listed online both alphabetically and numerically.

Warden’s notebook page with a mug shot of Robert Stroud, “The Bird Man of Alcatraz,” so called because he enjoyed rearing birds at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas before he was transferred to Alcatraz. ARC Identifier 296722.

Because most Asian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries came across the Pacific to the United States, the National Archives at San Francisco houses a very large collection of Federal documents and individual records relating to Asian-Pacific immigration and the Chinese exclusion laws. This collection is invaluable to Asian-Pacific historians and genealogists. Many of the items used in the recent exhibit “Attachments” at the National Archives in Washington, DC, came from San Francisco.

The precedent-setting Supreme Court case United States v. Wong Kim Ark ruled that U.S.-born descendants of immigrants could not be denied U.S. citizenship. This document recognizes Wong Kim Ark’s citizenship and grants his future reentry to the United States. RG 21.

San Francisco is also where you want to look for Pacific military and naval history, including the construction of Pearl Harbor and its later attack during World War II.

Evacuation of USS California at Pearl Harbor

Navy sailors evacuate the USS California after the ship caught on fire and began to sink during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. ARC Identifier 295980.

The San Francisco site is also a valuable resource for scientific, technological, natural resource, and environmental researchers. Numerous aviation and aeronautics organizations’ documents are now stored in San Francisco, including those of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Atomic Energy Commission’s Operations Office. Those interested in the history of atomic energy can peruse the records of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory research facility. There are also collections of documents related to engineering, agriculture, mining, fisheries, forestry, naval architecture, meteorology, wildlife, and public health.

"Planting time, the family all take a hand” and “Harvesting time, all members are interested here too.” 1937. ARC Identifier 296252.

Come search through the multitudes of records at the National Archives in San Francisco! You can find more information here.

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