Helen Giffen, Executive Secretary in The Society of California Pioneers Library, circa 1958


The library is currently closed due to state mandates about Covid-19, but we are still here for you. We may not be able to answer every question while we are working remotely – but we will try. And, those we cannot answer, we will try to answer when our building reopens and we have full access to the collections.

In the meantime, the resource lists linked below may help you to do some of your own research. The first list outlines open access digital resources on the California Gold Rush and other topics. The second list recommends other resources for further research. Many of these have been available before, but there are also new sources being made available for free access that are normally fee based. The third list offers open access resources for genealogical research. 

You can also enjoy a video feature that I created using maps, photographs, and documents from our collection to illustrate the true story of a young miner, the sweetheart he left behind, and a letter written in gold dust. It traces how these historically significant yet deeply personal letters and objects, from what I consider one of the most unique and complete collections in our archives, came to The Alice Phelan Sullivan Library. Click here.

Librarians are often asked to recommend books. When asked by those hoping to use their extra time at home to brush up on California History, I advocate for a return to first-person accounts. Click on any title that follows to learn more about these three classics (I’ve included links to websites where you can find online editions): The Dame Shirley Letters or Mountains and Molehills; or Recollections of a Burnt Journal, or Jackson’s Map of the Mining Districts of California.

Thank you for your patience during this time, as well as while we assemble the sources for you. And, stay safe and healthy – we want to see you back researching with us when we reopen.

Patricia Keats, Director of Library and Archives

Open Access Digital Resources on the California Gold Rush and Other California History

List of Other Resources for Further Research

Open Access Digital Genealogy Resources

The Alice Phelan Sullivan Library

The Alice Phelan Sullivan Library contains over 10,000 books, manuscripts, maps, journals, newspapers, and autobiographical materials related to the early history of California. Among its most distinguished holdings are over fifty pioneer diaries, notably those of John A. Sutter and Henry W. Bigler, the primary sources documenting the discovery of gold in California.

The Society also has eight volumes of autobiographies and reminiscences of its founding members written at the turn of the century. Scholars may consult some 1,000 manuscript files – which include an extensive collection of overland and ship diaries, the Sherman Music Collection, playbills, scrapbooks and ledgers as well as printed ephemera and pamphlets. The library also houses collections of over 250 newspaper titles, nearly 300 periodical titles and over 3,000 maps. Among the archival collections are found the Cooper-Molera papers on early California, the Patterson Mining Collections, Angel Island, and materials relating to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

Although the Library is non-circulating, it is open by appointment to Members, Friends, college and university faculty, graduate students, and other individuals pursuing research.


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