I love old photos, whether they are portraits of my ancestors or historical photos for the period when they lived. And it is important to a complete research that one attempts to understand the environment that surrounds our ancestors' lives if one wants to truly appreciate what they went through.
So where can they be found? Obviously the best resource is our own photo albums and those that our relatives possess. But what about other resources? Many archives, historical societies, libraries and genealogical societies have collections of old photos. And in the past few years there has been a massive movement towards making these historical photo collections available online. Some have search capabilities where you can actually put in a surname or a location, name of a building or historical event and find what is available.
For the state of California, what collections are available for you to browse and/or search online? Here is a list of sites to start with. Please feel free to add in the comments other online resources that you might be aware of in the state.
Please be aware that there may be very strict rules regarding downloading or other use of the images that you may find. Copyright and other legal protections may be in force. Make sure that you read the limitations of use for any image that you find in these collections and wish to download and/or copy. It is your responsibility to adhere to the rules for all of these collections.
Please note that links to these sites may change in the future. The author (me) will not be constantly checking and updating these links, so if you find a broken link, please use your favorite search engine to locate the new link.
California Sites for Historical Photos
This is just a sampling of some of the larger collections. By no means is this an exhaustive list. Almost every city and county library in the state, college and university library, as well as historical society has a photo collection. Many are not available online, yet many do have online access.
- Online Archive of California - Photographs - some of these collections provide online images; others state where the images and photos are held
- Anaheim Library - Historic Anaheim Photos
- California State Library - Pictorial Resources
- California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960
- California Heritage Collection
- California Missions - UC Riverside and California Museum of Photography
- California Views
- Center for Sacramento History - Photos
- History of the Gold Rush - Photos
- Huntington Digital Library - Very large collection of California photographs among other mostly Western states
- History San Jose - Galleries
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
- Long Beach Photos - Long Beach Public Library
- Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
- National Archives - Digital Photograph Collections
- Northeastern California Historical Photograph Collection - Cal State Chico
- Old SF - photos available by their location on a map of San Francisco
- Pasadena Digital History - Photos
- Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material
- San Diego History Center - Photo Archives
- San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection - San Francisco Public Library
- Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades Image Collection - Santa Monica Public Library
- Smithsonian Images
- UC Davis Photographic Collections
- USC Digital Library - most of these are historical photographs; however some are other types of records
Good luck and happy hunting!