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
- Anaheim Library - Historic Anaheim Photos
- Army Defense Language Institute Photos
- Atascadero Historical Society Photos
- Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society Photos
- Benicia Historical Museum Photos
- California State Library - Pictorial Resources
- California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960
- California Heritage Collection
- California Views
- City of Industry Workman & Temple Family Homestead Museum
- Coronado Historical Association Photos
- Dixon Public Library Photos
- Escondido History Center Photos
- Folsom History Museum Photos
- Fremont Museum of Local History
- Glendora Historical Society Photos
- Healdsburg Museum & Historical Society Photos
- Henry Coil Library & Museum of Freemasonry Photos
- History Center of San Luis Obispo County Photos
- History of the Gold Rush - Photos
- Huntington Digital Library
- History San Jose - Galleries
- Jewish Historical Society of San Diego Photos
- Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board Photos
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
- Long Beach Photos
- Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
- Mendocino Kelley House Museum Photos
- Monrovia Legacy Project Photos
- Napa County Historical Society
- National Archives - Digital Photograph Collections
- Northeastern California Historical Photograph Collection
- Old SF
- Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
- Palm Springs Historical Society
- Pasadena Digital History - Photos
- Port of Los Angeles - Archives
- Rancho Bernardo Historical Museum Photos
- Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material
- Salvation Army Museum of the West Photos
- San Diego History Center - Photo Archives
- San Diego History Center Photos
- San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection
- San Mateo County Historical Association Photos
- Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades Image Collection
- Santa Paula Historical Society Photos
- Smithsonian Images
- Tuolumne County Historical Society/Museum
- UC Davis Photographic Collections
- USC Digital Library
For historic photos from other states as well as articles about photo research, please visit the Photos page.
Good luck and happy hunting!