The Research Archives


The Research Archives provides onsite public access to the Photograph Collection and the Document Archives, the region’s largest collection of materials documenting hundreds of years of San Diego history.

The Document Archives houses 45 million documents: public and architectural records, books, maps, scrapbooks, manuscripts, newspapers, ephemera, diaries, and oral histories. The Photograph Collection has over 2 ½ million images. The Research Archives serves students, historians, researchers, and the general public.



Walk-in research, no appointment necessary, is only available on:
Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9:30 am–1:00 pm.

One-on-One appointments are required for access during the following hours:

Monday: 9:00 am–5:00 pm 
Tuesday: 9:00 am–5:00 pm 
Wednesday: 1:30 pm–5:00 pm         
Thursday: 1:30 pm–5:00 pm         
Friday: 1:30 pm–5:00 pm         




The Research Archives is on the lower level of the San Diego History Center.
1649 El Prado, Suite 3, San Diego, CA 9210



Give Forward is our donation-based admission policy. We don’t charge a fixed admission fee but look to your generosity to help make history accessible to all in our community, including those who otherwise may not be able to experience it. Suggested minimum donation: $5.

The Archives welcomes students to do research. Children grades K-7 should be accompanied by an adult. The Archives may not be suitable for children under 6. For information about what to expect when visiting the Archives: Archive Policies (pdf)

For more information: or 619-232-6203



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.

Containing over 2.5 million images, the Photograph Collection is one of the largest regional photography collections in the United States. The collection documents the people and the environment of San Diego County from the mountains and the desert to downtown and the beaches. Images from late 19th and 20th century photographers illustrate significant developments including: how the arrival of diverse cultures changed the face of the region; the uses of water in an arid climate; Indian culture; border relationships with Mexico; air and automobile transportation; suburbanization; agriculture; recreation; and more.


Housed within the Document Archives, the Oral History Collection is one of the most important in California, documenting over 100 years of regional history. Begun in 1956 with interviews of over 300 pioneer San Diego County residents, the collection now numbers over 1,800 interviews. It provides a fascinating insight into our social, cultural and political history, including eyewitness accounts of people, events and lifestyles.


From its first acquisition in 1929, the History Center has expanded its collections to more than 17,000 objects representing our region’s diverse history from the Kumeyaay to contemporary San Diego. In nearly 90 years of collecting, the Object Collection has become a unique repository of regional historic artifacts, primarily objects of daily life, providing the public with valuable research and educational tools and widely used in History Center exhibitions. 


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.

With more than 1,500 paintings, sculptures, drawings, lithographs and etchings, the San Diego Fine Art Collection is considered historically and artistically significant, particularly works by renowned early 20th century plein air painters. The collection is a regional repository for fine art that exemplifies San Diego’s rich cultural and artistic heritage. Notable artists in the collection are Maurice Braun, Alfred Mitchell, Charles Fries, Belle Baranceanu, Charles Reiffel, Alice Klauber and Donal Hord.


In addition to our photograph collection, a selection of images are available for purchase through our online photo store.

The Photograph Collection contains significantly more images than you will see here, so please contact us if you don’t find what you’re looking for.



All fees from research services go directly to support the San Diego History Center and maintaining our collections.




For those who can visit but require more individual research help, we offer One-on-One research appointments for an hourly fee. One-on-One appointments provide guided access to the Document Archives, the Photograph Collection, or the Object Collection (which includes the Fine Art Collection). Appointments are with one staff member per department, per hour. Access to the Object and Fine Art Collection is limited to museum professionals and researchers.*see further information under Object and Fine Art Collection Information.

San Diego History Center Members: $25/hour

To request an in-person one-on-one appointment, download the Request an In-Person One-on-One Appointment Form and email to

Please allow for at least one week’s notice before the requested appointment date. Appointment times will vary weekly according to staff availability. Appointments are first-come, first-served. Please provide at least 3 possible appointment dates and times.



Staff will complete requested research on your behalf for an hourly fee. Please complete the appropriate form below (based on the collection you are interested in: Photograph, Documents, or Objects). Research is limited to one well-defined individual, topic, or question. Please submit one request at a time.

There is a one-hour minimum and pre-payment is required for research to begin. Additional time will be charged in half-hour increments after the first hour. Staff will check relevant resources and contact you if more time, beyond the initial hour, is required. Upon completion, staff will supply a summarized written response of the findings.

San Diego History Center Members: $35/hour

To request remote research for the Document or Object Collection or the Photograph Collection, download the appropriate request form below and email to

Remote research requests are on a first come, first served basis. When possible we will accommodate rush requests. Rush job fees are double the regular fees. The average time for Remote Research request completion may be up to 4 weeks. Results of searches are not guaranteed. This service includes three fax scan copies of photographs. Document copies and additional photographs can be made to order



There will be no fee for questions that can quickly and easily be answered by email ( with information readily available. These answers will be very limited in scope. If staff determines that the question is beyond the scope of the basic reference service you may visit the Research Archives, submit a request for Remote Research, or schedule a One-on-One appointment.




You may also request searches for specific records in the collections listed below for $10 per request (includes search of up to 5 names in a maximum of 3 databases, does not include copies).

  • Marriage Licenses (1871-1960)
  • Biographical Files articles
  • Subject Files articles
  • Declarations of Intent (1906-1941)
  • Burial and Removal permits (1876-1945)
  • Superior Court cases (1879-1921)
  • Court of Sessions cases (1850-1860)
  • County Court cases (1850-1880)
  • District Court cases (1850-1880)
  • Justice Court cases (1870-1918)
  • Probate Court cases (1850-1937)
  • Coroner’s Court cases (1853-1904)
  • Articles of Incorporation papers (1869-1940)
  • Property Deeds (1850-1931) – must provide Deed # which is available at County of San Diego

To request individual record research, download the Individual Record Request Form and email to

Staff will contact you with the results of the search and copies can then be ordered for 50 cents per page plus an administration fee.

To order copies, download the Record Copy Order Form and email to

Copies of Public Records are for research purposes only and are not certified copies with legal status.



History Center staff does not appraise or offer authentication services for objects, artworks, photographs or documents; to locate an appraiser that matches your needs, call or visit the websites of the following professional associations: American Society of Appraisers or Appraisers Association of America.



The Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC) is a nonprofit regional conservation center devoted to the preservation of material culture in the areas of art and history. As an exclusive benefit of History Center Membership, members have access to services at BACC. If you have conservation needs or questions, please contact them at, 619-236-9702, or visit their website at