National Archives at San Francisco

Records for the Study of Ethnic History

Reference Information Paper 83
National Archives and Records Administration, 1994

Please note: This paper has not been updated since its publication in 1994. We recommend that you contact us prior to visiting to review original records.


Participation of ethnic and racial minorities in the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's has heightened public interest in their unique histories and drawn attention to their contributions to the United States.

The National Archives at San Francisco, a repository for the historically valuable noncurrent records of the Federal Government, is a major source for research in ethnic studies. One of the National Archives and Records Administration's 13 regional archives, it maintains historical records of Federal agencies in northern California, Hawaii, Nevada, American Samoa, and the Pacific Trust Territories.

The records contain valuable historical information relating to Native Americans, and Americans of African, Chinese, Hispanic, Japanese, Samoan, and other ancestry. Especially notable are records of the Federal district and appellate courts, U.S. Army, U.S. Attorneys and Marshals, Community Services Administration, Fair Employment Practices Committee (World War II), Farmers Home Administration, Government of American Samoa, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Navy, and microfilmed records of the Bureau of the Census.

Records in the National Archives--Pacific Region are not arranged according to subject but are kept in numbered record groups established for the Government agencies that created or received them. Although arrangement by record group makes subject access more difficult at times, it preserves the organizational and contextual integrity of the records, without which they cannot be understood. A list of record groups cited is in this publication.

To facilitate use of its holdings by researchers, the archives attempts wherever possible to describe records by subject. This brochure provides descriptions of records at the National Archives--Pacific Sierra Region which document the history of eight ethnic groups that have sizeable populations on the west coast. Used with other finding aids and after consultation with the archives staff, it will help researchers link subjects with records in order to develop research strategies that recognize the overlap of topics among various record groups.

African Americans

During World War II, the President's Committee on Fair Employment Practice (FEPC) sought to end racial discrimination in war industry. The majority of this discrimination was directed against Americans of African descent. The National Archives-- Pacific Region holds the records, including case files, of the FEPC San Francisco office, which covered California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Twelfth Naval District files include a mimeographed report of a 1943 officers' conference in the Fifth Naval District, Norfolk, VA, regarding black naval personnel. A 1943 mimeographed report, The Negro Problem in the Fourteenth Naval District, is part of the Fourteenth Naval District, Intelligence Office files. Federal court records and records of the Community Services Administration also document the status and activities of African Americans.

The archives has microfilm publications which reproduce records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands; the records of the Adjutant General's Office; and The Negro in the Military Service of the United States, 1839-1886. The Farmers Home Administration regional director's correspondence for the 1930's and 1940's includes files relating to housing for black families, such as Century Boulevard Gardens in Los Angeles.

The National Archives--Pacific Region has copies of Naval Historical Center microfilm of selected pages of the court martial of 50 African Americans charged with mutiny following an explosion at the Port Chicago (CA) Naval Ammunition Depot in 1944.

Asian Indians

Records of the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of California include a neutrality case concerning the Ghadar Party, 1913-1920, a Hindu independence group with offices in San Francisco and Sacramento. The original criminal case papers are filed with the records of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.


Asian-Pacific Islanders

The National Archives--Pacific Region holds the records of the Government of American Samoa, 1899-1966, which include records of the High Court containing criminal and civil cases, Fono proceedings, and records of the Secretary of Native Affairs, 1899-1966; the Governor's Office consisting of regulations, subject files, and studies, 1872-1964; and the Attorney General's Office, 1900-1965.

The records of the U.S. Naval Station at American Samoa contain information on the Fita Fita Guard Unit as well as other administrative records concerning the Navy's period of governance, 1919-1951.

The records of the U.S. District Court for Hawaii include civil cases relating to native lands as well as criminal cases pertaining to the enforcement of special Federal "fornication" legislation after U.S. annexation of Hawaii in 1900.

Among records of the Office of Territories are records of the Governor of Guam, including executive orders, 1946-1976, and publications, 1965-1975; a 1946 report of an inspection of the Caroline Islands; and records from the Island Trading Company of Micronesia, 1947-1954.

Information relating to Asian-Pacific Islanders may be located among the records of the Naval Operating Forces for naval bases on the islands of Guam, 1944-1956; Tinian, 1946-1947; the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia including Kwajelein Naval Station, 1944-1952; and Palmyra Island, 1940-1947.

Chinese and Chinese Americans

The National Archives--Pacific Region holds records of the Honolulu and San Francisco offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service pertaining to Chinese immigration. These records document immigration policy and practice and its impact on Chinese and Chinese American travel, immigration, and business. Most of the records are case files created at the Angel Island immigration station as a result of enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, 1882-1943. In general, case files contain the subject's name, place and date of birth, family information, occupation, interrogations, statements of witnesses, photographs, and other items, among them village maps and Hawaiian birth certificates. With the exception of business partnership case files, most of the records concern individuals and may be protected by privacy restrictions.

The Chinese partnership lists contain records for individual Chinese businesses throughout California as well as maps of San Francisco's Chinatown.

The U.S. District Courts had jurisdiction over naturalization, equity, and habeas corpus cases (habeas corpus cases were heard in both civil and admiralty courts). Records of such cases, as well as Court Commissioners' files, provide extensive documentation of Chinese immigration and travel to Hawaii and San Francisco. Correspondence of the San Francisco Collector of Customs, c. 1880-1900, includes letters relating to the enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Acts.

Records of the Public Health Service's Angel Island Quarantine Station in San Francisco Bay pertain to Chinese and Japanese passengers quarantined between 1896 and 1948. Some records are protected by privacy restrictions. A detailed 1945 Report on the Chinese Situation in the San Francisco Area is part of the records of the District Intelligence Officer of the Twelfth Naval District.

The archives also has numerous microfilm publications of passenger arrival lists as well as the following microfilm:

  • San Francisco Boards of Inquiry Minutes, 1899-1909, M1387;
  • Chinese Mortuary Registers for San Francisco, 1870-1933, unnumbered;
  • Indexes of Chinese Business Partnerships in California Cities and Towns Other Than San Francisco, n.d., unnumbered;
  • Registers of Certificates of Identity, 1909-1933, unnumbered;
  • Crew Lists of Chinese Seamen for Eureka, CA, 1912-1916, unnumbered.


A few Filipinos' applications for Certificates of Citizenship for the Hawaiian Islands, 1934-1944, can be found among the records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Japanese and Japanese Americans

Records of the Hawaii office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service relating to the Japanese include picture identification cards, 1924-1928, and appeals for Japanese immigrants, 1919-1940. San Francisco office records include case files for Japanese picture brides, 1907-1912.

Records of the U.S. District and Circuit Courts include case files and other records pertaining to United States v.Korematsu, United States v. Endo, United States v. Hirabayashi, and other cases arising from the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Records of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California include case files pertaining to the renunciation of citizenship by internees at the Tule Lake, CA, relocation camp, as well as the treason trial of Iva D'Aquino, also known as "Tokyo Rose", including tape recordings of Radio Tokyo's Zero Hour broadcasts, July 1944 to August 1945.

The National Archives--Pacific Region has microfilmed records of the War Relocation Authority, the agency that carried out the internment. The microfilm reproduces report books and newsletters from three California relocation centers (#I21). (The original records of the War Relocation Authority are located in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.)

Records of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics include reports and correspondence from the late 1930's concerning plans for internment of Japanese Americans, including maps of relocation sites, site evaluation summaries, evacuation plan proposals, and studies of the possible effects of the removal of the Japanese population on agricultural production in California's Central valley.

Records of the Farmers Home Administration include correspondence pertaining to the need for housing for internees used to pick cotton in Arizona. Records of the custodian for Honolulu, Office of Alien property, include case files, decisions, indexes, and reports concerning the property of internees, repatriates, and other Japanese affected during World War II.

Records of the Public Health Service's Angel Island Quarantine Station in San Francisco Bay pertain to Chinese and Japanese passengers quarantined between 1896 and 1948. Some records are protected by privacy restrictions.

Latin Americans

Records of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California include microfilm copies (and some original records) of land grant cases, 1852-1910, in which residents of the former Mexican California sought to regain land they held under Spanish and Mexican land grants prior the United States annexation of California. Other records pertaining to land grants are on microfilm:

  • California Private Land Claims Dockets, T910;
  • Private Land Grant Cases in the Circuit Court of the Northern District of California, 1852-1910, T1207;
  • Index to Private Land Grant Cases, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, 1855-1903, T1214;
  • Index to Private Land Cases, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, T1215;
  • Index by County to Private Land Grant Cases, U.S. District Court, Northern and Southern Districts of California, T1216.

Records of the Farmers Home Administration, Los Angeles area office, include coded administrative files concerning back pay and other claims and conditions of farm workers who were Mexican nationals, as well as legal cases and correspondence with the Mexican consul. Farmers Home Administration records also include files relating to the importation of Mexican farm laborers during the 1940's.

Records of the Office of the Solicitor, Department of Labor, pertain to the Mexican Labor (Bracero) Program, 1950-1964, in which growers in California and other states employed contract farm laborers from Mexico. The records consist of adverse effect determinations, correspondence, court cases, investigations, labor dispute case files, and other records. Privacy restrictions may apply to some records.

Native Americans

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) intervened in every phase of Native American life, including education, employment, financial and business affairs, health, land ownership, and legal rights. BIA records in the National Archives--Pacific Sierra Region provide extensive information about Native Americans and their communities, and about the attitudes and policies of BIA officials.

The National Archives--Pacific Region has records of BIA field offices, agencies, and schools. Records are arranged and described primarily by Indian agency. Tribes represented in these records include:
CALIFORNIA: Concow, Digger, Grande Ronde, Hoopa, Klamath, Little Lake Valley, Modoc, Mono, Nomelaki, Paiute, Pit River, Potter, Redwood, Shasta, Tule, Wailaki, Yuki
NEVADA: Paiute, Shoshone, Washoe, Western Shoshone

Records of the Sacramento regional solicitor, Department of the Interior, 1967-1971, document the Palm Springs Task Force investigation of the guardian-conservator system used by members of the Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians. Some records are restricted for privacy reasons.

Some records relating to Native Americans may be found among the records of U.S. Attorneys and Marshals, Fair EmploymentPractice Committee, the Federal courts, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Mines, and National Park Service.

The National Archives--Pacific Region has extensive microfilm publications pertaining to Native Americans including:

  • Letters Sent by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881, M21;
  • Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1881, M234;
  • Special Files of the Office of Indian Affairs, 1807-1904, M574;
  • Indian Census Rolls, 1884-1940 (California and Nevada tribes only), M595;
  • Letters Sent by the Indian Division, 1849-1903, M606;
  • Superintendent's Annual Narrative and Statistical Reports from Field Jurisdictions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1907-1938, M1011;
  • Reports of Inspections of the Field Jurisdictions of the Office of Indian Affairs, 1873-1900 (California and Nevada tribes only), M1070.

Additional Sources For Ethnic History

The National Archives--Pacific Region's most extensive sources for a variety of ethnic populations are the records of the Federal courts. These records include the U.S. District Court for the Northern and Eastern Districts of California, and the districts of Nevada and Hawaii; and records of the Ninth Circuit Court ofAppeals, 1891-1959, covering Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, the Mariana Islands, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Naturalization, and issues relating to property, civil rights, business history, employment, law enforcement, and labor and other organized movements can be researched in these records. District court records include Declarations of Intention and Petitions for Naturalization for Asians and Asian-Pacific Islanders, as well as Chinese who chose to become naturalized citizens following the repeal of the exclusion laws in 1943. Court records cannot be accessed by subject, except in the broadest terms, such as admiralty, bankruptcy, and naturalization. To locate a particular case file, it is necessary to know either the case name or number.

Counter-intelligence summaries, 1941-1945, created by the District Intelligence Office, Fourteenth Naval District, contain weekly reports on issues such as labor, political activities, racial tension, and social relations of various ethnic groups including African Americans, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, and Koreans.

The National Archives--Pacific Region has microfilmed Federal census records for all states, 1790-1920, except for 1890. Census records provide data on individuals, families, and neighborhoods, and are a valuable source for ethnic studies and family history.

Record Groups Cited

Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94
Agricultural Economics, Bureau of, RG 83
Alien Property, Office of, RG 131
American Samoa, Government of, RG 284
Attorneys and Marshals, U.S., RG 118
Community Services Administration, RG 381
Courts of Appeals, U.S., RG 276
Customs Service, U.S., RG 36
District Courts of the United States, RG 21
Fair Employment Practice, Committee on, RG 228
Farmers Home Administration, RG 96
Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85
Indian Affairs, Bureau of, RG 75
Interior, Office of the Secretary of the, RG 48
Labor, Department of, RG 174
Land Management, Bureau of, RG 49
Mines, U.S. Bureau of, RG 70
National Park Service, RG 79
Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, RG 181
Naval Operating Forces, RG 313
Public Health Service, 1912-1968, RG 90
Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Bureau of, RG 105
Territories, Office of, RG 126
War Manpower Commission, RG 211
War Relocation Authority, RG 210