National Archives at San Francisco

Historical Research

Original records

The National Archives at San Francisco, located in our San Bruno facility, has more than 75,000 cubic feet of archival holdings dating from 1850 to the 1980s, including textual documents, photographs, maps, and architectural drawings. These archival holdings were created or received by the Federal courts and more than 100 Federal agencies in northern California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada (except Clark County), American Samoa, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Federal law requires that agencies transfer permanently valuable, noncurrent records to NARA.   

Among the subjects covered are Chinese exclusion and immigration, the development of Pearl Harbor and mainland coastal fortifications, former World War II defense sites, public land use, national forests, Dust Bowl era migrant labor camps, and tribal history.

The archival holdings are arranged by record group (abbreviated RG), a body of records from an agency or bureau identified by an RG number. Selected finding aids, including a comprehensive guide to archival holdings, are available by mail and online. Research can be initiated in person, or by telephone, mail, or e-mail. Individuals who wish to use archival holdings on-site will facilitate their research by calling before visiting. If the number of researchers exceeds research room capacity, those with appointments will receive priority.

Before using archival holdings, every researcher must obtain a researcher identification card. An applicant must show identification that includes a photograph, such as a driver's license, school or business identification card, or passport, and complete a short form giving name, address, telephone number, and brief description of the research topic. The Archives then issues a researcher ID card that is valid for 1 year and is renewable. The researcher must present the card during each research visit.

Microfilmed records

In addition to unique original records, the National Archives at San Francisco has selected holdings of National Archives microfilm publications.  Self-service microfilm readers are available without appointment. A 2-hour limit is imposed when researchers are waiting.