Genealogy at the Los Angeles Public Library
The History and Genealogy Department contains approximately 52,000 genealogy-related titles in its collection. With the exception of how-to books and baby name books, genealogy books are usually reference-only and must be used within Central Library. Our books are not sent out on interlibrary loan.
The library owns the following federal census records on microfilm: 1790-1900 & 1920—all; 1910 & 1930—partial. The library owns most of the Soundex, many book census indexes, all slave schedules, and several Indian census records.
The library owns City Directories of the United States, with more than 5,000 rolls of microfilm covering U.S. cities from 1861-1960. Microfiche directories cover even earlier years. We also have directories in hard-copy format—approximately 1,000 U.S. directories and Los Angeles city directories (1873-1942) both in film and paper. A list of our holdings is found in our City Directories Index.
Most of the Los Angeles city and street address directories have been digitized and are available online.
Our collection is unique and is not duplicated by any California library; approximately 20% of the collection is not even in the Library of Congress. We regularly solicit family histories from genealogists across the country to add to our collection of approximately 14,000 titles.
Heraldry and Coats of Arms
LAPL is the only area library to comprehensively collect heraldry. The department maintains a detailed Coat of Arms card index, organized by family name. Two notable book collections are Enciclopedia Heráldica y Genealógica Hispano-Americana (Alberto García Carraffa) and J. Siebmacher's Grosses und Allgemeines Wappenbuch (Johann Siebmacher). Some titles have color plates.
The department has a comprehensive collection of instructional books, from beginner’s manuals to those regarding a specific focus, e.g. Tracing Your Philippine Ancestors (Lee W. Vance) or Using DNA in Genealogy (Christopher Challender Child). We also have a growing number of e-books available via Overdrive (over 600 titles).
The library has passenger arrival lists on microfilm of ships docking in New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore, Ventura, San Diego, and Philadelphia. We have records for New York ships (1820-1846). The library has passenger lists for San Pedro/Wilmington/Los Angeles for 1907-1948. The library has on microfilm all available naturalization records for the U.S. District Court for Southern California.
These make up a large part of the genealogy collection and include detailed histories at the state, county, or town level, and transcribed cemetery and probate records. Search our online catalog using the location you’re researching as keywords to see what we have.
Map resources include a complete set of USGS topographical maps covering the entire U.S. in 1:24,000 scale. Also, there is a large selection of modern-day and historical atlases of the world and United States, Board on Geographic Names gazetteers (910.3 U512) covering countries around the globe, and detailed maps for the World War era in the Army Map Service sets. Local maps include Los Angeles street guides from 1925 on and historic maps dating back to 1859. The library also subscribes to the database Digital Sanborn Maps (1867–1970) which you can access from home with a library card.
The department owns books containing rosters of soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. In addition, our History Department contains several hundred regimental histories of military units from World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam.
We have over 1,000 books on personal names, their derivation, and their meaning. There is no master index and many titles are in other languages.
The department owns microfilm of all of the Los Angeles Times (1881-current), the Herald Examiner under its various titles, the New York Times (1851-current), the Times of London (1788-2008), the San Francisco Chronicle (1869-2018) and the Chicago Tribune (1849-1998). The library also owns shorter runs of other newspapers, e.g. the Boston Globe and the Denver Post. Not all newspapers are indexed.
Online databases available using your library card number and PIN:
- Los Angeles Times Historical Archive (1881-1996) - includes digitized, full-page images
- Los Angeles (1985-current) - includes text-only displays
- ProQuest Newsstand - text-only displays for over 300 newspapers
- Access Newspaper Archives - contains digitized versions of more than 2,700 newspapers from more than 700 cities across the nation. A partial run of the Van Nuys News and Valley News under various title changes from 1900-1977 (roughly) is found there.
Several digitized area newspapers are now available to access while you’re at Central Library via our Los Angeles Area Historical Newspapers portal. Titles include the California Eagle (1914-1964), the Daily News (1923-1954), the Evening Post-Record (1896-1936), the Los Angeles Evening/Hollywood Citizen News (1907-1970), and others.
Patrons are encouraged to do their own searches for obituaries using the newspaper resources mentioned above, but keep in mind not everyone received an obituary in this large metropolis. The library maintains a Directory of Genealogists who will search for you for a fee—just ask and we can make that available for you.
For more tips on how to research Los Angeles-area obituaries, check out our Obituary Research Guide.
The library offers access to several online databases.
Available from anywhere:
- Digitized city and street directories
- Los Angeles city directories index
- Genealogy & local history index
Available using your library card and PIN:
Available at Central Library:
There are over 700 periodical titles in the genealogy collection. Many are indexed in print format in the department, and many are indexed in PERSI (the Periodical Source Index that is the genealogical equivalent to the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature). PERSI is available via the database FindMyPast, available to use at Central Library.
The library has microfiche telephone directories of the United States 1976-2005 and many pre-2012 paper directories for major U.S. and international cities. The library owns a substantial set of Los Angeles phone directories dating back to 1914.
The library owns numerous indexes including the California Death Index 1905-1994, California Marriage Index 1949-1986, and death and marriage indexes for Nevada, Texas, and other selected states. In addition, there are 200 book indexes to vital records at the county or city level, and many books of cemetery records. Please see our Research Guide “Vital Records” for more information on how to locate current California Vital Records.