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Genealogy at the Los Angeles Public Library

The following is a brief summary of the holdings of the History and Genealogy Department that would interest genealogists. The department has over 150,000 titles in its collections; approximately 45,000 of those are classified as genealogy. With the exception of how-to books and baby name books, genealogy books are reference only and must be used in the Central Library.

Census Records

The library owns the following census records: 1790-1900 & 1920—all; 1910 & 1930--partial The library owns most of the Soundex, many book census indexes, all slave schedules, and Indian census records.

City Directories

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 earlier years. There is an eclectic set of approximately 1,000 paper directories and L.A. city directories, 1872-1942 are in both film and paper. A list of our holdings is found in the City Directories Index.
Some of the L.A. city and street address directories have been digitized and are available on our web site.

Family Histories

Our collection is unique and is not duplicated by any California library; approximately 20% of the collection is not in the Library of Congress. We regularly solicit family histories from genealogists across the country to add to our collection of approximately 10,000 titles.

Heraldry and Coats of Arms

LAPL is the only area library to comprehensively collect heraldry. The department maintains a detailed card index by family name to books on heraldic symbols and coat of arms. Two notable titles are Garcia Carraffa, Enciclopedia Heraldica y Genealogica Hispano-Americana, an 88-volume set on Hispanic heraldry and J. Siebmacher’s Grosses und Allgemeines Wappenbuch, 102 volumes on German heraldry. Some titles have color plates.

How-to Books

The department has a comprehensive collection of books on the techniques of doing genealogy from beginner’s manuals to those aimed at a very specific audience, e.g. Tracing Your Philippine Ancestors or Tracing Your Roots by Computer.

Immigration Records

The library has passenger arrival lists of ships docking in San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia. We have records for New York ships between 1820 and 1846 only. The library has passenger lists for San Pedro/Wilmington/Los Angeles for 1907-1948. The library owns all available naturalization records for the U.S. District Court for southern California.

Local Histories

These make up a large part of the genealogy collection and include detailed histories at the county level, cemetery records, probate records, and town histories.


Map resources include a complete set of USGS topographical maps covering the entire U.S. in a 1:24,000 scale. Indexes are available for each state at the reference desk. Also there are 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.

Military Record

The department owns substantially complete rosters of soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. In addition, there are several hundred unit histories of military units from World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Name Books

There are approximately 600 books on names, their derivation and 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-, the Herald Examiner under its various titles, the New York Times 1851-, the Times of London 1785-, the San Francisco Chronicle 1869- 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 ProQuest databases for the Los Angeles Times include digitized images from 1881-1986, which is available at the Central Library and all branches, and full text from 1985-, which is available at Central Library, all branches, and at home with a library card. ProQuest Newsstand has full text for over 300 newspapers and is available at Central Library, all branches, and at home with a library card. Access NewspaperARCHIVE, is available at Central Library and all branches. It includes more than 2,700 newspapers from more than 700 cities. A partial run of the Van Nuys News and Valley News under various title changes from 1900-1977 is found there in digitized images.


The average citizen who dies in a major metropolitan area does not get an obituary published in a newspaper like the Los Angeles Times or New York Times. There is no master index to obituaries, and only the New York Times indexes paid death notices beginning in 1997. Newspapers that have been digitized can be more easily searched than those that have not. Patrons are encouraged to do their own searches for obituaries; the library maintains a Directory of Genealogists who will do this for a fee.

Online Databases

The library offers access to several online databases including Ancestry Library Edition that is available at the Central Library and all branches, HeritageQuest Online that is available at Central Library, all branches, and at home with a library card, and NewEnglandAncestors.org that is available only at the Central Library.


There are over 600 periodical titles in the genealogy collection, many with long backfiles. Many are indexed individually or in PERSI, the Periodical Source Index that is the genealogical equivalent to Readers Guide. This is available at the HeritageQuest Online web site, which the Central Library provides.

Telephone Directories

The library has microfiche telephone directories of the United States 1976-2005 and some paper directories for major cities prior to 1976. The library owns a substantial set of L.A. phone directories dating back to 1900. Current telephone directories can also be searched online.

Vital Records

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 California Vital Records.