On January 5, 1850, nine months before gaining U.S. statehood, the California Legislature passed its first law: “An Act Concerning the Public Archives,” (Statutes of 1850, Chapter 1). The law created the state's Public Archives, one of the first permanent public archives in the nation ." 

Under this new law the Public Archives became a part of the Secretary of State's office to "classify, and safely keep, and preserve" all records that "were connected with the political, civil, and military history, and past administration of the Government in California." These records included registers, maps, books, papers, rolls, documents, and other writings, on subjects "which may be interesting, or valuable as references or authorities to the Government, or people of the State." ." 

The Act Concerning the Public Archives (PDF)

Today, the California State Archives continues to collect, catalog, preserve, and provide access to the historic records of state government and some local governments. The Archives collection is primarily comprised of records from California state agencies, the governor's office, the state legislature, and the State Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. The records are organized under the name of the agency or office that transferred the records to the Archives. The collections also include some private papers that have been donated to the Archives.

The State Archives has specialized programs to collect and preserve records of state government. The Legislative Archives Program, Court Records Program and Governor's Records Program work with the three branches of Government to identify records of enduring value that should be preserved in the Archives. The State Records Appraisal Program works to identify and collect records of state agencies.

Each year thousands of researchers contact and visit the California State Archives seeking documentation to support their historical investigation. Archivists provide reference services to help researchers identify collections that are most relevant to their area of interest and retrieve those records from a secure storage area for researchers to view in the Research Room. Rows of shelves containing stacks of archived documents and materials.

Public education and outreach are also important elements of the State Archives' mission. In October of each year, the public can attend the Archives Month Open House, enjoy a behind–the–scenes tour of the facility, and learn more about the archival profession and other archival repositories in California. The Archives also offers monthly behind the scenes public tours

The State Archives continually works to promote the development of the archival profession through the Western Archives Institute (co–sponsored by the Society of California Archivists) , and education through the Graduate Internship Program. Located one block south of the State Capitol, the State Archives is housed in the Secretary of State office complex. Completed in 1995, the 170,000 square foot building has six floors of environmentally controlled stacks, including a number of specialized vaults, which house the Archives' collections, as well as preservation, imaging, and processing labs.

Honoring the state's first statute, the State Archives continues to safely keep and preserve evidence of California's unique history.

Laws & Public Records

The State Archives is home to original bills signed into law by the Governor and chaptered by the Secretary of State, original bill proposals from the State Senate and State Assembly, opinions of the State Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal, and bill files from legislators and legislative committees. Taken together, these records represent the legal foundation of state government and are frequently used by the courts, the legal community, state and local governments, and the public.

Today two laws are fundamental to the public’s right to access public records, the California Public Records Act (Government Code section 7920.000 et seq) and the California Information Practices Act (Civil Code section 1798 et seq).

A summary of the Public Records Act can be found on the Attorney General's website.

California's Replevin Law  enables state and local government agencies to recover public records that are being held unlawfully and makes it illegal for private parties to possess state or local government records.

Rights Statement

Read our rights statement regarding the digital images found on our website.

Grant Funded Projects

Learn about grant funded projects at the California State Archives.