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Contributed: 04 July 2002
Updated: 06 February 2009
UPDATE: According to the California State Library, the original California Information File (CAIF) was closed in 1985. A new one was started and is available online.


Contributed by  Ken Tessendorff

For anyone doing genealogical research in California, especially if you are just starting to research your family history, one of the best available indexes is the California Information File. This is a card file at the California State Library in Sacramento, but it is also available on microfiche.

The best description of the File is contained in LOCAL HISTORY AND GENEALOGY RESOURCES OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE LIBRARY, edited by Gary E. Strong. California State Library Foundation, Sacramento, California, 1991.

Here is a quote from that publication.

"The File includes indexing of early California newspapers, important periodicals, biographies, manuscript collections, and special files on California pioneers and other notables. An estimated 65% is indexed by personal names. This microfiche file may be found in the reference collections of many California public and academic libraries.

The file contains some 721,000 cards bearing about 1.4 million citations to information in California periodicals, newspapers, five hundred histories, theses, government documents, biographical encyclopedias, and special biographical files.

Material cited dates from the 1840s through April 1986."

Apparently librarians and others have read the sources listed above, extracted names and events, and created a card for each one. They were so thorough that cards often refer to an individual whose name was contained in an article not about him, but about some other person. I found a card that was created for my ancestor, Hance Murdock, because he was referred to in a biography about his sister. Hance was only mentioned in this biography because he had accompanied her when she crossed the plains from Missouri to California in 1853. But, this biography of Mary Murdock Compton contained information that eventually led me to additional data about Hance. Had this card never been created for Hance, it might have been months before I discovered the biography of Mary. Another citation led to a biography of Thomas Jefferson Cummins which also contained information on my other ancestor, James Cummins. James was the father of Thomas J. Thomas J. is not part of my line, but his biography is the only place where I have ever found any written information about James.

As important as this index is, it is not included as a reference in the California Research Outline published by the LDS Family History Library and many "old timers" have been surprised when I mentioned it to them. Fortunately, the File was reproduced on microfiche cards in 1986 and 1996 and is available in many libraries around the state. Unfortunately, it is usually not included in the library catalogs and many reference librarians have never heard of it, even though they may have a copy at their facility.

The File consists of 550 microfiche cards. When asking for it at your local library, always be persistent if you happen to ask a librarian who does not recognize the name. Tell them that it is a deck of 550 microfiche cards about 4 inches thick with a green band across the top. It is frequently kept in a drawer behind the reference desk. If your librarian does not seem to be aware of it, ask to see ALL their microfiche holding and go through the whole lot yourself. Maybe there is something else there that is not in the catalog.

Most, if not all, of the books cited in the File are in the California State Library. In the past, a researcher could send a list of citations from the File to the California State Library and they would return photocopies of all the items on the list. Now, because of budget problems, it is necessary to hire a private researcher to make the copies or visit the library yourself. Another option is to find the book or newspaper at a library in your own area, obtain a copy through inter library loan, or get a copy on film from the California State Library or the Family History Library. If you live in California, try a university library near your home. Some university libraries have excellent collections of these old books, newspapers and other source documents.

The California Information File was reprinted in 1996. For information, contact:

California State Library Foundation (Address in 1996)
1225 8th Street
Suite 345
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-447-6331

In California, copies of the California Information File can be found at these libraries.
This is not complete list.

Calif. Dept. of Transportation
California State Library
California University, Chico
California University, Fresno
California University, Sacramento
California University, Stanislaus
Carlsbad City Library
Corona Public Library
County of Los Angeles Public Library
Fresno County Public Library, Main Library
Humboldt State University
Kern County Library System
Merced County Library

California History Room
Monterey Public Library
625 Pacific Street
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 646.3741
Email the Monterey Public Library-California History Room

National Maritime Museum
Oakland Main Library (Periodical/Microfilm room)
Ontario City Library
Pasadena Public Library
Riverside City & County Public Library
Redwood City Public Library
San Carlos Library
Sacramento Public Library
San Diego Public Library
San Francisco Main Library
San Francisco State University
San Jose Public Library
San Jose State University
Santa Clara Public Library
Santa Monica Public Library
Stanford University Library (Green Library)
Stanislaus County Free Library
Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library
Sutro Library, San Francisco
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of California, Riverside
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of California, San Francisco
University of California, Southern California
University of the Pacific

Outside California:
This is not a complete list.

University of Nevada, Reno Family History Center, The Dalles, OR.