The History Center houses a large collection of historical materials pertaining to the history of Contra Costa County since its formation in 1850, and earlier.

Many of the collections are original county government-produced documents, photographs, and maps. Also included in the collection are newspapers, private donations of personal research and family papers, letters,  business and association records, memorabilia, and a large clipping file of obituaries, biographies, and subject files on towns and miscellaneous subjects. The library includes books, directories, government studies, and maps of Contra Costa County and the surrounding Bay Area.

New collections are continually being added. The Special Collections can be searched in detail at the Online Archive of California.

County Records

Many of the early records of the county government are included in the collection including yearly tax assessor books from 1850 through 1910, county supervisor records, county treasurer’s records, and school board records.

A hand drawn archival map of Boss Ranch in Contra Costa County

Treasurer's Cash Book 1915-17 Disbursements

Court Records

As the official repository of the Superior Court records, we have court records from as far back as the 1850s up to the mid-20th century. These include County Court, District Court, and Superior Court records of civil, probate, and criminal cases, as well as naturalization.  Physical copies of records up to 1911 with many records extending into the 1950s are housed at the History Center.  There are physical indexes to these records that cannot be found online.   More recent court case files are kept by the County Superior Court.

We also have more than 9300 historic court case files that have been indexed, naming more than 61,000 people.

The probate cases, which are often used in genealogical and historical research, are indexed by the decedent’s name. These are searchable in our online Probate database.

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Contra Costa County Supervisor's Allowance books 1-9, 1878-1903

Library

We have an extensive collection of books, journals, magazines, pamphlets, and studies generally relating to the history of Contra Costa County and California. Some books include early vital record indexes, cemetery indexes, histories of the county, and histories of individual cities and towns in the county. The library also houses an extensive clippings file of obituaries, biographies, subject files, and files on each city and town in the county. One large subject file includes the pony express and another on the coal mines.

Maps

The History Center has in excess of 1,700 maps of all sizes and types, dating from 1775 to the 1990s.   Our maps include locations of the Spanish land grants, pioneer homes and properties, and many of the historic places of our County.

  • Aerial maps
  • Surveyors maps
  • Tax Assessment maps
  • Topographical maps
  • Land ownership maps
  • City layouts maps
  • Street maps
  • Advertising maps

Many of these maps are available online and on the PACT (Public Access Computer Terminal) at the History Center. Some of the older, delicate, large format maps can only be viewed by appointment with one of our trained staff members.

Maps may not be photographed with personal equipment and there is a cost for copies.

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A hand drawn archival map of Boss Ranch in Contra Costa County

The partition on the Boss Ranch, Pleasant Hill, 1881

Naturalization

We have naturalization records from 1850 to 2008 for people who either started the process with the intent to naturalize or finished with the petition to naturalize. Our collection includes 107 volumes of over 13,000 cases only available with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The charge for certified copies is $50 and for non-certified copies is $25. There is an online index to this collection.

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A hand drawn archival map of Boss Ranch in Contra Costa County

Contra Contra County, Declaration of Intention for Citizenship, Jose Victorino Nunes 1937 (partial page)

Newspapers

We have many newspapers published in Contra Costa County, with some dating as far back as the 1860s. We also have newspaper clippings sorted into obituaries, biographies, cities and towns, and by subject. The Contra Costa Gazette from 1864-1901 and other old and fragile newspapers have been digitized and are available in searchable format on our two public access computers at the Center. We also have an extensive collection of microfilm of the Contra Costa Times, Valley Times, Concord Transcript, and the Lafayette Sun, to name a few. The Center has a newspaper finding aid for the collection.

There is also an extensive subject clipping file of newspaper articles and obituaries. Copies of obituaries and newspaper articles are $5.

Walnut Creek Sun, Friday, Sept 9, 1960

Photographs

The collection has more than 20,000 scanned and cataloged images from around the county consisting of prints, negatives, and slides which are available in digital format. Thumbnail versions of these photos can be viewed on our webpage.

Photographs may not be photographed with personal equipment and there is a cost for copies. The photograph fee schedule is here.

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Wells Fargo Express wagon, Richmond RR station

Newspaper Photo Negatives

The Historical Society has recently received the photo negative archives from the Contra Costa Times, the East County Times and the West County Times dating from the 1950s through the early 21st century. We are in the process of building an index showing information from the assignment envelopes which house these negatives. At this time, digitizing of these negatives, which we believe to number in excess of 200,000, is not planned in a general sense. Rather, the index will be available to the public and individual scans of the negatives will be made based on demand.

From the West County Times photo negative collection

School Records

This collection is small, but contains some school bond records, early school registers, yearbooks from many of the county junior and senior high schools, college football programs, and newspaper clippings of many schools in the county originally collected and collated by Bernard Freedman, a longtime CCCHS volunteer.

Teachers and students in front of Live Oak School, Oakley c1912

Special Collections

The collection includes many one-of-a-kind items from famous residents or businesses of historical Contra Costa County.  The complete description of the collections can be found on the Online Archive of California. Among our more notable collections are:

  • The Veale Collection - Richard R. Veale was sheriff of Contra Costa County for 40 years, from 1895-1935, and his collection consists of correspondence, notes, photos, news clippings, and personal items.
  • The Dorothy Mutnick Collection - It contains meticulous research notes and genealogies relating to the Californiano period of California history and an impressive collection of indexed clippings from early newspapers.
  • Balfour & Guthrie - Balfour & Guthrie was a British shipping business based in San Francisco, which dealt in wheat and operated out of the Crockett area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Nancy Fahden Collection - Ms. Fahden was the first woman elected to the County Board of Supervisors, serving from 1976 to 1992.
  • The Blomberg Collection - Documents relating to the Mt. Diablo Quicksilver Mine
  • Lucille Arnon Collection - Materials relating to local regional parks
  • Helene Frakes Collection - Documents from the Contra Costa County Planning Commission
  • Alma Lytton James Collection - Local merchant and personal letters dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s
  • Concord Naval Weapons Station - Documents and meeting minutes relating to closure study of the facility
  • Anne Protapopoff Collection - Histories of Martinez and California residents and Mexican and European genealogies
  • Blair Rixon Collection - Notary Public records and court case records from his long career as a judge
  • Les Sipes Collection - A reporter & photographer for the Oakland Tribune, Sipes covered Contra Costa County in the 1940s & 50s
  • Webb Johnson Collection - Civil War letters from his grandparents, together with transcriptions he made of the letters

Sheriff R.R. Veale on horse, c 1915

Miscellaneous business ledgers, 1861-1885