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Contributed: pre-2006

Pioneer Card Records

Contributed by Jill O'Neall Ching


An indespensible source of information for anyone searching early California arrivals, are the "Pioneer Card Records", a collection of cards physically located as rare documents in the CA Room at the California State Library at 9th and N St., Sacramento, CA. As a researcher you will "look-up" the surname of your ancestor in the California Information File, and see if a catalog cards says "pioneer card", then you proceed to the desk and ask the librarian for your ancestors "pioneer card", which you may only view in the rare book section which is locked.

My ancestor arrived in the Fall of 1850 and a descendant of his filled out a "Pioneer Record" or Pioneer Card for him in July of 1951, apparently an effort was underway to create a record of ancestors arriving with the Gold Rush in the 1950's and some families submitted the Pioneer Cards and even portraits of their pioneers for this effort! It is very exciting to go to the library and find a Pioneer Card on your ancestor! My relative submitted both the Pioneer Record Card and a portrait to the Portrait and Photo Collection. The top of the card which I have a photocopy of reads "California State Library" "Pioneer Record", I believe the State Library undertook this effort to record the pioneers of California, as the cards say CSL. I understand that the California Information File, containing the index cards refering to the Pioneer Cards is also available at MANY other libraries, and can be purchased as well, on microfilm and/or microfiche.

What is benefical about seeing your ancestors card at the CA ROOM?

You are able to view the entire record, it consists of a folded card, with four sides altogether. You may see the actual card if you visit the library while you are seated in the "inner sanctum" of the rare books area of the library. Also I was able to purchase photocopies of both sides of the record card from the library. The cards in the California Information File are simply index cards to the "holding" which you view as a rare document, like a manuscript or a portrait.

This "Pioneer Record" is what the index card (in the CA Info File) refers you too, so IF you are unable to go to the CA ROOM and you know there is a pioneer card for your ancestor in the CA Info File, you will want to somehow see what info has been submitted by your ancestors descendant!

What type of information is contained on the Pioneer Card Record?

That depends on which lines your ancestors descendant filled in on the card (the record is the size of 4 regular library cards from a catalogue).

These are the areas that could be filled in on the double sided, folded over Pioneer Card:

  • Full name of Pioneer
  • Place of birth
  • Date of birth
  • If married, to whom
  • Date of marriage
  • Place of marriage
  • Parents of Pioneer
  • Father
  • Mother(maiden)
  • Date of Pioneer Arrival in CA
  • Route followed
  • States before CA
  • Places of residence in CA
  • Profession/occupation
  • Public offices held
  • Politics
  • Where educated
  • Place/date of death
  • Descendants
  • Misc Notes
  • Historical events
  • Info given by
  • Relationship
  • Address of signer
A researcher who is lucky enough to find a completely filled in Pioneer Record Card would probably do the Dance of Joy in the middle of the inner sanctum, I found my great-great grandmothers maiden name so I was heard to holler, and remember the info is as reliable as the submitter!

More from Ken about the California Information File availability

The California Information File was reprinted in 1996 and is available for sale from:

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

Cost is $150.00 plus $11.63 sales tax and $4.00 shipping/handling. Total

In California, copies of the California Information File can be found at these libraries (NOTE: 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
  • Humboldt State University
  • Kern County Library System
  • Merced County Library
  • National Maritime Museum
  • 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
  • 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
  • University of Nevada, Reno