How to Research at the Los Angeles County Archives

It’s been a year since my husband and I moved to Southern California, and, slowly but surely, I’m becoming familiar with the various record repositories in the area. This isn’t without effort, as Los Angeles County, with an area of 4,752 square miles and a population of 10 million, is so overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to begin! When I needed to hunt down some probate records, however, I knew that I would have to visit the Los Angeles County Archives and Records Center.

In preparation, I referred to a blog post by The SoCal Genie. I found it so helpful that I thought I would share an updated version for anyone who might be planning to visit this facility, as the official website isn’t terribly informative. The Los Angeles County Archives and Records Center is the go-to place for probate, divorce, and civil court cases more than five years old. 

First, I would recommend accessing the facility via Metro, as it’s located immediately off the Civic Center/Grand Park Station on the Red Line. I would also recommend that you resign yourself to spending some quality time at the facility, which, to be honest, is not a particularly nice place to spend the day. It’s essentially an underground warehouse – think concrete floors and fluorescent lighting – in need of more than a little TLC. That said, the employees were as nice as can be, so I imagine they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances. Not all archives are created equal!

IMG_2134It can be difficult to find the entrance to the Archives. As you face the Civic Center from the sidewalk, look to the left until you spot the outdoor elevator structure. This will take you underground to the Archives. At the second lower level, follow the signs through the hallway, which, at least when I was there, was piled with boxes and wooden pallets and looked like a place that would be off-limits to the public. However, further down the hall, a line had formed in front of the information desk.

Next, plan to fill out information cards for each person you intend to research. When it was my turn at the desk, I was directed to one side of the room for the indexes to the more recent probate records, and to the other side of the room for the indexes to the older records. While an employee searched for the more recent set, I was allowed to search for the others in the alphabetized probate books.

Only one of the probate records I’d hoped to find appeared to exist, so I recorded the record number and went on to the microfilm room, located on the first lower level. Once I submitted the number to an employee, I was sent to the hall to wait. I had heard that wait times could be on the order of hours; fortunately, I only had to wait a little over an hour for this step of the process. Bring along some reading material for this long wait – I wasn’t able to get any reception to my iPhone. When my number was finally called, an employee helpfully set me up at one of the microfilm readers. I found it rather clunky and difficult to focus, but it did print directly from the screen.

Be aware that one is (technically) only allowed to use a microfilm reader for thirty minutes. The file I went through was about fifty pages long, however, and given a few fits of the machine and the time needed to print each page, I knew that thirty minutes wouldn’t be enough. Thankfully, whether it’s because I made myself small enough not to be noticed behind the machine, or because the machines themselves weren’t in high demand, I was able to use it for an entire hour, successfully printing everything that I needed.

Next, I gave a page count to an employee at the counter, who made a receipt for the copies at the rate of fifty cents per page. The copies were held behind the counter until I went back down to the second lower level to make the payment. When I returned to the microfilm room with my proof of payment, I was given the copies and sent on my way. It was glorious to emerge from the ground into the sunlight! All told, I spent three hours and twenty-five dollars during my first trip to the Los Angeles County Archives and Records Center.

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