CHS Puts Temple Photos Online, Receives Large Photo Donation

by Tanya Hollis

The Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society represents the largest collection of materials on Peoples Temple and Jonestown, Guyana. It incorporates materials donated and collected from a wide range of sources, including the organizational records from Peoples Temple, materials donated by former members, families, and scholars, and documents from government agencies. The collection includes correspondence, memoranda, minutes of meetings, artifacts, legal documents, audiotapes, and photographs, along with a wide array of published materials. Each year, visitors from around the world visit CHS to do research for films, books, and articles.

The largest collection held by CHS, Peoples Temple Records (MS 3800) contains both the records generated by the offices of Peoples Temple and the records of the Receiver, Robert H. Fabian. This year there has been a concentrated push to edit and publish a guide to this collection online. Intern Frances Wratten Kaplan and volunteer Fielding M. McGehee III have been working tirelessly to review all of the files, and edit the description of the collection. The guide is now in its final stages of revision and will soon be available through the Online Archive of California (OAC), an online consortium of archival institutions in the state of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org); you may also contact CHS staff at reference@calhist.org to have an electronic copy of the guide sent to you.

This fall, we hope to move on to editing and publishing the guide to the FBI Documents; the hope is to integrate the several lists that have been generated by the FBI, CHS, and McGehee into one document, providing the first comprehensive listing of documents held by the FBI. McGehee will also be assisting with this project.

CHS is also excited to announce the online availability of two hundred digital images from the Photographs of Peoples Temple in the United States and Guyana (PC 010) through the Online Archive of California. This represents a portion of the collection, which consists of over 1200 slides of the membership of Peoples Temple, spanning from the early days of the church in Redwood Valley to the construction of Jonestown. We’d like to thank not only those survivors who visited CHS on the July 4th weekend to help identify individuals in this collection of photographs, but also to thank those former members and family members that took the time to review the images and provide corrections to titles and dates, and add more names. Their generous contributions to the project made an enormous impact, and all of us at CHS are grateful for their efforts. Their work will assist researchers and the families of the deceased for the life of the collection. The scanning of the images was supported by a California Local History Digital Resources Program (LHDRP) grant, supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

CHS has also continued our partnership with the Jonestown Institute to provide digital images of primary source materials and photographs for the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown website. These items can be found under the Primary Sources link, as well as throughout the website.

Thanks to the generosity of the Peoples Temple community, the collection continues to grow. This year CHS has received, from an anonymous donor, the largest single donation of photographs and other audiovisual materials of the Peoples Temple membership in all of its pursuits. Consisting of the files of the Publications office of Peoples Temple, the collection also contains examples of all of the materials published by the Temple, an invaluable resource. We hope to begin processing of the materials in the fall, with the assistance of Frances Wratten Kaplan, our intern-turned-volunteer, who has already begun assessing the collection for preservation.

The Peoples Temple Collection has had several significant new additions donated this year. CHS would like to thank the Moore family for their contribution of documents to the growing collection of Moore Family Papers already residing at CHS. This new addition includes the early correspondence of Carolyn Layton to her family, written before she joined Peoples Temple. A sampling of these is available in Rebecca Moore’s article Carolyn’s Other Letters in last year’s jonestown report. For more information on the Moore Family Papers, you can view the guide online through the Online Archive of California. Additionally, CHS would like to acknowledge the generous gift donated by Grace Jones of her certificate of commission as a notary public from the State of California. We are grateful to all of these donors, and wish to thank them for their generosity.

CHS also recently received the records of the Guyana Emergency Relief Committee, an ad hoc group formed under the San Francisco Council of Churches following the deaths in Jonestown. The Committee assisted relatives in California in gathering records for use in identification of bodies, and coordinated the efforts to return the unidentified and unclaimed remains to California, eventually arranging with Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland for the burial of more than 400 bodies there.

If you have materials related to Peoples Temple or Jonestown, the CHS staff would welcome the opportunity to discuss a possible donation to our holdings. We are interested in particular in those materials that document the perspectives of the Peoples Temple membership, survivors, and former members who left the Temple. We also wish to document the perspectives of those outside Peoples Temple, including family members, members of the press, and individuals who had interaction with Peoples Temple, such as community members and politicians. The types of materials that scholars are most interested in are letters, personal accounts, photographs, personal documents and publications generated by Peoples Temple. However, we collect all types of materials. Please contact Marie Silva, Archivist/Manuscripts Librarian, if you wish to talk about the possibility of adding your personal papers to the Peoples Temple Collection at CHS.

CHS continues to welcome individuals who were either a part of Peoples Temple, or related to those who died in Jonestown to visit us and see the collections in person. This year, CHS hosted an open house on the 4th of July, and we will host former members and their invited relatives and friends to view photographs and recent acquisitions from the Peoples Temple Collection on November 18 at 9:30 am.

If you would like visit CHS and do research in the Peoples Temple Collection, CHS is located in downtown San Francisco at 678 Mission Street, San Francisco. The North Baker Research Library is open to the public Wednesday through Friday from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Researchers who wish to use the Peoples Temple Collection for the first time are encouraged to email reference@calhist.org or call 415-357-1848 ext. 220 for assistance prior to their arrival, though appointments are not necessary. For those of you who may be too far away to visit, please feel free to call or e-mail us your questions or requests for more information.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 21st, 2019.
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