CHS Acquires Additional Collections, Embarks on Photo Identification Effort

by Tanya Hollis

The Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society continues to draw visitors from around the world to do research for films, books, and articles. The collection also continues to grow, thanks to donations from former members of Peoples Temple. CHS holds the bulk of materials relating to Peoples Temple and the events that surrounded the 1978 tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana; these materials are known collectively as the Peoples Temple Collection.  Comprised of more than 25 related collections, the Peoples Temple Collection includes organizational records from Peoples Temple; personal papers of former members, survivors and their families; notes from researchers; and documents from government agencies. The materials in the collection also include correspondence, artifacts, legal documents, audiotapes, and photographs, along with a wide array of published materials.

To make these collections more available to the public, CHS has applied for and received a California Local History Digital Resources Program 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. This grant will enable CHS to scan two hundred of the images in the Peoples Temple Photograph Collection (PC 010). This collection consists of more than 1200 slides of the membership of Peoples Temple, spanning from the early days of the church in Redwood Valley to the construction of Jonestown. The images will be available to the public online through the Online Archive of California sometime in the fall of 2010.

This past July, a number of Temple survivors visited CHS to help identify individuals in this collection of photographs. They were able to supply the names of many, and to resolve other identifications that were disputed. Their generous work as volunteers has made an enormous impact, and all of us at CHS would like to thank them for their efforts; their contribution will assist researchers and the families of the deceased for the life of the collection. The names that were identified will become part of the information available online with our digital images, and will allow for searching the photographs by name.

This year has brought CHS a number of new donations to the collections, including a sign from the clinic in Jonestown, painted with Larry Schacht, MD. The sign was donated by Derek Braithwaite, who made multiple visits to Jonestown, in 1980 and 1982 during his period of national service, while a student at the University of Guyana. Braithwaite made the donation in memory of the children whose cheerful spirits, joy and laughter were abruptly stilled at Jonestown on November 18, 1978. His statement accompanying the donation appears here.

Guy Brewster Young has generously donated a collection of materials that includes a publicity album with photographs of Jonestown, correspondence, and materials from the Geary Blvd Temple. Other gifts recently received include a collection of photographs from Jordan Vilchez of herself and other Peoples Temple members; an original film, The Children of Jonestown, from 1977, donated by Philip G. Zimbardo; and a collection of internal memos, memorabilia, and publications from former Temple member Janet Shular; and a large collection of newspaper and other media related to November 1978, collected by Charlie Touchette and donated by his daughter Mickey after her father’s death in 2007.

We are grateful to each of these donors, and wish to thank them again for their generosity.

If you have materials related to Peoples Temple or Jonestown, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss a possible donation to our holdings. As our Peoples Temple Collection grows, we would like to continue collecting materials that document the multiple perspectives of Peoples Temple and its members. These perspectives include family members, survivors, members who left the church, members of the press, and individuals who have done research on Peoples Temple. These materials are invaluable resources for the continued examination of Peoples Temple and contribute to the understanding of the events, not only on November 18, 1978, but the lives of the membership and its place in American culture. Please contact Tanya Hollis, Archivist/Manuscripts Librarian, to talk about your collections, and the possibility of adding them to the growing Peoples Temple Collection here at CHS.

We continue to reach out to individuals who were either a part of Peoples Temple, or are related to those who died in Jonestown. On November 17, CHS will be open for former members, relatives and friends to view photographs and selections from the Peoples Temple Collection. The Library will be open Tuesday, 17 November 2009, from 11 am to 2 pm (Please note: The special opening is the day before the memorial service).

Guides to Peoples Temple Collections are available through the Online Archive of California, an online consortium of archival institutions in the state of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org) and available through WorldCat (http://www.worldcat.org), an international consortium of library holdings available online, enabling researchers from anywhere in the world to locate the collections. You may also contact staff to have an electronic copy of our guides sent to you at reference@calhist.org.

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, CA 94105. 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.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on January 24th, 2014.
Skip to main content