New Collections from Temple Survivors Highlight CHS Acquisitions

by Tanya Hollis

The Peoples Temple Collection at the California Historical Society, the repository that holds the bulk of materials relating to Peoples Temple and the events that surrounded the 1978 tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana, currently consists of over twenty different collections of material. These collections include organizational records from Peoples Temple, personal papers of former members, survivors and their families, researchers, and government agencies, and include correspondence, organizational documents, artifacts, legal documents, audiotapes, and photographs. Guides to these materials are available through the Online Archive of California (OAC), 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.

We were very fortunate in the past year to receive some significant contributions to the Peoples Temple Collection . Among them are the papers of Claire Janaro, which includes correspondence with many residents in Jonestown – especially the children who had once lived at the Ranch outside Redwood Valley which she and her husband Richard had managed.  A collection donated by Barry Isaacson contains the correspondence and clippings of the Alexander family, whose daughter Phyllis married Temple attorney Eugene Chaikin. We have also just recently received the papers documenting the work of the Guyana Emergency Relief Committee, a committee established in San Francisco to assist the families of the victims and survivors, headed by Donneter Lane.  And finally, filmmaker Paul VanDeCarr, and his co-producer Pam Harris, have donated taped interviews with survivors and others, along with a number of books and videos to add to our reference collection.  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 Collection grows, we would like to continue collecting materials that document the multiple perspectives of the 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 at 415-357-1848 ext 228 to talk about your collections, and the possibility of adding them to the growing Peoples Temple Collection here at CHS.

In the past year, CHS collections have been used to support a number of projects, ranging from network and cable television documentaries, to artists works and independent filmmakers. And we continue to reach out to individuals who were either a part of the Peoples Temple, or are related to those who died in Jonestown.

On November 17, CHS will once again host former members and their invited relatives and friends to view photographs and recent acquisitions from the Peoples Temple Collection. The California Historical Society Library will be open from 11 am to 2 pm.

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.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on February 26th, 2014.
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