Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Solano County Archives Are in Indefinite Storage

archival documents on
shrink-wrapped wooden carts
During my series of "Treasure Chest Thursday" posts about the cache of documents I was given relating to Emma (Schafer) Petit La Forêt, I've noted that she was often living in Vallejo, in Solano County, California, when several of those documents were created.  In addition, I wrote that my plan to try to learn "someday" whether the file for Emma's divorce from Emile Petit still existed moved up on my to-do list after I gave a presentation to the Solano County Genealogical Society and spoke to a volunteer from the Solano County Archives.

Well, I have learned that the divorce shows up in the index for civil cases from the Superior Court.  I learned that Emma first filed for divorce in 1906, prior to when she paid Emile Petit to stay out of her life forever.  And that seems to be as far as it can go right now, because I also learned that the Solano County Archives is in a state of limbo.  Above is a photograph of the current status of the archives, according to information on the Solano County Historical Society site.

I sent an official request for records retrieval.  The Solano County employee who responded to my request said that the documents just can't be found.  They might be lost, they might be misfiled, they might be in a box where someone can't read the numbers because they're on a shrink-wrapped cart — oh, wait, that last one was not one of the reasons the employee cited.  That's my own suggestion after looking at the photograph.

At this point Solano County apparently has no idea of when the question of what will happen to its archival materials will be resolved.  I was told it could take "several months" but no specific timeline.

These archival documents go back to 1850.  That's definitely worth preserving!  Some people in Solano County believe an official county archive should be established and now have an online petition to try to accomplish that.

To be fair, there is at least one more side to the story.  One person has put forth that Solano County has higher priorities than funding an archive.  That individual wrote to me that archival requests number no more than one per month, although no basis for the statistic was given.  That sounds rather low to me, considering the explosion of interest in family history that has taken over this country (remember, it's now the second highest Internet topic, right behind porn!).  The person in question did not state where knowledge of the situation came from and did not list any affiliation with the archives.

I have to admit I probably lean more toward hoping the county can have its own archives.  In theory it might be possible for the Solano County documents to be incorporated into the holdings of the California State Archives, but there's no guarantee that the state is willing or able to take on the additional material, and no indication that the idea has been broached to the state at all.  In addition, it would mean that local residents would have to go out of the county to research their own area.  My opinion holds little weight here, however, because I don't live in Solano County.  Residents of Solano County need to let their opinions be known to the county Board of Supervisors as soon as possible, whichever side of the debate they are on, because the board might make a decision as early as June.  Until the issue is resolved, research into the history of Solano County appears to be derailed.


  1. Feb 2017 -- update??

    1. I have heard nothing further about the status of the archival materials. The Solano County Historical County site still has the information about the archives being moved to Richmond and asks people to sign a petition, so it would appear that the archives are still in limbo.


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