Unlocking History: The Early California Population Project


Norine Holguin

9/18/20233 min read

In the heart of California's history lies a treasure trove of records that illuminate the lives of Native Americans, settlers, and missionaries who played pivotal roles in shaping the region. The Early California Population Project (ECPP) is a remarkable endeavor that endeavors to preserve and share this unique historical legacy. Through partnerships between the University of California, Riverside, and The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, the ECPP has meticulously compiled and digitized records from California's Franciscan missions between 1769 and 1850. These records, including baptisms, marriages, and burials, offer unparalleled insights into the state's past.

Unlocking a Wealth of Information

At the heart of the ECPP are the baptism, marriage, and burial registers meticulously maintained by the Franciscan missionaries of Spanish and Mexican California. Much like their European counterparts, these missionaries were required to keep detailed records of Native people affiliated with the missions and the Spanish and Mexican populations, all of whom were nominally Catholic. These records contain a wealth of information, including birthplaces, ages, parental and familial ties, godparents, Spanish names, and other relevant details. Each record was assigned a unique number, facilitating cross-referencing and sorting.

It's important to note that ECPP staff primarily worked with microfilm copies of the original registers rather than the manuscripts themselves. Much of this microfilm was borrowed from institutions across California, with organizations like the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, the University of Santa Clara, and the Archive of the Archdiocese of San Francisco generously contributing their resources. The Archival Center of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles also provided valuable records.

A Unique and Extensive Database

The ECPP boasts a comprehensive database that stands as a unique resource in the realm of colonial American history. It encompasses records from all twenty-one California missions, as well as the Los Angeles Plaza Church (1826-1848) and the Santa Barbara Presidio (1782-1848). While there are some notable gaps in the documentary record, such as missing sacramental records from Mission San Luis Rey and burial records for Mission Soledad, these exceptions are minimal compared to the wealth of information available.

One of the project's key goals is to link together scattered records of individuals, making it easier to retrieve data and create comprehensive histories of people and families. This linking process goes beyond simple transcription and presents unique challenges. The Franciscans often recorded Native individuals with only their first names, but other identifying information, such as baptism records, marriage records, and familial relations, allowed ECPP staff to establish connections. As of 2022, a significant portion of records have been successfully linked, ensuring a holistic view of individual life histories.

Making the Links Transparent

Record linkage is a complex task, and the ECPP has gone to great lengths to explain the process. With thirty-nine different ways to establish links, transparency is paramount. The project has dedicated a separate field to explain how each link was made, with some marked by asterisks when based on limited information.

A Valuable Resource for All

Whether you're an academic researcher, a family historian, or someone with a personal connection to the California missions or settler communities, the ECPP is a valuable resource. It grants access to all recorded births, marriages, and deaths from the twenty-one missions operating in Alta California from 1769 to 1850. The database's recent redesign and transfer to a sustainable server at UCR ensure its accessibility and longevity.

In summary, the Early California Population Project stands as a testament to the importance of preserving historical records and making them accessible to all. It offers a glimpse into the diverse and interconnected lives of those who inhabited California during a transformative period in its history. The ECPP is not just a collection of records; it's a window into the past, a key to understanding the present, and an invaluable resource for future generations.


“Early California Population Project Database.” UCR: Early California Population Project, 2022, ecpp.ucr.edu/

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