Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers all over the world to access records. We asked Sharon from Silicon Valley, California (USA) to give us insight into what it’s like conducting in-depth genealogy research in California, both onsite and online. While our onsite articles typically focus on international research, American researchers should remember not to neglect the repositories closer to home!
Whether your family was drawn to California by the lure of riches, new opportunities, or just the spectacular scenery and weather, their life stories may be waiting for you in Golden State records.
California is rich in archives, libraries, and genealogical societies that hold unique materials for family historians. When you’re researching California ancestors,
be sure to plan a visit to the state capital. Once the gateway to the Gold Country, Sacramento is now the home of two major repositories where you can find your own genealogical gold.
The California State Library holds hundreds of city, county, and telephone directories, and more than 2,200 microfilmed and bound newspapers representing all 58 counties. The California Information File, which indexes more than 1.4 million names from these resources, is available in the library to help you quickly locate your ancestor’s name. A microfilmed copy of the 1852 California State Census is supplemented by an onsite digital index created by the Southern California Genealogical Society, and an indexed transcription completed by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
The original 1852 state census is located at the California State Archives in Sacramento, which houses a wealth of government records of interest to family historians. Many records aren’t available online, including early Spanish and Mexican land grants, military records, and Supreme and Appellate court records from 1850 to 1970. Records from 28 California counties include vital records registers and indexes, naturalization records, probate, and court records.
Did your ancestor lead a less-than-exemplary life? You may be interested in the prison and youth authority record collections, which can include birthplaces and dates, parents’ names, and even photographs.
If you don’t live in California, don’t despair – many great genealogical resources are available online, including these four that may help you find your family:
1. California Digital Newspaper Collection
Visit http://cdnc.ucr.edu to search more than 600,000 pages of California newspapers dating from 1846, including the Daily Alta California (1849 to 1922). Use the Advanced Search to limit by location and/or date, or browse the papers by title, date, or county. Coverage is particularly good for San Francisco and Sacramento.
2. Online Archive of California (OAC)
With so many museums, archives, university libraries, and historical societies holding records of interest to genealogists, how can you find the information you need? The OAC can help! This site provides finding aids covering the holdings of 200+ California research institutions, and includes more than 220,000 digital images. For genealogists, the uses are nearly endless. If you’re looking for a particular family, enter a surname in the keyword search to check for biographical sketches or personal papers like letters, journals, and bible records. To learn about the experience of a particular immigrant group, searching by ethnicity (e.g. Chinese) can lead you to relevant institutions and collections. The OAC is also a great way to find occupational records. For example, if your ancestor was a teamster in California, try searching for an occupational term like “labor” to see what institutions hold records that might list your ancestor. Most of the actual records aren’t online, but the OAC can help you at least find out where they are held. The OAC website is http://www.oac.cdlib.org.
3. California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994
This is one of many great California collections on FamilySearch.org. If you’ve searched it and come up empty, don’t give up! Only about 100,000 of the 2.9 million records are currently indexed for searching, so if you know the county name and the approximate year of the birth or death, click the Browse link below the Search button (shown below) to locate the county, then check the holdings for a standalone index. Can’t find one? Check a volume of birth or death records for the appropriate year, since they often contain indexes at the front or back. If you find a name of interest, note the date, volume number, and page or certificate number, then go back to the county list to see if the volume is available. (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2001287)
For more information on browsing, see the Legacy Tree blog entry “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Guide to Image-Only Record Collections, or “Navigating Family Search Images” on the Family History Research Wiki.
4. California, Great Registers, 1866-1910
MyHeritage.com (along with Ancestry.com) hosts the California Great Registers, which were detailed voting registers created every other year by the local county clerks. Because these were created in the era before women’s suffrage, only men were recorded. The lists contain each registrant’s name, birthplace, age, place of residence, and date of “naturalization” (in this case, meaning the date they became a resident of California, not the date they became a citizen of the United States). (https://www.myheritage.com/research/collection-30285/california-great-registers-1866-1910).
These are just a few of the many resources available to those whose ancestors hail from the West Coast. What are some others you’ve discovered – whether onsite or online? Comment below!
If you need help researching your California roots, consider hiring the professionals at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Contact us today for a free consultation.