Genealogy in the California History Section
The California State Library houses a treasure trove of genealogical information including biographies, census data, obituaries and even portraits! Our vast collections of rare genealogy publications, city directories and unique indexes make this library a must-stop for any genealogist. We provide specialized California genealogy resources such the following.
The tireless staff in the California History Room have created a set of basic guides that will get you started on researching genealogy using our collection of over 200 years of California history! You can see the full set on our research guide page but here are the most relevant three guides.
As an active collector of all things California history, the California History Room features a set of California Great Voter Registers, California census data from 1850 to 1930, and death, birth, marriage and divorce indexes for selected dates. In addition to making them available within the library, many of these records are also available to remote researchers. Please either consult our remote research guide or contact us for further details.
With over 3,000 volumes covering every county in California, if you are researching a Californian, chances are good their name, address and occupation will appear in one of our city or county directories. We have directories in several formats: paper, microfilm, and microfiche. You can search our database to determine if we have the specific city directory you need, and what format it appears in.
One resource we have that is particularly valuable to genealogists is early county histories. Often featuring biographies of prominent local citizens, these books will not only give researchers an idea of a region’s history, but perhaps a profile of an ancestor. What is more, the California History Room has an excellent collection of them; you can see a portion of that collection in our county research guides.
In an effort to recognize the hard work historians, genealogists and government workers conduct at the local level, the staff in the California History Room have begun creating guides to the specialized resources we have for each county in California, many of which are especially useful for genealogists. If you would like to see if there is a guide for the county your ancestors lived in, you can check under “Previous Editions” on our County of the Month Page, or under “Location Specific Guides” on our research guide page.
We are proud to be the custodians of over 500 local genealogy indexes, not to mention genealogical, historical and lineage society periodicals and other collections! You can get a partial understanding of the breadth and depth of this collection by consulting our general genealogy research guide or by checking out our genealogy publications page.
California is the most diverse state in the union and our collection reflects this rich history! As a celebration of that heritage and in an effort to expose the resources that are particularly helpful to genealogists and researchers interested in individuals of historically marginalized groups, the librarians in the California History Section, in addition to creating general research guides, have been working on creating more specialized guides for specific groups of people, you can see these under “Genealogy Guides” on our research guide page.
Dating back to 1846, our newspaper collection consists of more than 2,200 titles and includes long runs of at least one title from each of the 58 counties. In them, you can find obituaries, birth and marriage notices and much more! You can browse our newspaper holdings by county on our California newspapers page.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and there is nothing like the image of an ancestor to draw familial connections. What is more, our massive portrait collection might contain one or two images of your California ancestors. Even if you don’t find that, you might find an image of where they lived. You can find out more about our collection on our California images page.
Extending back to 1878, our collection of nearly 15,000 telephone directories covers every county in California, in a variety of formats (paper, microfilm and microfiche). You can search our database to determine if we have the specific telephone directory you need and what format it’s in.
To help our researchers, we have created several one-of-a-kind files that contain information on people and events in California history. These include the California Information File, with over 1.4 million references to our newspaper, periodical, book, ephemera and manuscript collections, the California Information File II, and the San Francisco Newspaper Index, which tracks over 70 years of San Francisco newspaper citations and more. To see more complete information about these and other resources, check our Unique Indexes and Files page.
All of our branches provide in-house access to a number of databases including genealogy databases.
The California State Library is happy to offer advice on researching family history but we lack the staff resources to provide private family research services. If you are working remotely, we would be delighted to help you access materials through inter-library loan or provide a list of private researchers. Please feel free to ask us a question or visit the library.