Noe Valley Voice November 2000

How to Track Down a Local Ancestor

By Alison Pence and Kathy Dalle-Molle

Even though most early San Francisco court and city records, including marriage licenses and divorce and probate files, were burned in the 1906 earthquake and fire, there are still many, many resources available -- in libraries, private collections, and museums, as well as on the Internet -- to help you research your family's history. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Search Online

The "Genealogy in San Francisco" site, located at http://206/14.7.53/GEN COLL/roots3.htm, provides links to the San Francisco Call database of births, marriages, and deaths for the years 1869-1890, as well as to San Francisco city directories for 1846 and the early 1850s, along with tips on genealogy research and ideas for researching the history of a building in San Francisco.

The Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS) has prepared a list of family history research sources for the city and county of San Francisco. Go to to find out where to obtain church and synagogue records, veterans discharge records, census records, cemetery records, and naturalization records for your San Francisco relatives.

Go to the Library

One caveat: It pays to take a look at these libraries' web sites, if available, before trekking down there in person. You just might be able to find what you're looking for online and save yourself a trip.

Sutro Branch of the
California State Library

480 Winston Drive (directly behind Stonestown Shopping Center)

Hours: Mon. - Sat., 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Phone: 415-731-4477

Web site:

The Sutro Library has one of the largest genealogical collections west of Salt Lake City, with extensive resources for states other than California. The California section of the California State Library in Sacramento (900 N St., 916-654-0176) has materials for California history and genealogy.

Special collections at Sutro include more than 7,000 family histories, 35,000 local histories, and all U.S. Census microfilms from 1790 to 1920. Sutro also has city directories from San Francisco and cities across the nation for the years 1860-1930. Voting registers for the years 1850-1900, known as the "Great Registers," are available at the California State Library in Sacramento. These registers provide name, physical description, date registered, age at year of registration, and date and court of naturalization.

San Francisco Main Library
History Center

100 Larkin St., Sixth Floor

Hours: Tues. - Thurs., 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Fri., 12 - 6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; and Sun., 12 - 5 p.m.

Phone: 415-557-4567

Web site: (for entire library); (for History Center)

The History Center has a biography index to help you locate that prominent San Francisco ancestor of yours. Other resources include passenger lists from ships during the Gold Rush years, registered San Francisco voter lists from the late 1860s to 1920, and block books from 1894 through 1910.

The library's periodicals section, located on the fifth floor, carries hard copies of San Francisco city directories, which list a person's name, occupation, and address for the years 1870-1980. Directories for the years prior to 1870 are available on microfiche and microfilm. The periodicals section also includes microfilm copies of San Francisco newspapers, including the Daily Morning Call, Alta California, and the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner from their inception.

California Historical Society

North Baker Research Library

678 Mission St.

Hours: Access to the library is by appointment only. The Historical Society charges nonmembers $5 to use the library; $3 for seniors and students.

Phone: 415-357-1848, ext. 20

This library is an excellent secondary resource for tracking down information about an ancestor. It contains more than 4,000 manuscripts, including individuals' papers and diaries, as well as a large collection of San Francisco business memorabilia and many historical documents about the city itself.

The Society of California Pioneers

300 Fourth St. (near Folsom)

Hours: Library is open to the public on Wednesdays by appointment only.

Phone: 415-957-1849

Another excellent secondary resource, this library includes many diaries and firsthand accounts from San Francisco pioneers, as well as books, paintings, and a photography collection.