Shakin’ records loose
Census: US censuses of California start in 1850. Although that census doesn’t include San Francisco, a special state census taken in 1852 does cover the City by the Bay. You’ll find it on subscription site Ancestry.com; an index is at FamilySearch.org. You’ll also find the transcription of an 1842 San Francisco census—part of a court deposition—.
Immigration: The Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay was a major port of entry for immigrants from Asia and Central and South America. Under the restrictive immigration laws at the time, nearly 250,000 were subjects of federal investigations. Search a partial index for case numbers and access files at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Pacific Region Branch in San Bruno, Calif. Search for passenger lists at Ancestry.com.
Incorporated: 1856, as a consolidated city-county
Nicknames: City by the Bay, Fog City, Frisco
County: San Francisco
County seat: San Francisco
Area: 231.89 sq. miles (city and county)
Motto: Oro en paz, fierro en guerra (Spanish for “Gold in Peace, Iron in War”)
Primary historical ethnic groups: Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Latino
Primary historical industries: tourism, finance, military, religious, mining
Famous residents: Ansel Adams, Mel Blanc, Joe DiMaggio, Barbara Eden, Robert Frost, Jerry Garcia, William Randolph Hearst, Jack London, Johnny Mathis
- CAGENWEB: San Francisco County
- San Francisco Call Database Index
- The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
- The Earth Shook, the Sky Burned: A Photographic Record of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire by William Bronson (Chronicle Books)
- Raking the Ashes: Genealogical Strategies for Pre-1906 San Francisco Research, second edition, by Nancy S. Peterson (California Genealogical Society)
- San Francisco Deaths: 1865-1905, four volumes, compiled by Barbara Close and Vernon A. Deubler (California Genealogical Society)
- SF Probate 1906-1942: Register of Actions, 3 volumes, compiled by Vernon A. Deubler (California Genealogical Society)
- SF Probate Index 1880-1906: A Partial Reconstruction compiled by Kathleen C. Beals (California Genealogical Society)
Archives and Organizations
California Genealogical Society
2201 Broadway, Suite LL2, Oakland, CA 94612, (510) 663-1358
California Historical Society
678 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94105, (415) 357-1848
California State Library Sutro
San Francisco State University, J. Paul Leonard Library, 1600 Holloway Ave., Fifth and Sixth Floors, San Francisco, CA 94132, (916) 654-0266
Office of the County Clerk
City Hall, Room 168, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place,
Leo J. Ryan Federal Building, 1000 Commodore Drive,
San Bruno, CA 94066-2350, (650) 238-3501
Humboldt Bank Building, 785 Market St., Suite 510,
San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 537-1105
100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 557-4400
San Francisco Historic Sites
Access from Pier 33, San Francisco, CA, (415) 981-7625
Get a close-up look at the infamous federal penitentiary and the site of the first lighthouse and US-built fort on the West Coast.
2. Angel Island State Park and Immigration Station
Angel Island, San Francisco Bay, (415) 435-3544
This renovated National Historic Landmark is open for tours. The island, part of Angel Island State Park, is the site of a US Bureau of Immigration inspection and detention facility where many Asian immigrants were held.
3. Cable Car Museum
1201 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108, (415) 474-1887
Learn about the history of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars from historic cars, photographs and mechanical displays.
Main entrance on Grant Avenue at Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
From the 1850s to the 1900s, Chinatown welcomed immigrants from the Guangdong province of southern China. Today, the neighborhood is a city within a city full of shops and restaurants, attracting more annual visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge.
5. Golden Gate National Recreation Area
US Highway 101, (415) 455-2000
The jewel of this park, which encompasses the historic Presidio, is the famous Golden Gate Bridge. You can drive or walk across the structure, declared a Modern Wonder of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
San Francisco Records at a Glance
Begin: 1905; surviving documents available from April 1906
Research tips: Request informational certificates from the Office of the County Clerk in person or by mail. Use newspapers and the resources linked here to substitute for missing records.
Begin: As early as 1776, most date from 1850
Research tips: Many are digitized at the SFGenealogy and Internet Archive websites. See a comprehensive listing here.
Begin: Available from 1906
Research tips: Order informational copies in person or by mail from the San Francisco Office of the County Clerk. Substitute for missing records with newspapers and the resources linked here.
Research tips: Records of Chinese passengers go back to 1882. You can search all of the National Archives’ passenger lists for San Francisco at Ancestry.com.
Begin: Available from 1906
Research tips: Certified copies of marriage records are available from April 1906 to present from the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder at City Hall. See the San Francisco County Records collection at FamilySearch.org for digitized records.
Begin: Available from 1906
Research tips: Available from the Office of the Assessor-Recorder. Link to online resources here.