As one researcher lamented to me a while back, "California does not give up her secrets easily." That said, there are some excellent California resources. Try these California digital collections and maybe one of them will lead you to strike genealogy gold!
California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) - If you are looking for newspapers from the State of California, then the CDNC is the place to look. This collection contains more than 200,000 issues comprising 2,102,902 pages and 17,536,359 articles from “significant historical California newspapers” published from 1846 to the present. These include the very first California newspaper, the Californian, as well as the first daily California newspaper, the Daily Alta California. You will also find issues from several current California newspapers that are part of a project to preserve and provide access to contemporary papers. While the site is - and will remain - free to search and browse, you might want to consider becoming a premium user, which will help support the CDNC financially, as well as to give you access to bonus features such as high-resolution images, saving of search histories, seeing your recently viewed articles, and saving articles to private lists. And don’t forget to “pay it forward” by correcting OCR mistakes you’ve found; future researchers will thank you!
Online Archive of California - This collection provides free public access to “detailed descriptions of primary resource collections maintained by more than 200 contributing institutions including libraries, special collections, archives, historical societies, and museums throughout California and collections maintained by the 10 University of California (UC) campuses.” You will find more than 20,000 online collection guides which you can use to browse, locate resources, view selected items digitally, or learn how to gain access to the physical objects. The OAC currently contains more than 220,000 digital images and documents.
Calisphere - Visited a million times a year by undergraduates, K-12 students, teachers, professors, genealogists, artists, and other curious people, Calisphere is a project of the University of California Libraries, providing free access to “unique and historically important artifacts.” The collection contains over 875,000 photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more, covering California’s pre-Columbian era through the present day. You can browse collections such as the “Holocaust Living History Workshop” or the “1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Digital Collection,” or visit unique exhibitions such as “Everyday Life and People: The Gold Rush Era, 1848-1865.” Be sure to check out the historic photos!
Early California Population Project - Developed by the Huntington Library, the ECPP provides free and public access to all of the information contained in California’s historic mission registers, providing a wealth of information on the Native Americans, soldiers, and early settlers of Alta California. The project contains records of more than 101,000 baptisms, 27,000 marriages, and 71,000 burials performed in California between 1769 and 1850, and includes records from 21 of the California missions, as well as the Los Angeles Plaza Church, and the Santa Barbara Presidio.
The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco - This multimedia site offers resources pertaining to historic events in the San Francisco Bay area, such as the 1849 California Gold Rush and the history of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Of particular interest are records pertaining to “San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906,” which includes photographs, the first-ever list of those “Who Perished” in this tragedy, and the “Great Register 1906 List of Dead and Survivors.” Records from a few contemporary events are also available, such as the “1989 San Francisco Earthquake” and “The Oakland-Berkeley Hills Fire of 1991,” considered “the worst fire involving loss of life and property” since the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
SFgenealogy - Another useful site for researching your northern California ancestors, SFgenealogy offers free access to genealogical and historical information for San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the State of California. Originally created as a niche for San Francisco genealogy, the site has expanded to neighboring northern California counties, as well as Spanish genealogy and California early history. The site was recognized by Family Tree Magazine as one of the “Best State Websites” from 2011 to 2014.
California GenWeb Project - No list of California genealogy websites would be complete without including the California GenWeb Project. Established in 1996 by "a group of genealogists who shared a desire to create online centers for genealogical research," the USGenWeb Project websites are created and maintained entirely by volunteers. The California GenWeb includes links to information on the California missions, maps, the California Biography Project, and links to individual county sites.
Have you found any useful resources for California genealogy research? Please share them in the comments!
Do you have California ancestors? The California series will help you find them!
Elizabeth O’Neal is a freelance writer, educator, and web developer. An avid genealogist for three decades, Elizabeth writes the blog My Descendant’s Ancestors, where she shares family stories, technology and methodology tips, and hosts the monthly "Genealogy Blog Party."