How to Research a San Francisco Building
Who Lived In It?
- Index to the Great Register of Voters, 1867 - 1900-1940 online.
- After verifying the Assembly District in which the house was sited, you may find the address, name, age, political affiliation, and sometimes the occupation of the building occupants. The 1867 index is available through www.sfgenealogy.com.
- Index to Great Register of Voters, 1867 - 1922 is available online through Family Search (a free FamilySearch account is required to access the digitized images).
- Through Ancestry Library Edition (available at the Main Library and Branches only) search the California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968 database. For San Francisco the database covers 1900–1940. The database can be searched using the address in quotes through the keyword function.
- United States Federal Census - available through HeritageQuest Online (from outside of the library, San Francisco Public Library card and PIN are required to access the database).
- For San Francisco the census dates available are 1860-1940.
- San Francisco City Directories - 1850+ online (Search as "San Francisco directory").
- Use the name of the possible owner or occupant of your property to check the city directories backward and forward from the water date to determine whether that person lived at that address, the length of occupancy of that person, as well as his or her occupation. "Reverse directories," which list the owner or occupant by street address, appear in the directories beginning in 1953.
- San Francisco Blue Book.
- Published annually, some editions list socialites by street address.
- San Francisco, Colma, Daly City Street Address List, 1933.
- Lists addresses alphabetically by street name, with the name of the person or business at that location.
Who Owned It?
- San Francisco Block Book, 1894, 1901, January 1906, October 1906, 1907 (Homesteads only), 1909/1910.
- Indicates lot sizes and the names of property owners.
- Office of the Assessor-Recorder (City Hall, Room 190, 415-554-5596).
- Find ownership records and transfers of property from 1914 to the present. Locate block and lot numbers through the San Francisco Property Information Map.
How Old Is It?
- Sanborn Map Company Fire Insurance Maps, 1886-1950 online (Digital Sanborn Maps for California) and 1905 online (David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)
- Published to help assess fire risk for buildings, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show the footprint for every building in the city. These maps also indicate type of construction, use of structures, addresses, and, sometimes, the names of businesses. Ask for the index at the information desk. SFHC has the only 1905 set in both print and microfilm.
Are There Any Photos Of It?
- San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection
- Search for a building by using the How To Find Photographs of San Francisco Building Guide.
Are There Any Articles Written About It?
- San Francisco Public Library
- San Francisco Chronicle Historical (Newsbank), 1865-1974 (from outside the library, a San Francisco Public Library card and PIN are required to access the database).
- California Digital Newspaper Collection
- San Francisco Call, Apr. 1890-Feb. 1913
Daily Alta California, Dec. 1849-Jun. 1891
- Chronicling America - Library of Congress
- San Francisco Call, 1895-1913
- Architect and Engineer, online (1909-1959).
- Index: for 1930-1959 (vol. 103-217) online Art Full Text (Wilson)
- To limit your search to this journal, enter "Architect and Engineer" and select "Journal Name" from the pull-down menu. (from outside of the library, a San Francisco Public Library card and PIN are required to access the database). Please note: Art Full Text only indexes this journal.
- San Francisco Heritage Newsletter / The Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage.
- 2000-to date online.
Guides And Helpful Hints
- Research Resources Useful for Researching Historic Buildings
- William Kostura, 1997.
- How to Research Your San Francisco Building
- Jean Kortum, Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, 1992.
- Find building research tips on our blog: