Genealogy Resources at the Library

Someone holding an old photo above a photo book

The General Collections & Humanities Center's Genealogy Collection

The General Collections and Humanities Center on the 3rd floor of the Main Library maintains a thorough circulating and library-use-only print collection of materials that can aid the amateur genealogist. Genealogy handbooks can be found primarily in the Dewey area 929.1. These are books on how to do genealogical research, organizing your results, researching different populations, and using online resources. The department also has titles like Burke’s Peerage, for those trying to trace their family back to nobility in Great Britain; and many books on family crests, heraldry, etc. Additionally, doing a Subject search of "genealogy" in our catalog will yield all the print books and ebooks the library has to offer.

Some particularly useful books in the General Collections & Humanities Center collection for genealogical research in San Francisco are:


The library also subscribes to databases in which one can search a variety of records as well as learn how to do family history research:

  • African American Heritage (ProQuest): Search essential historical records for African Americans — including federal census, marriage and cohabitation records, military draft and service records, registers of enslaved and freed persons of color, Freedman's Bank and more.
  • America's Obituaries & Death Notices (NewsBank): Full text, 1704 - present. Search million obituaries and death notices from over 4,100 U.S. sources, with genealogical information on occupation, education, and more. Powered by Heritage Hub. 
  • Ancestry Library Edition: (Accessible only on computers in the Main Library and Branches.) Contains resources for genealogical and historical research, including census, military, court, land, probate, vital and church records; directories; passenger lists, and more.
  • California Historical Newspapers (NewsBank): Full text, 1847 - 2017. A collection of California historical newspapers — including the American Sentinel, California Star, Daily Globe, Evening Post, Oakland Daily News, San Francisco Bulletin, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Evening Journal, Weekly Alta California, and others.
  • FIMO (Fire Insurance Maps Online): Digital collection of color fire insurance maps, real estate atlases, and similar land use maps for California. Powered by Historical Information Gatherers (HIG).
  • Fold3 Library Edition: Millions of US military records, photos, and personal documents from National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) and more.
  • HeritageQuest Online: Now powered by Contains resources for genealogical and historical research, including the U.S. Federal Census, Freedmans bank records, local and family histories, and more.
  • Gale Courses: Genealogy Basics: Learn where to look, who to contact, and how to use research tools to begin an exciting and fascinating exploration of your roots.
  • Kanopy: Discovering Your Roots: An Introduction to Genealogy: Discover which resources you should use and trust, how you should make your way through tangles of public records, and so much more.
  • My China Roots: Discover your family history with the leading Chinese genealogy website My China Roots. Search for zupus (family tree book), burials, immigration records and more.
  • MyHeritage Library Edition (EBSCO): Multilingual family history research database with billions of historical documents from 48 countries, millions of historical photos, public records, indexes and additional resources that span the past five centuries.
  • Newspaper ARCHIVE Library Edition: An online database that provides searchable access to more than 300 hundred years of local historical newspapers dating back to the 17th century.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, Historical & Recent (NewsBank): Full text, 1865-present. Access full page and article images 1865-current, with searchable full text of the historical San Francisco Chronicle from 1865 to 2017+. Note: Some article images may still be unavailable.
  • San Francisco Digital Collections: 1850 - present. Archival photographs, manuscripts, documents, maps, ephemera, and audiovisual materials from SFPL's digitized and born-digital collections.
  • San Francisco Examiner, Historical & Recent (ProQuest): Full text, 1865-2007. Full page and article images with searchable full text back to the first issue. Includes Daily Examiner (1865-1889), The Examiner (1889-1902) and San Francisco Examiner (1902-2007)
  • Sanborn Maps California (ProQuest): 1867-1970. Digital access to more than 660,000 large-scale maps.


Other Genealogy Resources at the San Francisco Public Library

  • Census Material for Genealogists: The Government Information Center has California census schedules on microfilm for 1850, 1852; San Francisco enumeration district maps for 1852, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930; Federal census schedules on microfilm for 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940. The 1850 federal census for San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties are not available as these records were either destroyed or lost. Note: the information contained in the Census schedules the library has on microfilm can also be perused in the Ancestry and HeritageQuest databases (see above). Using the databases could be an easier and more effective way for genealogists to search through these schedules since the schedules the library has on microfilm must be searched by enumeration district and address; whereas in Ancestry and HeritageQuest, one can search by name.
  • City Directories, Reverse Directories, and Phone Books: The Magazines & Newspapers Center has San Francisco city directories (1850-1960 on microform, 1875-1982 in print, and 1850-1982 online); reverse directories (1953-current in print); and phone books (1899-1992 on microform and 1921-current in print). You can search in these directories the name of a possible owner or occupant of a property to determine what address they lived at and their length of occupancy and in some cases find out their occupation. Reverse directories can be used to look up a phone number or street address to find the resident or business listed.
  • Newspapers: The Magazines & Newspapers Center also has microform copies of The San Francisco Chronicle, The Examiner and other local newspapers containing some marriage, birth and death notices, which can be particularly useful for pre-1906 research. Additionally you may be able to find obituaries or newspaper articles if the person you are researching was noteworthy. Both the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner are searchable online (SF Chronicle: 1865 to present; and SF Examiner: 1902 to 2007). The Magazines & Newspapers Center has created a Web page with links to other historical digital California newspaper collections.
  • Obituaries: The Magazines & Newspapers Center offers a free obituary search service for persons whose obituary appeared in *San Francisco* newspapers. The Center has also created a Web page for other obituary-related resources. Note: The obituary search services is limited to ten (10) name searches per month, per patron, and there is no guarantee the name submitted will be found.
  • San Francisco History Center: The San Francisco History Center on the 6th floor of the San Francisco Public Library's Main library has an assortment of materials relating to people widely known and relatively unknown in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and California, including books, archival collections and photographs. Use the Center's online Finding Aid to the San Francisco Biography Collections, a guide to their biography files. The center also has an extensive collection of funeral home records, notable for pre-1906 information; the records of the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office from 1906-1956; the Edgewood Orphanage collection; voter registers for San Francisco and other California counties, and the San Francisco Social Register from 1922-1976. In addition, many of the early San Francisco property records, vital records, and medical examiner ledgers are now available on FamilySearch, a free, publicly accessible database. The department also contains an extensive collection of high school yearbooks going back to the 1800s that can assist with genealogical research, especially photographs.
  • Vital Records: The San Francisco Public Library does not hold vital records (e.g. birth certificates, marriage licenses, records of civil unions and domestic partnerships, divorce decrees, death certificates, etc.). See San Francisco Office of the County Clerk or Superior Court of California below, or download the PDF prepared by the San Francisco History Center, Where to Find Vital Records in San Francisco (PDF).

Other Genealogy Resources in the San Francisco Bay Area

  • African American Genealogical Society of Northern California: Located in Oakland, their mission is to preserve and promote the study of records of a genealogical and historical nature relating to African American ancestry. They hold a number of workshops and meetings, some only for members but some also open to the general public.
  • California Genealogical Society & Library: 2201 Broadway, Suite LL2, Oakland, CA 94612-3031. (510) 663-1358. The Society offers research services, online genealogical indexes and databases, a wide variety of programs and a research library housing over 38,000 books and other resources covering every state in the country as well as some international material.
  • Chinese Historical Society of America: 965 Clay Street, San Francisco, 94108. CHSA promotes the contributions and legacy of the Chinese in America through its exhibitions, publications, and educational and public programs in the Museum and Learning Center.
  • The National Archives at San Francisco: 1000 Commodore Dr., San Bruno, CA 94066-2350. (650) 238-3501. Open 7:30-4, M-F. NARA SF has many resources for genealogists, including censuses of American Samoa and Native Americans in California and Nevada; passenger arrival records for port of San Francisco; indexes to naturalization records from Federal courts in Honolulu, Reno, and San Francisco; Chinese immigration records; and much more. They recommend making an appointment.
  • Oakland Family Search Library: 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, California, 510-531-3905. This is a branch of the Mormon Family History Library. They have a huge number of resources, classes, and very helpful staff and volunteers. They also have scanners, and you can take your family photos and documents and scan them at no charge.
  • San Francisco African American Historical & Cultural Society: 762 Fulton Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, 94102. The Society maintains an archive of historic and cultural items and a research library and offers genealogy programs and drop-in sessions.
  • San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society: Dedicated to the development, preservation and distribution of Jewish genealogical knowledge and material, they offer monthly programs currently via Zoom.
  • San Francisco Office of the County Clerk: This is where you can acquire certified copies of public marriage licenses issued in San Francisco County; birth certificates for individuals born in San Francisco County more than 3 years ago and back to 1906; and death certificates for individuals deceased in San Francisco County more than 3 years ago and back to 1906.
  • Superior Court of California, San Francisco: Here you can obtain certified copies of divorce decrees (dissolution of marriage records), which are handled by the Clerk’s Office of the Superior Court of California. You can also access information here related to probate/wills, family law case files and naturalization records for those processed through the San Francisco Superior Court of the State of California.
  • Sutro Library: Located on the campus of San Francisco State University, in room 610 of the J. Paul Leonard Library, 1630 Holloway, 415- 469-6100. Houses the largest genealogy collection west of Salt Lake City.

Other Online Resources for San Francisco Genealogy

  • Bay Area Genealogy Calendar: Lists meetings, workshops and other events of Bay Area Genealogical groups.
  • FoundSF: A digital history archive based on the same software as Wikipedia, inviting historians, writers, activists, and curious San Francisco citizens of all kinds to share their unique stories, images, and videos from past and present.
  • SFgenealogy: Includes genealogy information for the following counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Marin, and Alameda. Also includes information on California Spanish Genealogy, Ship Passenger Lists, Wagon Train Lists, and Isthmus of Panama Passenger Information, and more.