Genealogy Resources at the Library

Genealogy Resources

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 two places in the General Collections & Humanities Center: in the Dewey areas 025.0692 and 929.1. These are books on how to do genealogic 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 classic 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:

For more in-depth information on genealogical resources at the library as well as guidance on how to get started doing genealogical research, the General Collections & Humanities Center has available for download Genealogy Resources at San Francisco Public Library and Beyond (PDF 1M).


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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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..


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 five (5) searches per month, per patron, and there is no guarantee the name submitted will be found.

  • 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

  • California Genealogical Society & Library: 2201 Broadway, Suite LL2, Oakland, CA 94612-3031. Tel. (510) 663-1358, FAX (510) 663-1596. The Society maintains a library, gathers and preserves vital records, disseminates information through its publications and internet access, and teaches genealogical research methods through meetings, seminars and workshops. Membership required.
  • 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 Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society: They offer monthly programs in San Francisco, Oakland, and occasionally other Bay Area locations. One especially helpful program they offer is Brainstorming with the Mavens at the Jewish Library, in which experienced genealogists make themselves available to help people with their individual family research.
  • 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. Items can be borrowed via interlibrary loan.

Other Online Resources for San Francisco Genealogy

  • San Francisco Genealogy: 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.