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Researching California Genealogy  

Print, online, and library resources for beginning your genealogy research and discovering California ancestors.
Last Updated: Mar 5, 2011 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Getting Started

Write down the important names, dates, places, and events from your life: your birthdate and place, parents, siblings, education, marriage, children, military service, etc. Do the same for as many family members as you can.

It helps to focus your research on one individual or family branch at a time to keep yourself organized.

Ask family members to share their stories with you. The details your second cousin or great-uncle remembers could provide the very clues you need to track down records!


Research Tips

Your family’s surname may not always be spelled in the same way, so make sure to try Boolean “OR” searches or Soundex searches.

Records are often arranged geographically instead of by personal name, so remember to search for resources by location too.



“Who were my ancestors, and where did they come from?”

Genealogists who search for the answers to these questions unearth fascinating stories about their ancestors and the times in which they lived. The history of California is full of discovery, conquest, revolution and riches, and the people who lived it came from almost every continent in the world. 

As a beginning genealogist, you are about to embark on a fascinating journey, whether you are searching for your Spanish great-great-great-grandparents, your Native American ancestors, your immigrant family, or your Gold Rush relatives. This guide will help you trace your California ancestors and start to build your family tree. It covers print resources; both free and subscription-based online records and databases; libraries and archives; and charts, organizational tools, and genealogy software reviews.


What are Boolean and Soundex Searches?

A Boolean "OR" search tells the search engine to look for two or more sets of data at the same time. It helps to find all the possible records for your ancestor.

Example: "Smith" OR "Smythe"

Soundex is a system of cataloging surnames by the way they sound. Surnames that are spelled in a similar fashion or sound the same are assigned the same Soundex code, which groups similar names in a search. By doing a Soundex search for Smith, for example, you will also find records labeled Smithe, Smyth, Smythe, and Smitt. Many genealogy search engines provide an option for Soundex search. You can also enter your specific Soundex code.

See the RootsWeb resource or the Family Tree Magazine link in the Free Online Resources section for a Soundex converter to get your surname’s Soundex code.

Subject Guide


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