Genealogy Tips

historic family photos, documents, and an antique pair of glasses

Getting Started

California Room Index – This unique source indexes more than 80,000 references to people, places, and events in San José and Santa Clara County History. The A-Z index can be helpful if you are not sure of spelling.

MyHeritage Library Edition – This international genealogy eResource includes census records, birth, marriage and death records, military records, newspaper articles, and family trees. Use your library card to log in and get started researching your family tree.

Marriage Records – The California Marriage Index (1960-1985) can be accessed online. This is a master index to marriage licenses on file in the Office of Vital Records in Sacramento - it does not contain copies of marriage licenses. The actual records for marriages of individuals in Santa Clara County can be obtained through the Santa Clara County's Office of the Clerk-Recorder.

Birth Records – The California Room does not hold a collection of birth records. However, the indexes below can assist in the search for birth records. Please note that indices are not the actual records themselves, but a list of compiled data. Please refer to the Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder's Office for official documents.​

Death Records – The California Death Index (1940-1997) is available online. This is a master index to deaths on file and does not contain copies of death certificates. The actual death records for individuals in Santa Clara County can be obtained through the Santa Clara County's Office of the Clerk-Recorder. The Social Security Death Index has entries from 1962 to recent months and can be found online.

Obituaries – This San José Public Library blog entry provides tips to help you find an obituary using SJPL resources. The Santa Clara County Library District offers a free search for 3 obituaries per month.

Great Registers – Great Registers are alphabetical lists of all registered voters in a given county. Great Registers can help locate most male citizens between federal census years through 1944. At minimum, the Great Registers list name, age, and address. These records may also help determine the exact residence of an individual, how long they lived there, their occupation at the time of registration, and for some years their naturalization status. Searching for an individual in San José requires knowing the precinct number. The following Great Registers can be found in the California Room:

  • Santa Clara County Great Register
    Hardback: 1867, 1879, 1880, 1884, 1890, 1896
    Microfilm: 1900-1944
  • City of San José Great Register
    Hardback: 1946, 1948, 1950, 1952, and 1956
     

San José City Directories (1870-1979) – City Directories have listings by street name and surname beginning in 1913, before this they are by surname only. To be listed, a person or property must have been located within city limits when the directory was issued. Early San José directories include other cities in the area; the City Directories Index will help you determine coverage. An index key at the front of each directory will give you valuable information in deciphering symbols and abbreviations. In some of the older directories, occupation and ownership of property is listed. San José City Directories (1870-1955) are also available on microfiche in the Reference Department when the California Room is closed. See our City Directories page for more information on how to use this resource.

Census Records – The United States population census records are useful in researching family histories. There was a population census taken in 1790 and every 10 years thereafter. The California Room holds Santa Clara County census records on microfilm from 1850 – 1930, with the exception of the 1890 census schedules, all of which were destroyed by fire in the Department of Interior in Washington D.C. in 1921. Individual records from the federal population censuses are confidential for 72 years, by law. The 1940 census became available digitally in 2012 through the National Archives. Most census indices and schedules can be found online through free websites such as FamilySearch.org, the Internet Archive, and others. While the schedule of questions asked in the population census have changed overtime, the records contain at minimum the "Name," "Age," "Sex," "Race," and "Occupation" of residents at a given address.

County Histories – County Histories (1870s -1920s) are often referred to as "Mug Books," because of the biographical sketches in the original publications. County histories include information on early merchants, businesses, and many aspects of early local history and the local inhabitants who paid money to have their biographies included. The California Room has a collection of California County Histories that can be viewed during open hours.

Local Sources

See also: Santa Clara County History Organizations

Free Genealogy Websites

  • MyHeritage Library Edition - SJPL library patrons have free access to this international genealogy eResource with your library card.
  • The Huntington's Early California Population Project - public access to all the information contained in California's historic mission registers.
  • Cyndi's List - Comprehensive, categorized and cross-referenced list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online.
  • Ellis Island Passenger Arrival Records - Passenger lists of more than 51 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members who came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York from 1892 to 1957, registration required.
  • FamilySearch.org - Genealogy organization gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years (from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), registration required.
  • USGenWeb Project - Volunteer-provided websites supporting local genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States.
  • CAGenWeb Project - Part of the USGenWeb project, California's site is searchable, listing each county's formation date, parent county, county seat, and project coordinator. Each county's page has different documents and information available depending on the work of its volunteers. Information can include cemetery records, newspaper articles, historical societies, surname indexes, queries from others, census files, vital records sources, land records, and obituaries.
  • Sfgenealogy.com - SFgenealogy was initially formed to create a niche for San Francisco genealogy and history on the internet, and has expanded to neighboring counties.
  • National Archives - The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has many records that are useful for genealogical research, such as the Federal population censuses, 1790-1930; military service and pension records, ca. 1776-1900; immigration records (1820-1957); and naturalization records.
  • Library of Congress - Local History & Genealogy Reference Services. Links to helpful genealogy websites. Bibliographies of useful books in many ethnic and cultural categories and subject areas, including: African-American, European, Hispanic, Asian, ship passenger lists, ports of entry information, and Ellis Island
  • Digital Public Library of America Obituaries - Many digitized collections of obituaries from all parts of the United States.