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Research Tips

Essential Research Tools

1880 LDS Census Index

Ron Filion (submitted April 2003) explains that:

The LDS has an 1880 U.S. Census index online. Although I have heard that some researchers have found errors, I have found it to be an excellent FREE source. But, like any good researcher, I usually want to see a copy of the actual document. An example of the source citation they give is:

Source Information:
Census Place San Francisco, San Francisco, California
Family History Library Film   1254076
NA Film Number   T9-0076
Page Number   263C
If you frequent an LDS Family History library, their film number is listed. But, what if you want to take a look at the National Archives films? When I usually search through these films, I only see Wards and Enumeration Districts (ED). So, what is T9-0076? T9 is the series and 76 is the roll number. The descriptions for each roll of the T9 series for the San Francisco area is as follows:

72. San Benito (cont'd: ED 60, sheet 53-end), San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties and city of San Francisco, wards 1 and 2 (part: ED 11, sheet 31)
73. City of San Francisco, wards 2, 3, and 4 (cont'd: ED 12, sheet 1-ED 41, sheet 14)
74. City of San Francisco, wards 4-8 (cont'd: ED 41, sheet 15-ED 75, sheet 12)
75. City of San Francisco, wards 8 and 9 (cont'd: ED 75, sheet 13-ED 110, sheet 31; ED 104B; ED 104C; EDs 259-260)
76. City of San Francisco, ward 10 (cont'd: ED 111, sheet 1-ED 145, sheet 80)
77. City of San Francisco, ward 11 (cont'd: ED 146, sheet 1-ED 173, sheet 40)
78. City of San Francisco, wards 11 and 12 (cont'd: ED 174, sheet 1-ED 205, sheet 6)
79. City of San Francisco, ward 12 (cont'd: ED 205, sheet 7-end), and San Joaquin County (part: EDs 1-97, sheet 26)

This becomes important when searching through census images online at sites like,, and HeritageQuest. They aren't sorted by film numbers, but by wards and EDs.

1930 Federal Census Tips:


List of Enumeration District Descriptions for San Francisco:


Great Register of Voters--FHC

Cecile Conroy (submitted ~Aug 2000) writes:

"I had wonderful success with the registers. And for ease of use, anyone's local Family History Center is the place to go. The registers are indexed and the INDEX microfilm needs to be ordered first of all. When that arrives, you can find your ancestor, if he is registered for whichever years, and the index will say which Voting Precinct, District, etc. This is the info you need to write down precisely. Then, you go back to the LDS online catalog for these records, and get the #s of the microfilms for the voting district/precincts, for the years you found your ancestor registered. These films need to be requested and will be the actual records. Each precinct is alphabetized, which is wonderful. You simply advance the microfilm to the right precinct, go to that part of the alphabet, and there they are! So, it is a two step process:

(1) order the microfilm index
(2) order the films for the actual records.
The later records, like 1896, also have a place on the record where the registrar would note any physically identifying marks on the person registering. Some of the comments were quite interesting! It may provide a person's age, height, hair color, eye color, complexion, address, occupation, place of birth, whether they're US Citizens, or naturalized, if they own or rent, and if they've read the US Constitution. Thanks to these records, I found out that my g-grandfather was indeed an Irish Leprechaun, standing at 5'3" with grey hair and blue eyes. Hope this is helpful."

Medical Examiner (Coroner)

Julia Christy (submitted July 2004) notes that:

Coroner Inquests can cause Death Index omissions during 1905-1915. She notes that a century ago, if a death required a Coroner's Inquest, then a Verdict of Coroner's Jury resulted, AND NO DEATH CERTIFICATE was issued.  About 1915, the California death certificate was modified to allow for details of an inquest. If you haven't been able to find the deceased on the early CADI then maybe its because the inquest pre-empted the list. Julia notes, "I've had opportunity to read several old inquests and while not legally detailed like a trial, they can provide remarks on family, location, and dates."

National Archives--Pacific Region--General tips

Pamela Storm (submitted ~Aug 2000) notes:

The staff and volunteers are very knowledgable. Someone friendly is always available to make research suggestions and show you how to use the records yourself, but please don't ask them to do research for you. There are a good number of microfilm readers available, as well as two excellent microfilm copy machines (25 cents per copy) that can use 8 1/2" x 14" inch paper, enabeling the copying of an entire census page in most cases. There is also an excellent photocopier for making copies of printed census indexes or whatever else you may need. If you plan to visit on a Wednesday evening (when they're open till 8:00 p.m.), you may want to call ahead to make sure they will definitely be open late that particular night, since the schedule has occasionally been known to change temporarily.

Ron Filion (submitted Sep 2006) notes:

They also have Ancestry-Library Edition and HeritageQuest available for free access on a few computers.

Native Daughters of the Golden West--Roster of California Pioneers

Ken Tessendorff (submitted ~Aug 2000, updated Sep 2007) enlightens us once again:

"Call (415) 292-6760 and leave a message, or email ...  if you are interested in doing research in the collection of Native Daughters of the Golden West in San Francisco. An appointment will be arranged for you to visit. Since the original microfilm publication of their "Roster of California Pioneers" was completed in 1985, many additions have been made to the Roster. These additions, and any supplementary materials, are only available at the Native Daughter Home in San Francisco. The NDGW is encouraging researchers to submit new, more complete or corrected information about California's pioneers. Contact NDGW for registration forms. For more information on the NDGW "Roster of California Pioneers" is available in the Norcal Genealogy Index."

Roman Catholic Church Archives--General Tips

Madelyn Bechini (submitted ~Aug 2000) offers this important information:

It is advisable to call for an appointment to make sure the priest will be there. I do not think he is there all the time. It is important you know the parish and approximate dates you want before you visit.

Jerry Dwyer (submitted ~Aug 2000) visited recently and shares this:

The records are arranged by parish. They advise to call ahead of time and reserve the viewer.  . . . Baptismal records are separated from marriage records but usually are on the same microfilm rolls. Some rolls are indexed but most of the ones I looked at were not. The ones without indexes are usually chronological. Some marriage records I looked at were alphabetical by year. The quality of the film and handwriting varies from very good to hardly readable. The records are not complete. All of the records for St. Patrick's Church, for instance, were destroyed in 1906. The records for St. Joseph's Church start with the year 1868. St. Dominic's Church was bulit in 1873, but the Archive's records don't start until 1885. Mission Dolores records go back to the 1850s. The staff was very helpful and they answered all of my questions. The records are not limited to just San Francisco. At one time, the Archdiocese covered most of Northern California. The records are in Latin but are pretty easy to decipher. "Natum in Hibernia," for instance, means "born in Ireland."

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

If you aren't sure how these maps would be helpful to you in your genealogical research, Louise King (submitted ~Aug 2000) shares her excitement:

"I have an 1893 Sanborn Fire map of the town of Rosalia, WA...County of Whitman. My father was 5 yrs.old and lived there at that time. I can see on the map.....every store his family would shop in.....have their horsed shod..........even......the saloon that his Uncle owned. It is a huge scale...every inch on the map represents 50 feet!!!!!! I can see where the railroad was.....and the graneries where their winter wheat was stored. Can you imagine the excitment of looking at a town there your father lived in 1893?" Louise also found two wonderful websites which give further information and explanation regarding the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps:
"Sanborn and Other Fire Insurance Maps" by the University of California, Berkeley

Social Security Records

Ron Filion (submitted July 2005) copied this from the Social Security Agency's help website (do a search on "genealogy"):

"To search our records for the information you want, we need certain identifying information. Our records are filed by Social Security Numbers (SSNs) rather than by names. If you can provide the person's SSN, we will search our records for any information we might have. Without an SSN, we will need the person's full name, date and place of birth, and parents' full names to locate the record. If you can provide the necessary identifying information, we will search for the number. . . .

"You will be charged the cost of searching our records even if we are unable to locate any information on the person you are asking about. The fee for searching our records is $___ when the SSN is known and $___ when the number is unknown or is incorrect. . . .

"A deceased person does not have any privacy rights. Therefore, if he or she applied for an SSN, we can generally provide a copy of the Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5). This document contains the person's name, date and place of birth, and parents' names that were given when he or she applied for the number. The Social Security Administration did not begin keeping records until 1936; therefore, we have no records about people who died before then. We cannot search for records of people born before 1865 unless you provide the SSN. . . .

"The cost to search for a claim file is $__ when you provide the SSN. You may be charged __ cents a page for copies. Please note that claim files are usually destroyed within a few years of the final decision on the claim, so we will not have claim files for most people."

Sutro Library--Federal Census Records

Pamela Storm (submitted ~Aug 2000) observes that:

Sutro's census microfilms are available for interlibrary loan, so the roll you need may not always be there. If you're able to get to the National Archives in San Bruno, that facility is much better for doing census research; there are more readers available, and there are excellent microfilm copy machines).

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