Impossibly Places to Research: San Francisco Pre-1906

Impossibly Places to Research: San Francisco Pre-1906

My other main research expertise is finding alternative records when the normal records may not exist.  You see, I am dogged by places where the official records have been wiped out or official record keeping was haphazard because things were happening too quickly.

Take my Kelly and Dolan clans.  Why in the world did they decide they needed to move to San Francisco in the 1850s and die before 1906?   When the 1906 earthquake and fire swept through the city, they took most of the official records and most of the church records with them.   It’s as if in one moment all proof of my ancestors lives was erased.

This is complicated more by the fact that San Francisco was a fast growing city with cemeteries within city limits.  As the city grew, the cemeteries became a nuisance.  Families paid for reburial in other cemeteries primarily in Colma.  I am not sure what happened to those who were buried whose families could not afford to have them moved.

That means the three main sources civil, cemetery, and church records might be out of your reach.  You’ve still go the US Census, but heaven forbid your ancestor died between 1880 and 1900.  You may never know what really happened to them.

With these problems, city directories and newspapers become essential.  They may provide the only non-census proof that your family was in San Francisco prior to 1906.   City directories are so important!  Many folks pass them over, but they are great source for finding out where your ancestor lived, what they did for work, and who was living with them.  They are vital for San Francisco research for the period between 1880 and 1906.

I’ve been researching both the San Francisco Chronicle and Call-Monitor newspapers online.  They have provided little tidbits about the events in my ancestors lives.  Newspapers in that era were very chatty with many small local stories.  Your ancestor didn’t have to be important to get in the newspaper.  If they had space, they slipped in all kinds of things.

It’s also vital for the San Francisco research to continually check for rebuilt indexes and alternative sources.  Individuals are creating records for many sources and these new indexes often help fill in the blank spaces.

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