California County Resources

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This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford, Thelma Berkey Walsmith, and Nell Sachse Woodard in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the California Family History Research series.
History of California
California Vital Records
Census Records for California
Background Sources for California
California Maps
California Land Records
California Probate Records
California Court Records
California Tax Records
California Cemetery Records
California Church Records
California Military Records
California Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
California Archives, Libraries, and Societies
California Immigration
California Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of California
California Gold Rush
California County Resources
Map of California

The following is a listing of the extant vital, land, probate, and court records for each county. Some counties encompass land settled in the eighteenth century; their records pre-date county formation. Land transactions and vital records recorded in the county are at the county recorder’s office. The county clerk generally has probate books and files from the county’s superior court, civil court records, and naturalizations. Divorces may be in either place, depending on how they were filed.

The California State Archives and the FHL both have microfilms of selected county records. Current information for county offices can be found at and the California Association of Counties website at

California’s records are fairly complex, due in part to the nature of how counties were formed. Land was often added to the different counties several times for years after a county was formed. It is therefore an extremely subjective process to determine a beginning date for California’s early records, a process that is complicated by the changes in jurisdiction during the territorial period, Mexican period, and the Spanish period, which all generated records. The result is that any inventory of beginning dates for county records will vary depending on how a county record is defined.

To address this problem, several published sources and Internet sites were consulted and compared to verify the county list that follows, including the following references:

  • Coy, Owen C. California County Boundaries: A Study of the Division of the State into Counties and the Subsequent Changes in Their Boundaries. Berkeley: California Historical Survey Commission, 1923.
  • ———. Guide to the County Archives of California. Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1919.
  • Sperling, Muriel. Sources of Genealogical Help in California. Burbank, Calif.: The Southern California Genealogical Society, 1990. Reprinted 2000.
  • Nicklas, Laurie. The California Locator: A Directory of Public Records for Locating People Dead or Alive in California. Modesto, Calif.: Nicklas Publishing Co., 1996.

Map County County Address Date Formed Parent County(ies) Birth Marriage Death Land Probate Court
D6 Alameda 1221 Oak St Ste 536, Oakland 94612-4224 1853 Contra Costa/ Santa Clara 1873 1853 1859 1853 1853 1853
D4 Alpine 99 Water St/ P.O. Box 158, Markleeville 91620-0158 1864 El Dorado/Amador/ Calaveras/ Tuolumne 1873 1864 1864 1864 1864 1864
C8 Amador 500 Argonaut Lane, Jackson 95642-6470 1854 Calaveras/El Dorado 1873 1854 1873 1854 1854 1854
Land from El Dorado was added in 1855 and again in 1857 and 1863
Branciforte (renamed Santa Cruz in 1850) original
C2 Butte 25 County Center Dr, Oroville 95965-3316 1850 original 1859 1851 1859 1846 1850 1850
C8 Calaveras 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Adreas 95249-9713 1850 original 1858 1854 1858 1850 1866 1850
A6 Colusa 546 Jay St, Colusa 95932-2400 1850 original 1873 1873 1873 1844 1851 1851
Attached to Butte County for administration until it was organized in 1851. Land was later added from counties Yolo (1851), Butte (1856) , and Sutter (1856) .
D6 Contra Costa 651 Pine St. Rm 106, Martinez 94553-1229 1850 original 1850 1850 1850 1850 1850 1850
A1 Del Norte 555 H St, Crescent City 95531 1857 Klamath 1873 1857 1873 1853 1848 1848
Land was later added from counties Siskiyou (1887) and Humboldt (1901) .