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
California sil.png
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.

“The Birth of Each County and Later Significant Boundary Changes,” found at <>.

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.