California Vital Records
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford, Thelma Berkey Walsmith, and Nell Sachse Woodard for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Vital records in California have been kept by the state registrar of vital statistics since 1 July 1905. Earlier vital records are entered in the county where the event took place. Pre-1905 records in the counties may be quite slim. In Sacramento County, for example, only three births were entered for the period between 1858 and 1874, and only forty-three deaths between 1858 and 1864. Marriages, on the other hand, seem to have been recorded more regularly. Some court-ordered delayed birth certificates have been registered by the state registrar. For all vital records, contact the California Department of Health Services, Office of Vital Records, 304 “S” St., Sacramento, CA 95819 (Mailing address: P.O. Box 730241, Sacramento, CA 94244-0241) http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/CHS/Pages/default.aspx. There is no statewide index that includes the pre-1905 records held by counties; however, the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City has microfilm copies of many pre-1905 California county vital records.
The early California births kept by the state are indexed and online for selected years at www.ancestry.com at California Birth Index, 1905-1995, which also has the California Death Index online (1940–97). The California Department of Health Services has a CD-ROM index of births (1905–95) and deaths (1905–90), which is currently available at many libraries. However, because of changing California laws regarding the state’s vital records, the availability of these may change in the future. The website www.vitalsearch-ca.com has indexes to California state vital records.
The FHL has microfilm copies of most California marriages kept by the counties. There is an ongoing project to provide a statewide index to these records on the Internet through the BYU-Idaho Family History Center in Rexburg, Idaho, as part of its Western States Historical Marriage Records database. It can be searched at http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/fhc/gbsearch.htm. Ancestry.com also has a marriage database for California at California Marriage Index, 1960-1985.
Divorce records are available in the office of the clerk of the superior court in the county in which the proceedings were conducted. Subscribers to Ancestry.com can search the California Divorce Index, 1966-1984.
There is also an index of California deaths at Ancestry.com. Subscribers can search this index at California Death Index, 1940-1997.
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available online for free to the public:
- California, Births and Christenings, 1812-1988
- California, Birth Index, 1905-1995
- California, County Birth and Death Records, 1849-1994
- California, County Marriages, 1850-1952
- California, Marriages, 1850-1945
- California, Marriage Index, 1960-1985
- California, Divorce Index, 1966-1984
- California, Death Index, 1905-1939
- California, Death Index, 1940-1997
- California Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing California birth, marriage, and death records (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Includes links to FamilySearch vital record databases.
- California Marriages Search Engine - free California marriages search engine that has indexed marriages posted across the web.
- California Obituary and Death Notice Archive - free California obituary archive that has transcribed obits from across the state.
- California Library of Files - free California obituary and data files archive from across the state.