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Indexing Champions Expand our California Surname Index

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Are you searching for publications that may have your ancestors’ surnames and information about the family?  Well, the CGS California Surname Index may help in your search. Even if you’ve used the Index in the past, we greatly expanded this database in the past year, thanks to our generous volunteers. During the Covid closures, our current group of volunteers more than doubled the number of entries in the database – we’ve added so many new entries that printing out the list would require about 2,000 pages! That’s a lot of Californians. So give it a try and see what you find.

How Do I Search the Index?

The Surname Index search box can be accessed on our website from the pulldown menu on Research. Look for Names Search (Look Ups), read the introductory information and scroll down till you find the SEARCH box. Enter a name and see what pops up.If you find someone you are looking for you then send a request to our Research Committee and they will find, print and mail the information to you for a modest fee.

I did this last night hoping to discover something new I could impress you with but unfortunately the only entry for Pattillo is a probate record for my grandfather’s brother which includes the records from the time Elmer was a guest at San Quentin State Prison. Nothing on my other family names but I’ll keep trying because this is an ongoing project.

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There’s Great-Uncle Elmer in the Surnames Index

What’s in the Index?

The index is a database of biographical information on California residents – both natives and those who migrated to California from other states – found in 83 books in our library.   The database generally includes first and last names with birth date and place – enough for a researcher to identify specific ancestors. The index provides the name and call number of the book and page number where the entry appears.

Many of these books include high-quality photographs. Some entries provide basic facts only while others offer pages of narrative on their lives. Currently we are focusing mostly on city and county histories where we hope to add names of persons who may not have been included in state level references. The team has also indexed several specialty categories like:

  •  Artists in California 1786-1940 Vol.1 and 2, 
  • Shadowcatchers: A Directory of Women in California Photography Vol. 1 and 2, 
  • Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley,
  • History of the Bench and Bar of California.

Who Created the Index?

The California Surname Index was started by CGS member Barbara Close and published in 2000. Barbara identified 46 books that included biographical information on California residents, which could be searched online via our website.  

When COVID-19 forced the closure of our library, members of the Website Content Committee kicked into gear and identified several indexing projects that our fabulous volunteers could do at home while waiting for the library to re-open. Most of these volunteers appreciated having something to do to fill the excess leisure time. Who would have guessed that a year and half later those same volunteers would still be going strong on indexing for CGS?

Several CGS members have contributed to this effort including Jean Alderson, Liz Summerhayes, Kristi Wessenberg, Cindy Thomas, Barbara Kridl, Janet Anderson, Evan Wilson and Laura Jones. This team has added 37 more books to the tally and they are still going strong. 

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