Research Services

Photo of volunteers doing research

Photo of volunteers doing research

The California Genealogical Society offers research services to members and non-members. If you think you may want to hire a researcher you should first read this page and review each of the other pages on the Research tab. To save money and time, you might try doing your own research utilizing the various tools offered on this website. Try the Names Search (Look Ups) page by entering a name and reviewing what comes up. Review the California Research Tips page and try those suggestions as well. Doing these things will help clarify exactly what you need our volunteers to do for you. When you are ready, review “Initiating a Research Job” and submit your request either online or by mail.

California Genealogical Society offers an extended research service for $50 per hour for non-members, and $40 per hour for members, with a two-hour minimum. CGS is an all-volunteer organization and the proceeds of this service are used to help maintain the library, not to compensate researchers. We have unique access to records for events that occurred in the nine Bay Area counties – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. We also have experienced staff who have engaged in research outside of the state and country.

Our Names Search (Look Ups) may be able to help you with searches in various indexed sources within the library that require less than two hours.

Many questions will be answered by our California Research Tips page. Please consult this page for topics relevant to your research needs and ask for our help at [email protected].

What We Will Do

Fees cover research, analysis, documentation, and reporting of results.If copies of official records, such as death certificates, are desired, we can tell you how and where to obtain them.

Information Needed

In order to prevent duplication of work you have done, we need a list of sources you have already consulted even if nothing was found.

Things to Keep In Mind about California

  • California did not begin keeping vital records until mid-1905, but many individual counties kept records long before this.
  • The statewide marriage index does not begin until 1949, but individual counties, as with birth and death records, have indexes that begin before this year.
  • Details such as religious affiliation, occupation, identity of siblings or other relations, and dates of significant events will be more important clues here than in some other localities because most of the pre-earthquake (April 1906) civil records of San Francisco were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
  • We have access to a broad range of San Francisco newspaper indexes, newspaper extracts, and early cemetery records to aid in this research.
  • For more detailed information, please see the California Research Tips page.

Initiating a Research Job

Unless your request is very simple, one hour is usually needed to ascertain if a job is do-able. We then create an overall plan and begin the actual research. For this reason, we ask for a two-hour pre-payment. If more time is needed, we will provide an estimate based on our initial work and ask for payment in advance.

Online: To submit requests online, use the “Purchase Services” button at the bottom of this page to bring up the order form, which you can use to pre-pay using PayPal. Describe your problem and previous work as instructed above. If appropriate, you may send detailed information as a separate attachment. Be sure to include your postal address.

By Mail: Enclose your check, payable to CGS, accompanied by your postal address and email address, if you have one. Please use the “Purchase Services” button at the bottom of this page to prepare an order form. Postage is normally included for requests made from within the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, a surcharge will be added for overseas mailing. If your request is submitted from outside the United States, and you are unable to pay online (see below), remittance should be made by a bank international money order, or a foreign draft on a financial institution in the United States, made payable in United States currency.

Send mail requests to:

California Genealogical Society
ATTN: Research Director
2201 Broadway, Suite LL2
Oakland, CA 94612-3031

Time Required

We will get back to you as soon as possible, but turnaround time to complete and report the research may take a month or more. Once a job is initiated by either method, we are happy to continue correspondence by e-mail, as well as by postal service. Telephone conversations do not work well for this correspondence, particularly because they leave no written record.

Sources Commonly Consulted

As described more fully in the Research Service section of this Web site, our in-house resources include local city directories, census indexes, and digitizations, California birth and death indexes (1905-1997), some pre-1905 vital records, newspaper indexes, 1883 pension lists, some pre-1920 San Francisco mortuary records, IOOF cemetery and crematory records, and our large collections of books and periodicals.

In conjunction with probate lookups done by our Research Service, we can go to the San Francisco Superior Court, request a pull from storage, examine the full probate files and make copies of the genealogically relevant portions for you. This generally requires two to three hours of research, and we need to know what questions you are hoping to answer.

Final Tips

If you have a problem requiring more than three hours of research, consider becoming a member. This will allow you to use our library at no charge, and to purchase our publications at a discount.

We can do obituary searches at local repositories if the date of death is provided. Because this involves travel to and from libraries holding the newspaper films, you may wish to make use of the inexpensive or no-cost services offered by the Oakland and San Francisco public libraries. Details can be found at:

Oakland Public Library

San Francisco Public Library

If the death in question occurred in Alameda County, but not in Oakland, it is often more effective to contact the library nearest to the place of residence.

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