Survival of records
It is rarely the case, even in the worst of records disasters, that all is lost.
Yes, the courthouse may have burned, but some records usually survived, and people often came back in after the fire to re-record critical documents like deeds.
Yes, the flood may have taken out everything stored in the basement and first floor, but perhaps those second floor records made it through.
And, yes, there really are San Francisco records from the years before 1906.
From the years before that day, exactly 108 years ago today, when San Francisco was rocked by an earthquake of massive proportions.
The earliest tremor hit the city at 5:12 a.m., and what has been called the Great Earthquake — centering in San Francisco — hit 20-25 seconds later. According to the U.S. Geological Survey:
The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. … The frequently quoted value of 700 deaths caused by the earthquake and fire is now believed to underestimate the total loss of life by a factor of 3 or 4. Most of the fatalities occurred in San Francisco, and 189 were reported elsewhere.1
The city was devastated, and its records seriously damaged.
But even in that terrible disaster, all was not lost.
You will find, today, online at FamilySearch, some records of pre-1906 San Francisco. There are, for example:
• Deed Books 001 (1847) through 226 (1863-1864).2
• Volumes 1-5 of certified land grants, 1847-1850.3
• Bond Book volume 17, 1897-1901.4
• Miscellaneous records, volume 2, 1848-1850.5
• Great Register volume 67, 1867, and 69, 1869.6
There is more — quite a bit more… if you know how to find it.
And for that we can all be grateful as genealogists, because there’s a book out there to answer all our questions about what did, and what didn’t survive, the 1906 earthquake.
Written by Nancy Simons Peterson, CG, the research director of the California Genealogical Society, Raking The Ashes: Genealogical Strategies For Pre-1906 San Francisco Research7 is the one and only go-to resource for those of us who need to research pre- and post-earthquake San Francisco.
It’s a 242-page paperback that takes the researcher through the issues of what did and didn’t survive, what workarounds exist for things that didn’t survive, what additional resources are available, and even what research techniques are particularly applicable to solving difficult problems of pre-1906 San Francisco.
For $25 ($20 for members of the California Genealogical Society ordering through the CGS website), it’d be a steal just for the research techniques discussion by itself.
The book has three parts:
• Original records: What Did and Did Not Survive, with Work-Arounds for Lost Records
• Continuing the Search: Additional Resources
• Research Techniques for Solving Genealogical Problems
And an appendix sets out Pre-earthquake Newspaper Collections: Titles, Local Sources and Dates of Coverage.
If you’re doing pre-1906 San Francisco research, you want this book for what it will tell you about what did and didn’t make it through that earthquake. And if you’re not doing pre-1906 San Francisco research, you want this book for what it will tell you about research techniques useful anywhere there was records loss.
Raking The Ashes: Genealogical Strategies For Pre-1906 San Francisco Research.
- “The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake,” USGS, Earthquake Hazards Program, USGS.gov (http://earthquake.usgs.gov : accessed 17 Apr 2014). ↩
- See “Land and Property Records,” digital images, “California, San Francisco County Records, 1824-1997,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 17 Apr 2014). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- See “Public Records,” digital images, “California, San Francisco County Records, 1824-1997,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 17 Apr 2014). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Nancy Simons Peterson, Raking The Ashes: Genealogical Strategies For Pre-1906 San Francisco Research, 2nd ed. (Oakland, California : California Genealogical Society, 2012). ↩