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Effects of the earthquake and fire

Last week’s post on “The records of death” — about the heartbreaking stories told of the 1906 Great Earthquake and fire in the records of what was then called the Coroner’s Office in San Francisco1 — raises a wonderful genealogical question.

If those records, from before and after that disaster, survived for us to use today, what else did?

And there’s a wonderful resource out there with the answers for anybody who’s interested in San Francisco research.

It’s a book called Raking The Ashes: Genealogical Strategies For Pre-1906 San Francisco Research,2 newly published in its second edition, and it’s an absolute necessity for your bookshelf if you’re looking at that place and time.

Written by Nancy Simons Peterson, CG, the research director of the California Genealogical Society, this 242-page paperback 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.

An appendix catalogs the availability of pre-earthquake newspapers.

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.

You can get your copy through the California Genealogical Society website (the information page is here and the order page is here), through the website for the book (here) or even through Amazon (here).

And, by the way, at the book’s website, you will find not only more information about the book, but the author has painstakingly added updates even since the 2012 publication of the second edition.

To whet your appetite more, if you need it, the table of contents:


Extent of the Record Loss
How to Use This Guide
Background and Acknowledgements

Part I: Original records: What Did and Did Not Survive, with Work-Arounds for Lost Records

Vital (Civil) Records: Birth, Marriage and Death
Mortuary, Crematory and Coroners’ Records
Cemetery and Columbarium Records
Religious Records
Newspapers: Films, Indexes, Abstracts and Online Digitizations
Census Enumerations and Indexes
San Francisco City Directories
Municipal Records: Annual Reports, Tax Records
Land Records
Original and Appellate Court Records: Naturalization, Probate, Land, Divorce and Adoption
Voting Records
Immigration: Overland Arrivals, Passenger Lists and Passports
Military Records
Records of Fraternal Organizations and Benevolent Societies
Institutional, Business and Occupational Records
Pre-Statehood Spanish and Mexican Records
Diaries and First-Hand Accounts
Ethnic Records and Resources

Part II: Continuing the Search: Additional Resources

Biographical and Historical Publications
The California Information File
Records of Pioneer and Other Lineage Societies
Help from Internet Resources
Family History Library Resources
Local Repositories
Professional Research Assistance

Part III: Research Techniques for Solving Genealogical Problems

Assembling and Assessing Evidence
The Basics: the Census and City Directories
A Quick Survey of the Most-Used Sources
A Less-Used Source: Religious Records
Location, Location, Location
Expanding Your Search: Wider and Later
Naming Complications
Thinking Beyond San Francisco
Source Summaries: Where to Find What
Putting It All Together

Appendix: Pre-earthquake Newspaper Collections: Titles, Local Sources and Dates of Coverage

Raking The Ashes: Genealogical Strategies For Pre-1906 San Francisco Research.

Highly recommended.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “The records of death,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 24 Apr 2013 ( : accessed 28 Apr 2013).
  2. Nancy Simons Peterson, Raking The Ashes: Genealogical Strategies For Pre-1906 San Francisco Research, 2nd ed. (Oakland, California : California Genealogical Society, 2012).
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