California Church Records

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The FamilySearch moderator for California is Jamie Mayhew

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The largest religious denominations by number of adherents as a percentage of California's population in 2014 were the Catholic Church with 28 percent, Evangelical Protestants with 20 percent, and Mainline Protestants with 10 percent. Together, all kinds of Protestants accounted for 32 percent. Those unaffiliated with any religion represented 27 percent of the population.

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) the largest denominations by adherents in 2010 were the Roman Catholic Church with 10,233,334; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 763,818; and the Southern Baptist Convention with 489,953.

The first priests to come to California were Roman Catholic missionaries from Spain. Roman Catholics founded 21 missions along the California coast, as well as the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. California continues to have a large Roman Catholic population due to the large numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans living within its borders. California has twelve dioceses and two archdioceses, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the former being the largest archdiocese in the United States. [1]

Information Found in the Records[edit | edit source]

To effectively use church records, become familiar with their content. Click on these links to learn about a specific record type:

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

FamilySearch Historical Records[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Digitized[edit | edit source]

Congregational[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]
Lutheran[edit | edit source]
Dutch Reformed[edit | edit source]

Other Collections[edit | edit source]

Look for digital copies of church records in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm for churches in the United States.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the state, county, or town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of United States, California.
b. Click on Places within United States, California and a list of counties will appear.
c. Click on your county if it appears.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Click on Places within United States, California [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Consult available finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.

  • Temple, Thomas W. An Alphabetical Listing of the California Mission Vital Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1985. FHL Collection 1307621 item 4; fiche 6047009
  • Weber, Francis J. A Select Guide to California Catholic History. Los Angeles, Calif.: Westernlore Press, 1966. FHL Collection 979.4 K21c
  • Bowman, J.N. "The Parochial Books of the California Missions, 1961," The Quarterly (Historical Society of Southern California)], Vol. 43, No. 3. FHL Collection 979.4 B2s
  • Barton, Noel R. "Genealogical Research in the Records of the California Missions," Genealogical Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1. FHL Collection 973 D25gj v. 3-4 (1974-1975)

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

Here you will find archive information unique to the state. Many more archives are kept by denomination. For denominational archives, go to Searching for Church Records by Denomination.

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

South West California Synod / ELCA Region 2 Archives
1300 E. Colorado St.
Glendale, CA 91205
Phone:(818) 937-4761
E-mail: archives@socalsynod.org

  • Archives hold records for closed churches. For open churches write directly to the local church.

Methodist[edit | edit source]

Holt-Atherton Church Archives
University of the Pacific
3601 Pacific Avenue
Stockton, CA 95211
Phone: (209) 946-2404
Fax: (209) 946-2810

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

San Francisco Theological Seminary Library
105 Seminary Road
San Anselmo, CA 94960
Phone: (415) 451-2845

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

For most records, records are maintained at the parish level. Local priests can issue baptismal certificates. Diocese records which are available otherwise are listed here. If a diocese was does not have records available for research, it is not listed here.


  • Has copies of birth, marriage, and funeral records for all the parishes in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties
  • Has microfilm copies of birth, marriage, and funeral records for Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stockton Dioceses.
The Archdiocese includes the counties of: Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo.

  • Diocese of Monterey
    P.O. Box 2048
    Monterey, CA 93942
    Phone: (831) 373-2127
    Fax: (831) 655-4809
    Email: Archives@dioceseofmonterey.org
Application for Family History Infiormation
The diocese includes the counties of: Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and San Luis Obispo.

Oakland Diocese--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives

The diocese includes the counties of: Alameda and Contra Costa.

  • While most records are found at local parishes, some older records are in these archives. Contact the archivist to learn whether older records exist. They will inform you of search request instructions.
The diocese includes the counties of: Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yolo.

  • Has baptism, marriage, and funeral records for the parishes of the diocese for 1852 to about 1980 on microfilm.
  • Has Catholic cemetery records for the diocese
The diocese includes the counties of: Riverside and San Bernardino.

Diocese of San Diego
3888 Paducah Drive
San Diego, CA 92117

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 85728
San Diego, CA 92186-5728
Phone: (858) 490-8200
Fax: (858) 490-8272
E-mail:gperfecto@symbolsdcatholic.org

  • Has parish registers beginning in 1769. Research must be requested from the archivist.
The diocese includes the counties of: Imperial and San Diego.

Diocese of San Jose--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives The diocese includes the county of: Santa Clara.


Diocese of Santa Rosa--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives

The diocese includes the counties of: DelNorte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.

Stockton Diocese--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives

The diocese includes the counties of: Alpine, Calaveras, Mono, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne.
Catholic Indian Missions[edit | edit source]

For more historical background on California Indian missions, see

Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions Records
Special Collections and Archives
Raynor Memorial Libraries
Marquette University
1355 W. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53233

P.O. Box 3141
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201-3141

Seventh-day Adventist[edit | edit source]

Loma Linda University
11072 Anderson St.
Loma Linda, CA 92350
Phone: 909-558-4550

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Next, go to the Wiki article for your ancestors' denomination.[edit | edit source]

There are frequently additional, nationwide or regional archives and online collections for each denomination. Find the article for your ancestors' denomination and follow the instructions there to access these sources.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations



Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details


Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.


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The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.


References[edit | edit source]

  1. "California: Religion", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California#Religion, accessed 27 June 2020.