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]

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

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],, and 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]
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints[edit | edit source][edit | edit source]

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

Look for digital copies of church records listed 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.

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.

The Archdiocese includes the counties of: Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo.[2]
  • Has copies of birth, marriage, and funeral records for all the parishes in Marin, San francisco, snd San Mateo Counties
  • Has microfilm copies of birth, marriage, and funeral records for Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stockton Dioceses.

  • Diocese of Monterey
    P.O. Box 2048
    Monterey, CA 93942
    Phone: (831) 373-2127
    Fax: (831) 655-4809
The diocese includes the counties of: Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and San Luis Obispo.[2]
Application for Family History Infiormation

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.[2]
  • 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: Riverside and San Bernardino.[2]
  • 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

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

The diocese includes the counties of: Imperial and San Diego.[2]
  • Has parish registers beginning in 1769. Research must be requested from the archivist.

Oakland Diocese--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives

The diocese includes the counties of: Alameda and Contra Costa.[2]

Diocese of San Jose--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives The diocese includes the county of: Santa Clara.[2]

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

The diocese includes the counties of: DelNorte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.[2]

Stockton Diocese--microfilms at Archdiocese of San Francisco Archives

The diocese includes the counties of: Alpine, Calaveras, Mono, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne.[2]

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

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America[edit | edit source]

Region 2 Archives(Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming)
Carol Schmalenberger
ELCA Region 2 Archives
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
2770 Marin Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94708-1597
(510) 524-5264


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)[edit | edit source]

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

Early, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church records for California Wards and Branches can be found on film and are located at the Family History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The film numbers, for each ward, can be locate through the FamilySearch Catalog. Or by refering to Jaussi, Laureen R., and Gloria D. Chaston. Register of Genealogical Society Call Numbers. 2 vols. Provo, Utah: Genealogy Tree, 1982. (FHL book 979.2258 A3j; fiche 6031507). These volumes contain the film numbers for many (but not all) membership and temple record films

A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:

California Births and Christenings (FamilySearch Historical Records).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "California: Religion", in Wikipedia,, accessed 27 June 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named rome