Sunday, February 11, 2007

5 Best Genealogy Resource Sites in San Diego

I've been pondering what places, or what type of genealogy resource, to write about for the next Carnival of Genealogy. The theme is the 5 Best tips for specific genealogy research. Specific places. Specific times. Specific topics.

The plain fact is that I am knowledgable about many types of resources and many locations, but I am not an expert in any of them.

I have not done a lot of genealogy research in many places other than the San Diego area. I do have a lot of ancestors in New England, especially Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but most of my research was done in San Diego using the Family History Library microfilms. I have researched in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library, in Boston at the NEHGS, at the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence, in several New England town libraries, the Library of Congress in Washington DC, Sutro Library in San Francisco, the National Archives branch in Laguna Niguel CA, and libraries in York PA, Newton NJ, Watertown NY, Mercer PA, and Killingly CT, but I am not an "expert" in those places. Then there are the places my ancestors lived in that I have not visited - Delhi, Ontario, Terre Haute IN, Columbus City IA, Burnett WI, Boulder CO and McCook NE. I researched for several days in Wiltshire in England on vacation, but can't claim expertise there, since I did most of it in San Diego. Likewise for my research on Linda's Norwegian ancestry - I did all of it here and visited once.

So - my conclusion is that the place I know best is San Diego.

The five best research sites for genealogy in San Diego, IMHO, are:

1) San Diego Family History Center -- I've spent 19 years there turning microfilm, reading microfiches, microfilms, books and journals, sifting through online databases and talking to my friends there. It costs money to play there - film rentals and page copies cost, but, in most cases, it is cheaper to rent the films than go to Salt Lake City and turn microfilm there. The focus at the FHC changed several years ago - from traditional research using books, microfiche and microfilms of original records to using online databases (including and The online databases have essentially replaced the IGI on microfiche, and the census, military and immigration records on microfilm. The real "gems" in the FHL microfilms haven't been replaced yet - the land records, probate records, tax lists, etc. for almost every county in the USA. They will be indexed and digitized eventually, but there will still be a need for the FHC.

2) Carlsbad Public Library -- the genealogy book collection is excellent - many surname books, many locality books, and a wonderful journal collection, plus the UMI microfiche collection of surname books, locality books and public source books. The best part is that they keep adding to the collection of books. I've spent many days at Carlsbad searching all of those resources., and are available in the library. Over the last 5 years, my Carlsbad library card provided home access to the HQO resources - census, Revolutioary War pensions, PERSI, and historical books.

3) San Diego Genealogical Society library -- the society has its own members library in El Cajon, rented in a small office complex. In addition to the surname and locality book collection, they have an excellent periodical collection - probably the best in town. One of the "gems" here is the vertical file collection by surname or locality - these are papers donated by the members or the estates of members. Another "gem" is the Leaves and Saplings publication that SDGS has published over the years - including cemetery lists, voter lists, early deaths, early probate files, etc.

4) San Diego Public Library (Downtown San Diego) -- the basis of this genealogy book collection is a DAR book collection donated many years ago. It is in a small room that hasn't changed for decades, it seems. However, they are the only library with a complete run of the NEHG Register and the AGBI - both of which were vital in my research. They also have the archives of the San Diego newspapers on microfilm (with an index 1930-1980) and a nice collection of San Diego City directories. is available in all branch libraries in the system.

5) Chula Vista Public Library (Civic Center Branch) -- This library hosts the modest Chula Vista Genealogical Society book and periodical collection. A local history room houses an incomplete San Diego city directory collection plus other historical resources. Microfilms of the Chula Vista Star-News (from 1916 on) and the San Diego Union (from 1975 on) are available for perusing without indexes. is available in all branch libraries. CVGS holds their regular meetings, research group and computer group meetings in the facility. The 100 seat Auditorium is the best venue for genealogy speakers and programs in the city (if only they would install wireless internet in it!).

I want to mention the National City Public Library, because when they built a new library several years ago, they dedicated significant space to a Local History Room which houses the archival material, including the National City newspapers, an excellent collection of the San Diego city directories, and a curator. Unfortunately, it is open only two afternoons a week.

The San Diego Historical Society is excellent, but I haven't used it much. This is in a large room in Balboa Park, with many racks of archival material about San Diego history. I found Sanborn maps, landowner lists, pre-1920 probate records and other genealogical gems at SDHS. While they charge non-members for use, the repository has curators with expertise in handling archival meterials and knowledge about San Diego history.

I know that El Cajon, Escondido and probably other San Diego County cities have local history rooms, but I haven't visited them.

So there you have it - all about San Diego genealogy research sites. If any of my San Diego readers have a different opinion, I'd love to hear them.


Firestarter5 said...

Delhi is very cold and snowy right now. Stay in Cali.

Joe said...

This is a great idea, Randy. Like a genealogy travel guide to San Diego.

Anonymous said...

Randy, what genealogical value do you see in San Diego's academic libraries, such as your alma matre, SDSU? My experience has been that academic libraries typically have a lot more resources of genealogical value than most people realize, including access to electronic databases such as America: History and Life and the full-strength version of OCLC.

Randy Seaver said...


It's an excellent question.

I am embarrassed to say that I have not been to the SDSU or UCSD libraries to check out their holdings. I have looked at their online catalogs and did not see anything that would help my own research, but that doesn't mean they don't have valuable resources.

They may have resources unique to San Diego and Southern California, similar to what the Huntington Library has for Early Californians and the Mission Indians.

Cheers -- Randy