The National Archives at San Francisco has numerous records and other resources that can be used for genealogical and family history research. Below is an overview of some of our most popular genealogy holdings.
Digital Records and Databases
At our facility, researchers can access our partner websites Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and Familysearch.org* for free. These sites hold digital copies of a wide range of records including the US Federal Census (1790-1940), Indian Census Rolls (1885-1940), naturalization records, passenger lists, death indexes, WWI and WWII draft cards, military pension records, and much more. For a listing of NARA microfilm and original records available on partner websites, please see Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by our Digitization Partners.
Naturalization is the process by which an immigrant becomes an American citizen. Upon meeting residency requirements, immigrants petition the courts for citizenship and take an oath of allegiance. Under former laws, immigrants could petition for citizenship in Federal, state, or county courts.
Depending on the year in which they were filed, naturalization records can provide a researcher with information such as a person's birth date and location, occupation, immigration year, marital status and spouse information, witnesses' names and addresses, and more. Early naturalization records, from the 1790 through 1906, only typically provide an immigrant's name and country of origin. In 1906, Congress established the U.S. Naturalization Service by the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906 (34 Stat. 596), which standardized the naturalization process requiring more detail on the naturalization forms.
Please note that in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries an immigrant could apply for naturalization in any court: city, county, state, or federal. The naturalization records are held by each court or their repository. The National Archives only holds records for Federal courts. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) has duplicate copies of naturalization petitions created after September 26, 1906 in all Federal, county, and municipal courts. Most inquiries about post-1991 naturalization records must be directed to USCIS, as the National Archives generally has such records only through 1991.
For more information about naturalization records and the process by which immigrants were naturalized check out Naturalization Records, which offers links to a variety of helpful resources.
Ship's Passenger Lists
In an effort to protect immigrants and encourage travel to the United States, the Federal Government required passenger lists beginning in 1820. Since then, over 55 million people have immigrated to the U.S. These immigration records can provide genealogical information including:
- a person's nationality, place of birth
- ship name and date of entry to the United States
- age, height, eye and hair color
- place of last residence
- name and address of relatives they are joining in the U.S.
- amount of money they are carrying, etc.
American Indian Records
Federal documents related to American Indians can include information about tribal members, federal officials, Indian agents, military personnel, teachers, nurses, and laborers. Some records may even reference a person who was involved in Indian affairs because of his/her geographic proximity to a tribe or agency, such as a minister, medical doctor, or social worker.
Information may include:
- Birth and death
- Marriage and Divorce
- Land and property
Check out Researching an Individual or Family for more information about records available across the National Archives.
Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files
Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files are a valuable resource for the study of Chinese immigration and Chinese-American travel, trade, and social and family history from the late-19th to mid-20th century. A typical Chinese Exclusion Act case file contains information such as the subject's name, place and date of birth, physical appearance, occupation, names and relationships of other family members, and family history.
Materials in the files may include:
- Certificates of identity and residency
- INS findings, recommendations, and decisions
- Maps of immigrant family residences and villages in China
- Original marriage certificates
- Individual and family photographs
- Transcripts of INS interrogations and special boards of inquiry
- Witness statements and affidavits
Please note, Privacy Act restrictions may apply to some cases. For more information go to Chinese Immigration and the Chinese in the United States.
American seamen are documented in U.S. Customs Service records. Researchers will need to know what ports individual seamen may have shipped out of in order to effectively use these records. To locate crew lists it is usually necessary to know the vessel name and port. Please inquire about using these records before visiting, since the records do not exist for every California port in all time periods.
Information may include:
- place of birth
- town of residence
- physical description
- names of relatives
Specific types of records include:
- Crew Lists
- Shipping Articles (which document payments)
- Records of Seamen's Protection (issued for identification)
- Case files of Deceased and Deserted Seamen
- Marine Hospital Returns of Seamen (not medical records, documents money withheld for dues)
See the Resources for Genealogists section of the our web site for additional general information about genealogical resources at the National Archives.
A Guide to Records of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at the National Archives and Records Administration at San Francisco- Reference Information Paper 111
Explore Other Genealogical Resources for links to genealogical web sites outside of the National Archives.