Locating family roots in California can be complex due to the blending of so many different ethnic cultures. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times noted that in the city of Los Angeles alone there are close to 200 different languages or derivatives of languages spoken. California’s current population is almost 39 million and the state covers 163,695 miles. It is a vast area for someone who is researching family ancestry.
Native Americans were the earliest inhabitants of the state. In researching Native American ancestry it is helpful to first know about: family histories, Tribal enrollment records, school and church records, and wills or probate records.
The Family Search provides an excellent starting point for researching Native American roots: https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/American_Indian_Genealogy
California has the highest total number of Hispanics of any U.S. state. Hispanics are the largest single ethnic group in the state. Many families can trace their roots back to the time when California was created by a Spanish land grant prior the Gold Rush of 1848. In order to research genealogy of Hispanic families, it is important to know the father’s surname and the location in Mexico where the family originated. Here’s some websites to begin researching Hispanic genealogy:
- Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library- Mexican-American Genealogy
- Hispanic Genealogical Information: Even though it is based in Texas it stores databases on families from Northern Mexico, South Texas, California, and New Mexico.
- California Spanish Genealogy: This site contains links to various Hispanic societies covering most of the regions of the state.
California’s typically warm Mediterranean climate and economic opportunities caused an increase in the population, especially people who arrived from Western European countries. Large numbers of people came from countries including England, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Armenia. The Statistical Atlas indicates the ethnic composition of various counties in California. Knowing, for example, where to locate the major settlements of Italians, German or Irish people might be a first step in moving forward with family research. Here’s some resources to explore:
- Family Search: Start with the “Search Records” section.
- Genealogy Register: The “Surname Search” will provide possible leads to other research sites.
For Irish family history, try these websites: Ireland GenWeb for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland GenWeb for Northern Ireland. See the extensive section in Cyndi’s List for France for French genealogy. For help locating original records, search FrancoGene for Franco-American family history and American-French Genealogical Society’s website for French-Canadian family history. Try Italian Genealogical Group for Italian and Sicilian family history.
Other early ethnic cultures to settle in California included the Chinese. Many people immigrated to California in the 19th century. Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest and largest Chinese community in the United States. A few of the sites for researching Chinese ancestry in California include:
- Chinese Family History Group
- Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
- The Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles
- Chinese Historical Society of America, San Francisco
Other Asian nationalities that settled in large numbers in California include people who arrived from Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. California has the largest number of people who speak either Vietnamese or Chinese in the United States. In addition, in California there is also the third highest concentration of Tagalog speakers in the United States.
A help in researching African American roots in California is California African American Genealogical Society (CAAGS). The mission of the organization is
to foster genealogical research and documentation and the publication of sound genealogical research. The purpose of the organization is to encourage and support the utilization of genealogy as a tool for Americans to become aware of their history, heritage and self-worth.
Another excellent resource, is a free online article by NPR (National Public Radio), called An Internet Guide How To Find Your Family History & Cultural Roots (April 2004 edition) by Dr. Andy Anderson Wells Fargo Chief Historian. This source is thirteen years old but still provides valuable information for researching numerous ethnic groups.
Taking the important first step is crucial in order to uncover the puzzling and mysterious information about your family heritage.