52 Documents in 52 Weeks #44: California Great Registers

Do you have early California ancestry? By early, I mean the second half of the 19th century – the late 1800s. If so, vital records and other family details are often difficult to come by as your ancestor might have been transitory, living in a frontier-type area where records weren’t kept or living in a town or county with a loss of records.

The California Great Registers, or voting registers, exist for many counties covering the time span of post-Civil War to about 1900. Unfortunately, since only men had the right to vote, no females will be found in the registers, nor will males under 21 be included.

What do the registers look like? Ancestry has images, while FamilySearch has a digitized index.


Amador County, California 1867

This is the top of the page of the Amador County Great Register for 1867. Note the information included: Name of voter, Age, Country where born, which includes the state if born in the U.S., Occupation, Local Residence, If Naturalized by date, place and court, Date of Registration and Source, which is sworn by oath.

Most of the men at the top of this page were native born Americans, but looking a bit further down, I found a Thomas Donahue.

If I were descended from Thomas Donahue, I’d be doing a happy dance right now because the register says he was naturalized in Morris County, New Jersey!!! Without family lore, who would ever think of looking there for the naturalization records of a man living in California? With the added details of the date – 12 October 1866 – and the court being the Court of Common Pleas, finding his papers should be quite easy.

California ancestry can be quite difficult to trace since many came and went. If your ancestor might have lived in California, be sure to check the Great Registers.

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