California Great Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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California Great Registers, 1866-1910 .
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This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.
California, United States
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Flag of California
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Location of California
Record Description
Record Type Voting Registers
Collection years 1866-1910
FamilySearch Resources
  • RootsWeb (Index to Sonoma County 1890 Great Register of Voters)
Related Websites


What Is in the Collection?

This FamilySearch online collection includes records from 1866 to 1910. The collection consists of County Clerk voting registers from most counties in California. The registers were created every other year. The time period varies by county. The California Great Registers are available from 1867 through 1944 (1968 for a few counties).

The registers are helpful in identifying Anglo and Hispanic males over the age of 21, since they were required by law to register. Although the 15th Amendment granted African-Americans the right to vote in 1870, many were disenfranchised on account of literacy. Thus, many African-Americans don’t appear in the registers until the twentieth century. Women received the right to vote in California in 1911 and appear in the registers after that date. Other exclusionary acts precluded individuals from appearing on the lists at times, e.g., Native Americans until 1924, and natives of China from 1879 to 1926.

Great Registers are:

  • Useful as a census substitute, especially the 1890 Census that was destroyed by fire.
  • May help to identify an ancestor's residence over time and place. Registers may indicate if a person moved and where they moved to (another precinct or county).
  • Contains heads of households and other adults living in the household.
  • Valuable tracking tool between Federal Census years.
  • Useful for identifying an ancestor’s political party affiliation (starting 1908-1912).
  • May point to other records in which that person might appear.

The first voter registration records were county poll lists. In 1866, poll lists were replaced by voter registers known as the Great Registers.

Affidavits were also used early on to register new voters. Information from the affidavits was copied into the Great Registers. An amendment to the political code in 1909 discontinued the practice of keeping Great Registers. Instead, the affidavits were to constitute the official record. Printed indexes to the affidavits were created, but they contain only minimal information.

To Browse This Collection

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for California Great Registers, 1866-1910.

What Can These Records Tell Me?

The early registers are arranged in columns and give the following information:

  • Full name of each voter (only men could vote)
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • State or country of birth
  • Address
  • If naturalized, the name of the granting court and the date of naturalization

Registers after 1895 contain additional data:

  • Voter’s physical description
  • Ability to read and write in English
  • Disabilities
  • If transferred from a different voting precinct or county

By 1900 printed lists typically contain only:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Address

Although additional details, such as physical description and naturalization, were discontinued on the printed indexes by 1900, the information was still recorded on the registration affidavits. Political affiliations were added to the printed registers around 1908.

Collection Content

Coverage Table

California Voting Registers includes a detailed coverage table of the contents of this collection, as well as links to additional resources available online and in print.

Sample Image

How Do I Search the Collection?

You can search the index or view the images or both. Before using this collection, it is helpful to know:

  • Name of the individual
  • Approximate date of naturalization

Search the Index

Search by name by visiting the Collection Page.
  1. Fill in the search boxes on the Collection Page with the information you have
  2. Click Search to show possible matches

How Do I Analyze the Results?

Compare each result from your search with what you know to determine if there is a match. This may require viewing multiple records or images.

For more tips about searching on-line collections see the on-line article FamilySearch Search Tips and Tricks.

What Do I Do Next?

Indexes and transcriptions may not include all the data found in the original records. Look at the actual image of the record to verify the information and to find additional information.

I Found Who I Was Looking For, What Now?

Indexes and transcriptions may not include all the data found in the original records. Look at the actual image of the record, if you can, to verify the information and to find additional information.

I Found Who I was Looking for, What Now?

  • Copy the citation below, in case you need to find this record again later.
  • Use the ages listed to determine approximate birth dates and find the family in additional censuses.
  • Use the information found in the record to find church and vital records such as birth, baptism, marriage, and death records.
  • Use the information found in the record to find land, probate and immigration records.
  • Repeat this process with additional family members found, to find more generations of the family.
  • Church Records were kept years before counties began keeping records. They are a good source for finding ancestors before 1900.

I Can’t Find the Person I’m Looking For, What Now?

  • If your ancestor does not have a common name, collect entries for every person who has the same surname. This list can help you find possible relatives.
  • If you cannot locate your ancestor in the locality in which you believe they lived, then try searching records of a nearby town or county.
  • Try different spellings of your ancestor’s name.
  • Remember that sometimes individuals went by nicknames or alternated between using first and middle names. Try searching for these names as well.
  • Look for the Declaration of Intent soon after the immigrant arrived. Then look for the Naturalization Petition five years later, when the residency requirement would have been met. Look for naturalization records in federal courts, then in state, county, or city courts. An individual may have filed the first and final papers in different courts and sometimes in a different state if the person moved. Immigrants who were younger than 18 when they arrived did not need to file a Declaration of Intent as part of the process.
  • Check other possible ports of entry
  • Check the info box above for additional FamilySearch websites and related websites that may assist you in finding similar records.


Printed and Microfilmed Resources

Some original manuscript registers have been destroyed, and information is only available in the printed versions. Many existing printed registers and indexes reside at the California State Library in Sacramento; some are housed at Bancroft Library at University of California in Berkeley.

Other indexes may be found in county courthouses, archives, or libraries. Most of the manuscript great registers and indexes are listed in the Guide to the County Archives of California (see Selected Bibliography).

Many printed indexes are available on microfilm through several repositories, including the California State Library in Sacramento and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through a local family history center.

  • The 1890 Great Register of Voters Index. The California State Genealogical Alliance produced a 3-volume index as a partial substitute for the destroyed 1890 Federal Census. This index includes 311,028 men living in California in 1890. This index was also published by Heritage Quest on CD-ROM.
  • San Francisco, California: 1890 Great Register of Voters. This particular index includes only those men living in the city and county of San Francisco in 1890. This volume may be helpful to those researching San Francisco before the great quake and fire in 1906 that destroyed many of the city’s records.

Copies of printed registers or indexes, especially those compiled from the 1890 Great Registers, may be located in libraries through WorldCat.

Voter Registration Laws

Changes to the political code over the years affected the registration process, the nature of the records, and how the records were preserved. Below are highlights of some of the major legislations:

Registry Act of 1866. This act established a formal voting procedure with voter districts and voter registrations recorded in the Great Registers.

  • Early registers were handwritten and kept by each county in large manuscript ledgers.
  • The early manuscript great registers listed voters by the initial letter of the surname chronologically as they registered.
  • The voter’s precinct name or number was added to each ledger.
  • When a voter moved from a precinct, his name was “red lined” in the register, with the county (or precinct) to which he moved penciled in.
  • Registers included notations of death (often including date and place), removal, insanity, or infamy.

Political Code of 1872. A revision to the California political code in 1872 required counties to provide a printed alphabetical index of the manuscript great registers every other year. This action formalized a practice already implemented by most counties. Early indexes were printed in odd-numbered years; after the first few years, indexes were published in the even-numbered years.

Poll lists were also abolished in 1872 and replaced by the affidavits of registration. Very few poll lists survive today.

Political Code of 1895. The information required on the affidavit of registration was expanded to include height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, ability to read constitution in English language and write their name, and if physically able to mark the ballot. Affidavits were organized by precinct, arranged alphabetically, and then bound.

Political Code of 1899. A new amendment obligated counties to make new registrations on each even numbered year. Information about complexion and eye color was discontinued. Voter’s state of birth was added.

Political Code of 1903. The law specified that the affidavits of registration were to be kept for five years, at which time they could be destroyed.

Political Code of 1909. At this time, clerks were no longer required to copy information from the registration affidavits into a register style book. Indexes to the affidavits were published soon after registration closed. The indexes, which contain only a portion of the information found on the original affidavits, provide the name, age, occupation, address, and most often, party affiliation. Other details, such as physical description, state or country of birth, naturalization date and place, literacy, and disability were excluded.

Political Code of 1912. In response to laws allowing women the right to vote, affidavits added the following information: sex; date and place of marriage and the name of person to whom married, if naturalized through a spouse.


Citing This Collection

Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.

Collection Citation:

"California, Great Registers, 1866-1910." Database. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2017. Citing County Courthouses in California.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

The citation for a record is available with each record in this collection, at the bottom of the record screen. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for California Great Registers, 1866-1910.

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