California Great Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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FamilySearch Record Search This article describes a collection of historical records available at
Access the records: California Great Registers, 1866-1910 .

Record Description

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. Records in this collection without a specifc registration year will be displayed as "Registration Date Year Range." For these records, the "Event Date" is the median year.

The California Great Registers are available from 1867 through 1944 (1968 for a few counties). They 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.

Record Content

California Great Registers DGS.jpg

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

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

Registers after 1895 contain additional data:

  • Voter’s physical description, including height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, and visible marks and scars
  • Ability to read the Constitution in the English language and write his own name
  • If physically able to mark the ballot; if no, the nature of the disability
  • 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.

How to Use this Record Collection

To begin your search, you will need to know the following:

  • Name of the ancestor
  • Residence

Complete the requested information in the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information of these individuals to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to find your ancestor.

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may provide new biographical details that can lead to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family.

Value of Great Registers to Researchers

  • 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.

Tips and Strategies Using the California Great Registers

You may also find the following tips helpful when using the Great Registers:

  • Use the name, residence, or birth date to locate your ancestor in church, land, and census records.
  • Use ages to determine approximate birth dates.
  • Use the naturalization information to find immigration and naturalization court documents.
  • Information on occupations may lead to business, office, or military records.
  • Search for records of other people in the county who shared the same surname. These people may have been the couple’s parents, uncles, or other relatives.
  • When searching for a person with a common name, look at all entries for the name before deciding which is correct.

Also keep in mind:

  • Some counties were subdivided, or the boundaries may have changed.
  • Search neighboring counties; that courthouse may have been more convenient for the person.
  • The information in voter registrations is usually very brief, which makes it easy to confuse individuals with similar names.

Can't Find Your Ancestor in the Registers?

If you are unable to find the ancestors you are looking for, try the following:

  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
  • Check for indexes.

Other Online Resources

Ancestry® ( This website provides both digitized images and indexes, divided into two separate databases:

  • California, Voter Registers, 1866-1898
  • California, Voter Registrations, 1900-1968

Users can search by first and last name, event year, location, and keyword.

Various individuals, organizations, and societies have published online abstracts, transcriptions, indexes, and images of the great registers. A few examples of what you might find:

  • The Foreign-Born Voters of California in 1872 ( This useful statewide online database index created by Jim W. Faulkinbury, CG®, includes all foreign-born voters of California in 1872. The abstract includes full name, age, and place of birth of each voter. Full information can be ordered from his site for a small fee.
  • YubaRoots ( This great website has available online transcriptions of Yuba County “Great Registers” and “Voting Records” for the period 1867 to 1930.
  • San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society ( The society has an impressive collection of online indexes and images of San Luis Obispo County Great Registers and voter registration affidavits from 1867 to 1944.

To find online resources for a county of interest, try a Google search using the county name and “Great Registers” as keywords.

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.

Affidavits of Registration.

Most early affidavits were destroyed, but some still exist in counties, usually archived by the county.

History of the Great Registers

The first voter registration records were county poll lists. In 1866, poll lists were replaced by voter registers known as the Great Registers. California’s Great Registers were created from the Registry Act of 1866 that was enacted to help prevent voter fraud. The act provided “for the registration of all the citizens” of the state of California. Each voter was required to register with the county clerk.

The Registry Act required county clerks to register the names and information of all voters into “suitable ... books, strongly bound, with the necessary ruled columns and appropriate headings and labels.” These books were to be designated as the “Great Register”.

Legislation in 1872 specified that county clerks would create printed copies of these registers for distribution among the county election precincts, libraries, and other depositories.

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.

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.

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Citation for This Collection

 The following citation refers to the original source of the information published in Historical Records collections. Sources include the author, custodian, publisher, and archive for the original records.

"California, Great Registers, 1866-1910." Index. FamilySearch. : accessed 2013.

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