Ted Gostin

Professional Genealogist

Southern California Research

Sample California Vital Records
Older Records - Pre-1905

Prior to 1905, most birth and death records in California were recorded in chronological, semi-alphabetical registers.  A few counties began to use certificates prior to 1905, but most did not start using actual certificates to record births and deaths until the state began mandating their use in 1905.  About half the counties in the state kept no birth and death records at all until 1873, when the state first began requiring the counties to report the number of births, marriages and deaths on a quarterly basis.  The Southern California counties were among those that didn't begin recording births and deaths until 1873.  All of the counties recorded marriages from the early 1850s forward, but the format of early marriage records were much different and much less informative than modern records. 

The links below provide examples of the older style birth, marriage and death records.  Keep in mind that the actual information on each certificate varied over time.   

  • Birth Register and Supplemental Report of Birth.  The early birth registers provided only a little bit of information, including the names of the parents, the sex of the child, the date of birth, and usually the attending physician or midwife.  The child's name was rarely included in these registers (no space for the child's name was even included in the early registers), and the mother's maiden surname may not be listed in many registers.  The format of these registers also changed somewhat over time, with later registers containing a little more information than earlier ones.  Because the birth registers generally did not contain the name of the child, a "Supplemental Report of Birth" was often filed in later years, amending the information in the birth register to include the name of the child.  These examples are for the 1899 birth of Geraldine King in Santa Barbara County.  The register page shows her entry (the last one on the page) with no given name, and the later supplemental report shows the name given to her at birth that was missing from the register.

  • Marriage License and Certificate (Los Angeles County - 1895).  Most public marriage records in Southern California prior to 1905 include both a copy of the marriage license, and a brief marriage certificate, usually on the same page.  While the format of the marriage records differs over time, for most of the period between 1850 and 1905, the marriage records are not very detailed.  This marriage record from Los Angeles County in 1895 shows the very limited information typical of most early marriage records -- the names, ages and places of residence of the bride and groom; the date and place of marriage, along with the person performing the ceremony; and the names and places of residence of two witnesses. 

  • Marriage License Affidavit.  In addition to the marriage registers, Los Angeles County has maintained a set of documents with the title "Affidavit for Marriage License."  You cannot review these at the Recorder's office (the staff doesn't even know that they exist), but the records were microfilmed by the Mormons' Family History Library (FHL) many years ago.  Unfortunately, much of the filming was done with incorrect lighting settings, so that the pages came out almost black.  They were never redone.  The portions of the filming that are legible, however, can provide useful information.  The affidavit was filled out by the groom attesting to the fact that both he and the bride were of legal age to be married without the consent of a parent (apparently 18 for women and 21 for men), and often contained exact ages.  The form also listed birthplaces and places of residence of bride and groom.  If either bride or groom were younger than legal marrying age, the consent of a parent was attached to the form.  The consent forms, of varying format, can often provide other useful information.  (It isn't clear whether any similar documents have survived in other Southern California counties.) 

  • Death Register (Orange County - 1889-1900).  A page from a typical death register prior to 1905.  In Los Angeles City starting in 1884, there were also separate death certificates, most of which have now been microfilmed by the FHL.  The information on the certificate and in the register was not exactly the same, and so it is often useful to review both records, if possible.  This example of a death register is from the first Orange County book, covering the years 1889-1900.


This site was last updated on 31 January 2023.

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