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The state began to keep their own collections of vital records in 1905 but many individual counties have material that is older than that. You can go back as far as 1824 if you are looking in Monterey County.
California Vital Records
There are no privacy restrictions or time limits when looking to get any kind of California birth or death records. Instead, they have a system with two types of records. The authorized copies are legal forms of identification, and the informational ones are not (generally ideal for California genealogy). Authorized copies are only given out to immediate relatives, and the informational one will be issued to anyone. So as long as you request the right type of document, there should be no problems.
Getting either copy means you have to send an application form either to the Vital Records branch of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in Sacramento, or at the local county clerk's office where the event took place. If you are getting an authorized copy, you will have to provide notarized proof of your own identity along with the forms. The fee for either a birth or death record is $16.
Getting copies of marriage and divorce records work the same way, with 2 kinds of available documents. You can order these from the CDPH but the cost for a copy of a marriage record is only $14. You can also get these documents from the local clerk's office for quicker service. Getting a marriage record from the Vital Records office can take months by mail.
State Archives Resources
California genealogy can go far beyond just getting copies of vital records. There are two good state resources that you should look into: the California State Archives and the California State Library. The first one is a government-based archive where you can find military records, census records, school registrations, wills, deeds, prison documents and more.
The State Library is where you need to go for other historical material. Their holdings include some census records, local county histories, newspaper archives, old maps and periodicals, photographs and more.
Both of these Sacramento facilities offer free research areas where you can browse their materials at no cost, and they are open during standard business hours through the week. Photocopying is usually for a small fee per page.
California Genealogy Groups
Another way to further your research is to join a group or society. There are many for the state of California, and almost every county has one of its own if you want to narrow your options. But the main large group is the California Genealogical Society and Library in Oakland. They maintain their own library of genealogical resources and have volunteers who can help you with lookups and references. Becoming a member would give you further access to their materials and also help you connect with other people doing research in California. Once you start sharing information, you can discover a great number of new leads.
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