First Families

First Families of San Mateo County Project

The San Mateo County Genealogical Society invites you to be a part of our First Families of San Mateo County Project. The goal of this endeavor is to identify and honor our direct line ancestors who settled the county and to give recognition to their descendants.

We wish to focus on those pioneer settlers who cleared the land, drained the swamps, ran the stagecoaches, built the dams, roads and houses, planted and harvested the crops, and sold the meat, potatoes, clothing, soap and other necessities their neighbors needed. Who were these unknown and unrecognized folks?

Much has been written of the large land owners, developers, railroad barons, bankers, and mansion builders. Little has been gathered on the families who settled, worked hard, married their neighbors, sent their children to school, and built strong communities along the Peninsula.

The research and work necessary to discover these pioneers and their descendants is intended to foster and encourage curiosity in the people who contributed in any way - great or small - to establishing the county, and in its customs, culture, genealogy and history.

The population of San Mateo County was low in the mid-1800s; in 1860 it was 3,214 and by 1870 had doubled to 6,635.

There are three categories of early pioneers:

Founding Families – Ancestors who settled before 1879

Early Settlers – Ancestors who settled between 1880 and 1905

Century Families – Ancestors who settled between 1906 and 100 years ago.  Currently this category is from the period of 1906 and 1917.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the First Families Project. You can contribute by attending meetings, doing research, assisting at workshops, or doing your own family history.

We will track the project and provide information, applications for submittal of family documentation, updates, and event schedules here on our website. Click here for the First Families index.

You can read about the application process below.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have at



Click here to download the application form.

Direct descendants of early settlers of San Mateo County may submit an application for inclusion in the First Families Project. Applicants must prove that their ancestor(s) lived within the boundaries of San Mateo County on or before December 31, 1879 for Founding Families, December 31,1905 for Early Settlers or December 31,1916 for Century Families, AND that they are the direct descendant of said person(s). Proof must be sufficient to differentiate between any two persons of the same name residing in the county at the same time.

An applicant does not have to be a resident of San Mateo County to participate in the project.

There are three categories of early pioneers:

Founding Families:

Ancestors who settled before 1879.

Early Settlers:

Ancestors who settled between 1880 and 1905.

Century Families:   

Ancestors who settled between 1906 and 1917.

The completed application must be accompanied by a Family Group Sheet and copies or digital images of legal documents and other records that provide proof of direct descent. (See Rules of Evidence.) Each generation in the direct lineage must have accompanying proof. All documents must have a notation as to their source (exact reference).

Acceptable proofs and eligibility will be determined at the discretion of the First Families Committee. The application and proofs become the property of the San Mateo County Genealogical Society. If accepted, a First Families Certificate will be issued and either presented to the applicant at a Society meeting or forwarded to the applicant by regular mail. If the application is not accepted, notification will be sent to the applicant regarding the reason and the additional proof or missing information may be submitted at no extra charge.


Applicants must present documented proof of each step of descent from the qualifying ancestor. Primary sources are preferred, but secondary sources will be accepted.

Primary Sources:

Vital, Court & Tax Records                Bible Records

Census Records                                 Military Records

Maps & Deeds                                   Newspapers

Wills, Probate & Estate Records        Institutional Records

Birth Records                                     Business Records

Death Records                                   Employment Records

Church & Cemetery Records              City Directories


Secondary Sources:

Local Histories                                    Periodicals

Oral Histories                                      Archives

Societies                                             Libraries

1. Primary or collateral evidence is usually considered to be excellent proof.

2. Secondary evidence such as census records, newspaper clippings, old letters, Bible or other family records, contemporary to the facts reported, is considered almost as authentic (as #1 above). However, copies of old letters, family records, etc. can be accepted as proof only for facts the writer of the record or letter would logically know of his own first-hand knowledge, and they cannot be accepted as proof if they were hearsay from other generations or from other sources. Early county history and biographic compilation may be accepted as collateral or supporting evidence along with primary and secondary evidence.

3. Land transactions (deeds, warrants, grants, etc.) can only be accepted as evidence of settlement in San Mateo County if the record, or subsequent record, actually states that the individual was “of San Mateo County” prior to December 31st ending year of the period you are applying for.

4. Not accepted as proof are the following: circumstantial evidence or hearsay, oral or written or published family traditions, printed or manuscript genealogies, genealogical compilations, lineage papers from patriotic or hereditary societies.

5. If a document merely implies a fact, this is not considered proof. Examples are the expressions, “heirs” and “Heirs-at-law,” used in some probate records. These indicate different relationships in different states, and are not necessarily proof of the direct descent. They could refer to nieces, nephews, cousins, and adopted children.

6. Female ancestors must be referred to and proved by their maiden names, rather than those of their spouses.

7. Additional applications of more than one pioneer ancestor do not require duplicate information or proof. Submit an ancestor chart to show the connecting lineage. Also reference should be made to the prior application papers and the SMCGS number assigned.


Applicants are encouraged to submit more than one source for any step in the proof process.

Do not use a highlighter or marker on your documents. This creates problems if they are microfilmed or copied.

Documentation must be provided for each date listed, even if only an approximation. If you are unsure of the date, do not include it. All documents must include a full source citation. Complete information on citing sources can be found at our library.

Sources from printed material, as well as courthouse and other government documents, must provide the Title, Date of Publication, Author, Volume, and Page Number of the book/document/newspaper/periodical. Include a copy, photograph, or other facsimile copy of the pertinent pages. Typed, hand printed or hand written copies of documents must be certified as “True Copies” to be considered acceptable as proof.

No information from the internet or any County Heritage Book or LDS records will be accepted without accompanying documentation. Family Group Sheets submitted without documentation of the information on the sheet will not be accepted.

If Bible records are used, a photocopy of the title page with date of publication should be included, if possible. Photocopies of Census Records should cite the year county/township name, and page number for the ancestor.

Make photocopies or digital images on CD of your sources of proof. Do Not Send Original Material.

On the reverse side of each document put the generation number, the source citation for that document, SMCGS – First Families, your name, address, phone number and email. This will help ensure that the papers in your file remain together. This step is not necessary if you submit your data on a CD.


If you wish to submit and application and someone has already proven part of your ancestral line, for the common ancestor refer to SMCGS No.___and Generation Number_____ and then prove the rest of your descent.

The maiden name of maternal ancestors would have to be proven to be included. However, to honor the women who bore more than their share of toil and privations, proof that she was “of the area” may be based on proving a child was born there. A father is not proved as being in the area just because a child was born there.

A Family Group Sheet (FGS) is a snapshot of a particular family in a particular generation, often in a particular location. A Family Group Sheet is the most basic report in genealogy. Extended into the past, group sheets provide the information for a Pedigree Chart; extended into the present, they provide a Descendant Report. As the most basic building block for family research, most computer genealogy programs produce them. Genealogists are glad to get them in the mail or find them on-line.


All documentation submitted with an application becomes the property of the San Mateo County Genealogical Society for inclusion in their library. All lineage charts and family group sheets will be available to the public. The Society plans to compile a Heritage Book of First Families and Early Settlers. Information will be available on the Society’s website and at the library use of researchers.

No private information will be place in the file and no information on living persons will be available to the public.

The applicant should indicate his/her preference regarding the sharing of his/her contact information with other researchers of the ancestor.


Please include your application forms, photocopies documents and/or digital images on a thumb drive, and a $25 check payable to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society.