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 the pioneers who settled the county. 

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. 

Everyone is welcome to participate in the First Families Project. You can contribute by doing research, sharing stories and pictures, or doing your own family history.

We will track the project and provide mentors and information.  Applications for submittal of family documentation, updates, and event schedules are 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

Submitting your Application can be done by mail (as a CD or in paper format) or as an attachment to



Click here to download the application form.

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

Applicants must prove that the individual/ family lived within the current boundaries of San Mateo County within the date guidelines above.

Applicants who would like to prove linage from the individual/family must provide adequate documentation for each generation. Proof must be sufficient to differentiate between any two persons of the same name residing in the county at the same time.

 Part I Initial Application

To encourage more people to participate we have a two-part process. Part I includes information about the applicant and the pioneer individual/family. In addition to the form and a fee, the applicant is encouraged to write a short narrative about the pioneer individual/family . Photos can be included.

Part II Submission of Evidence

This part expands the depth of accurate information about the pioneer and involves documentation  Source material proving residence in the County is required. Applicants are encouraged to submit genealogical charts, pictures, additional documents and stories about the individuals and their families.

The completed application must be accompanied by a Submission Check List 

and copies or digital images of legal documents and other records that provide proof of direct descent. (See Rules of Evidence.)

If a lineage is included, each generation 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.

SMCGS can assist you with your application.  We offer workshops and classes on ways to organize and research the needed documentation and have mentors who can help with the process. Contact




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 evidence is usually considered to be excellent proof.

2. Secondary evidence will be evaluated on it’s merit.

3. Land transactions (deeds, warrants, grants, etc.) require additional proof of residence, as owners might live outside of county. 


  • 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.
  • All documents must include a full source citation. Complete information on citing sources can be found at our library.
  • Make photocopies or digital images on CD of your sources of proof. Do Not Send Original Material.


Forms to Submit with Application


Submission Checklist (required)   A listing of items required for a complete application. Includes a list of possible sources to prove residency within the county, or the boundaries of the county before it was formed.

Family Group Sheet (optional)  (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.  

Lineage (Optional) Proof of descendance of the submitter from the original pioneer.


Submitters are encouraged to share family stories, photographs and other items of interest as part of their application.


Your Information in the SMCGS Collections

All documentation submitted with an application becomes the property of the San Mateo County Genealogical Society for inclusion in their library for use by researchers. All lineage charts and family group sheets will be available to the public. Information will be available on the Society’s website and blog at the submitters discretion.

No private 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.