Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding aid to the San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records, 1902-1956 (bulk 1906-1956)
SFH 30  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (87.65 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Related Materials
  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Title: San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records
    Date (inclusive): 1902-1956
    Date (bulk): 1906-1956
    Collection Identifier: SFH 30
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA, 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    info@sfpl.org
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.
    Physical Description: 970.0 volumes (ca.171.5 cubic feet)
    Physical Location: The collection is stored off-site. A minimum of two working days’ notice is required for use.
    Abstract: The San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records contain the death reports (1906-1956) of individuals who died in San Francisco and whose deaths legally required investigation. The records also include Necropsy Reports (1928-1956), six volumes of Personal Descriptions of Unknown / Unidentified Dead (1902-1927, 1931-1940), a two-volume Register of Deaths (Dec. 1906-May 1915), and one volume of Coroner's Office Statistics (1913-1931).
    Creator: San Francisco (Calif.). Chief Medical Examiner.

    Access

    The collection is open for research and stored offsite. A minimum of two working days' notice is required for use. Please call the San Francisco History Center for hours and information at 415-557-4567.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records (SFH 30), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

    Provenance

    The San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records were transferred to The San Francisco Public Library in 2005.

    Related Materials

    Researchers are encouraged to see also City Records vol. 188: Record of Sale of Unclaimed Articles by Chief of Police and Coroner, 1860-1898; and Allen, Terence Beckington, MD. San Francisco Coroner's Office: A History, 1850-1980, 3rd ed. San Francisco: Redactors' Press, 2002.

    Biographical/Historical note

    The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, originally known as the Coroner's Office, is a county department whose legal mandate is to investigate, document, and certify sudden or unexpected individual deaths due to unnatural or unknown causes, including homicide, suicide, or accident; deaths unattended by a physician or of unidentified persons; or deaths in which there is some other potential public health interest at stake, such as suspected contagious disease.
    The history and function of a medical examiner is distinct from but related to that of a coroner. While traditionally a lay office that is distinct from law enforcement and the medical profession, the Coroner has, in practice and over the course of its professionalization, overlapped with both. For example, although the Coroner is not required to be a medical doctor, San Francisco coroners have all been trained physicians since 1857. In many counties in California, the Coroner is or has been also the Sheriff.
    A medical examiner is required to be a physician, certified by the American Board of Pathology in forensic pathology and experienced in the forensic sciences. While both medical examiners and coroners have the authority to conduct inquests—juried investigations to determine cause and manner of death—the coroner's system made more frequent use of them than does today's medical examiner system. Over the last several decades, due to budgetary and legal concerns, the number of inquests conducted in San Francisco has severely decreased, so that today, although one of the functions of the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office is to present evidence in court, it rarely conducts separate inquests. Both medical examiners and coroners have the power and, in some cases, the legal obligation, to conduct autopsies.
    In San Francisco in 1916, a long-running public controversy began about whether to replace the coroner system with a medical-examiner system. By July 1973, the name of the office reflected this dual-role when it began appearing in Annual Reports as the Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office. Today, the office is known simply as the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and its website describes it as "a modern replacement for the Coroner's Office."
    Until 1951, San Francisco coroners were elected; thereafter, they were appointed as part of the Civil Service and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

    Scope and Contents

    The San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records contain the death reports (1906-1956) of individuals who died in San Francisco and whose deaths legally required investigation. The records also include Necropsy Reports (1928-1956), six volumes of Personal Descriptions of Unknown / Unidentified Dead (1902-1927, 1931-1940), a two-volume Register of Deaths (Dec. 1906-May 1915), and one volume of Coroner's Office Statistics (1913-1931). As noted above in the Administrative History, not all deaths that occur within the City and County of San Francisco are reported to or recorded by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Since deaths due to natural causes are not usually reported and therefore are not recorded in these records, these records do not contain a comprehensive record of deaths in San Francisco.
    Most of the Office's records prior to January 1906 were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of April 1906. Copies of records from January 1, 1957 through the present time may be obtained from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant Street - North Terrace, San Francisco, California 94103, telephone number (415) 553-1694; Fax: (415) 553-1650; email: Medical.Examiner@sfgov.org; website: www.sfgov.org/med_examiner. When requesting records, please provide the full name of the deceased person and, if known, the date of death and the Medical Examiner's Case Number. It can take up to a week for the Office to recover the records from storage. Inquest testimony, by which jurors and the coroner determined cause and manner of death, is not part of this collection. Inquests are no longer conducted in most California counties. Inquest testimony is not currently available from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
    Death certificates for all deaths within the City and County of San Francisco may be obtained from the Department of Public Health, Records and Statistics, 101 Grove Street, San Francisco, California 94102, telephone number (415) 554-2710. The Division of Vital Statistics, Birth and Death Registration is located on the first floor of 101 Grove Street.

    Arrangement

    The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Records are arranged in five series: Series 1. Death Reports and Coroner’s Registers (1906-1956); Series 2. Personal Descriptions of Unknown / Unidentified Dead (1902-1927, 1931-1940); Series 3. Necropsy Reports (1928-1956); Series 4. Register of Deaths (December 1906-May 1915); Series 5. Coroner’s Office Statistics (1913-1922).

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    San Francisco (Calif.). Coroner's Office--Archives
    San Francisco (Calif.).Chief Medical Examiner--Archives
    Coroners--California--San Francisco--History
    Death--Causes--Statistics
    Medical examiners (Law)--California--San Francisco--History
    Necrologies--California--San Francisco
    Registers of births, etc.--California--San Francisco
    San Francisco (Calif.)--Registers
    San Francisco (Calif.)--Statistics, Vital
    San Francisco (Calif.). Coroner's Office