Brick Wall Case Studies #11: Locating a San Francisco man's parents when a fire destroyed many of the genealogical records

Matthew lived in San Francisco for many years and the vital records burned in a fire in 1906. Census records, newspapers, city directories, cemetery records, and voting records identified his parents.

What We Knew

  • Matthew Zimmerman died 19 February 1905 in San Francisco, California. His tombstone is found in the Holy Cross Cemetery.
  • Matthew Zimmerman was in the 1900 census in San Francisco living with his wife and children. He was listed as born in November 1861 in California.
  • Matthew Zimmerman was in the 1880 census as a son-in-law with Michael Brandhofer as the head of the household age 58 born in Austria; Henrietta Brandhofer his wife, age 48 born in Germany; and Theodore Brandhofer, a son.

Records We Located

  • Due to the 1906 fire, death and marriage records were not available for Matthew. However, we could search the newspapers for information.
  • We located an obituary for Matthew Zimmerman by contacting the San Francisco Public Library. There was an obituary printed for him that listed him as aged 42 years, 3 months, and 8 days, making his birth date 8 November 1862. The obituary listed his brother Theodore Brandhofer of San Francisco.
  • Matthew's obituary clarified the information on the1880 census. Since Theodore was his brother, this meant that rather than a son-in-law, Mathew was a step-son to the head of the household, Michael Brandhofer, making his mother Henrietta.
  • Since we knew that Matthew was born in 1862 and Theodore was born in 1867, we knew that Matthew's father would have died in this time range.
  • We searched the death notices in the San Francisco newspapers between 1862 and 1867 and found one man named Zimmerman in this time period. The newspaper states that Mathias Zimmerman died suddenly of congestion of the brain on 15 October 1866.
  • We located this same Mathias Zimmerman in the Holy Cross Cemetery, the same place that Matthew Zimmerman had been buried. Henrietta Brandhofer was also buried in this same cemetery.
  • We located Matthias in the Great Register of San Francisco of 1867. He was listed as 42 years old, born in Germany, a merchant. He naturalized 10 April 1854 in Cincinnati OH, and he registered to vote 26 Jun 1866.
  • We looked at the city directories of San Francisco. In the 1866 San Francisco city directory, Matthias was listed listed as a fruit seller living at 136 Second. In the 1867 San Francisco city directory, Henrietta Zimmerman was listed as a fruit seller living at 136 Second, the same address.


Matthew Zimmerman's father was Matthias Zimmerman who died in 1866. His mother was Henrietta who married first, Matthias Zimmerman and then second, Michael Brandhofer. The documents and sources we gathered are found on the person page of Matthew Zimmerman and his family members in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID LK7Y-CKP.

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