During 1776, the De Anza expedition established the Presidio and the Mission Dolores Catholic Church within the current city limits of San Francisco. Catholics were buried at the Mission, and others were buried first at Telegraph Hill and later at North Beach. In 1850, the City opened the first public cemetery, the Yerba Buena Cemetery.
As the city grew, the City abolished the Yerba Buena Cemetery in 1870 and the graves moved to the "newer" cemeteries on Lone Mountain, including the Odd Fellow's and Masonic cemeteries, and the City Cemetery. By the 1890s and 1900s, the City and citizens realized with the rapid expansion of the growth that the cemeteries were taking up valuable land. During the 1910s, they began to pass City Ordinances to remove the current cemeteries. During the 1920s, the Masonic and Odd Fellow's were moved to the Town of Lawndale, south of San Francisco and in San Mateo county. The removals for the Calvary and Laurel Hill cemeteries were held up in court challenges and it wasn't until about 1941 that the removals were finished. The name of Lawndale was changed in the 1940s to Colma.
There were two other major cemeteries in the San Francisco area: the Presidio and the City Cemetery (also known as Golden Gate Cemetery and included Potter's Field). The San Francisco National Cemetery (also known as the Presidio cemetery) was established in 1884 and still exists to this day.
The City Cemetery, established in 1868, included a number of different organizations, and it appears that portions of the older cemeteries were moved here at some point. Eventually everyone in this cemetery supposedly was moved and the area became Fort Miley, a municipal golf course, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. But, during renovation and expansion of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in the summer of 1993, "about 300 corpses from the Gold Rush era—two of them still clutching rosaries, others were wearing dentures and Levis—were unearthed from what appears to be an old pauper's graveyard. Some experts say another 11,000 bodies might lie underneath the museum grounds" according to a Los Angeles Times article. The archeaologists actually found over 700 individual bodies. [info]
Within each cemetery section are articles from local newspapers and other information which chronicle events and happenings of the past. The General section has a couple of excellent articles covering most of the early cemeteries. Also available is a 1950 report from the City Planner that gives an interesting history and overview.