Chinese Genealogy · Family history stories · Genealogy How Tos · Photo and film scanning · Photo History

Reader’s choice – the top 10 list for 2019

Who doesn’t love a good list? For the first time ever, here are my best-read posts for the year. We’ll do this Johnny Carson style, starting with Number 10.

Number 10 – Travels in China – the beginning

Going to the village of my ancestors with the Chinese Canadian Historical Society’s Heritage of Cantonese Migration Tour in October was revelatory, both personally and professionally. I am still processing all that I learned about Chinese genealogy, family connections, culture, and the importance of having knowledgeable guides.

In this post I outline some of the basics for travel in China, from geography to names. In China, nothing is straightforward, and surprises abound.
Mountains as seen from the Yip ancestral village. Shentang Village, Duhu, Jiagmen, China. Oct 2019. © Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Number 9 – My fave Facebook groups for Genealogy

In 2019, I really began to make the most out of Facebook for genealogy. I think a lot of us did. In this post, I start off with simple searches in Facebook user groups, and then go into my lists of groups for Canada, for countries of interest (e.g., Saskatchewan, N. Ireland, Asia), and for areas of interest (e.g., Genetic Genealogy, Technology for Genealogy, and Mac Genealogy).

Picture of Facebook group
Photo credit: Gerard Altmann for Pixabay. Available at

Number 8 – Genealogy Gold Part 2 – finding local histories using Family Search and Facebook

It started with a research question  – Jan from England was tracing her family lines in Saskatchewan and came across a promising local history title. Her question led to a three part blog series on finding local histories. This is the second of the series. See below for the first part.

Number 7 – Top 12 tips on getting the most out of (for Canada, for free)

In June, had their free trial weekend. As they say, I cleared my desk and laid in the snacks. I could not believe what I was able to find in 24 hours (3 days, 8 hrs/day): 300+ articles on my family.

I wrote a blog post about it, sharing my top research tips and insights from my life as a former newspaper insider. (I worked for the Calgary Sun for 12.5 years.)

Photo of newspapers
Photo by brotiN biswaS from Pexels

Number 6 – Behind the scenes – my scanning setup

In January, with the mercury hovering at somewhere near minus a million, I was spending a lot of time catching up on my scanning projects. I hit on the idea of talking about all the technical setups, from dpi settings and tracking my progress with a journal, to photos of my equipment. I’d recently bought a very fast automatic feed scanner, and I was enraptured.
My home office scanning station. Credit: Linda Yip. © Linda Yip. All rights reserved.

Number 5 – How to find a family that disappeared from 1916 to 1921 – using Canadian census records

This post was inspired by a a discussion on Facebook about Canadian census records. The reader was able to find her family in one census but couldn’t trace them in the next. I sat down to write a quick How To, and ended up drafting for about 10 hours.

This post is a mini-lesson: stating the problem, identifying the freely available sources, then describing how to find a family step by step. To test my theories, I chose a family at random and used the results as an example. For city locations, I touch on using directories in conjunction with census records.

Screen Shot 2019-03-09 at 3.01.00 PM
1921 Census of Canada,

Number 4 – How I saved a lot of money on Ancestry’s World Deluxe membership

I am a faithful subscriber to Ancestry. You would think, wouldn’t you, that Ancestry would reward its loyal members with a discount on renewal? Because it doesn’t, I resorted to cancelling my membership and waiting for the renewal offer that never came. Here’s how I got my discount.

saving money
Photo credit: via Pexels.

And now, the top 3 blogs of 2019: local histories, Force 136, and photo scanning

Number 3 – Genealogy gold part 1: the who, what, why, where and how of local history books in the Canadian prairies

In this post, I share how to find the right keywords to find an ancestor’s local history book by using census data. I use the 1916 and 1926 Prairie censuses, plus the 1921 Canadian census as examples, then I discuss where to find local histories online. Most folk know about the local histories on what was once RootsWeb and is now the University of Calgary (see below), but there are also books on Peel’s Prairie Provinces and the University of Manitoba Online.

Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 6.26.46 PM
Local histories, University of Calgary Online Collection

Number 2 – The James Bonds of Chinatown: meet Force 136

This is by far my favourite post.

It’s the story of my uncle, Dake Wing Yip, and his secret life as a WWII commando. He was a real life James Bond who never once breathed a word of his super-secret mission. Uncovering his story, and the story of the 150-odd men and women of Force 136 has been my abiding passion for at least 10 years since discovering his picture in a book called Saltwater City.
Page 111, featuring Dick Yip and the members of Force 136. From Saltwater City by Paul Yee.

Since this blog was posted, I’ve been in touch with many people, among them Capt. Colin Stevens of the BC Genealogical Society, war buff and military expert; Catherine Clement, curator of Chinatown through a wide lens; members of the Facebook Group Behind the Lines – SOE and the Clandestine War; and friends and family of Force 136 members.

In July, Val Erde chose one of Dick’s photos to colour. If you haven’t yet seen this, it is breathtaking. See Force 136 like you’ve never seen them – in living colour.

It’s been quite a year.

Number 1 – 11 tips for anyone starting a photo scanning project

It’s a big part of genealogy – what do we do with the pictures?

In 2013, I undertook a scanning project that would take five years to complete. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do in that time. For the story of that first project, see The family picture scanning project: how I digitized 3000 images in my spare time. That project ended up being 8,000+ images and is now a huge genealogical resource, and not just for my family. This year I was able to contribute material to two books, but more on that later!

In this follow up post, I distill the information into one list full of advice on all things scanning, from tracking your progress to deciding on filenames. I’m going to have to reread it all myself, because I’ve now got two more scanning projects lined up. 2020 is already looking like a busy year.
5000 pictures, sorted by size and year and ready for high-speed scanning. Copyright 2019 Past Presence. All rights reserved.


Photo of Linda Yip during presentation
Linda Yip presenting to the Saskatoon Branch, Saskatchewan Genealogy Society. Photo: SGS 2018.

If I had to sum up the year in one word after writing this list, it would be community.

I am profoundly grateful to be connecting with people far and wide through this blog. I’ve mentioned a number of people and groups by name in this post, but there are so many more in this community, such as Gail Dever and her blog Genealogy à la carte; Danica Lorer and her show Lit Happens; the Saskatoon Branch, Saskatchewan Genealogy Society (pictured above); My China Roots; the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation; the BC Archives; the much missed SK archives in Saskatoon; Professor Kwong and her Asian-American Studies class at Indiana University; the Saskatoon Storytellers Guild; the Family History Room at the Frances Morrison Library; and the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver.

To everyone who reads my work, thank you. It is an honour to be on your reading list.


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