Canadian Genealogy · Chinese Genealogy

Over 5K new Chinese Canadian records are now online at Héritage Canadiana

In this post I will discuss the new release of digitized records at Héritage Canadiana, show you how to access them and then share some thoughts about what the aggregated collection can teach us.

What is a C.I.9?

A Chinese Immigration Certificate no. 9 is a Canadian reentry certificate. They were official government documents issued to Chinese per the Chinese Immigration Act (1885-1947). Only Chinese, if they wished to leave and return, were required to first apply for permission to reenter. The paperwork involved acquiring a photo and approval from the Chinese Immigration Branch authorities. Approvals were processed quickly: I have seen many that were completed within twenty-four hours of departure.

C.I.9s were single use certificates. Put another way, a person needed a C.I.9 for each trip out of the country (about 1910-1953) and it is therefore possible for frequent travellers to have multiple certificates.

New C.I.9s at Héritage Canadiana

Héritage Canadiana (HC) has released almost 5700 digitized Chinese Immigration no. 9 certificates from the Port of Vancouver, 1928-1930. The images come from two sequential microfilms held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC): T-16603 and T-16604. There does not appear to be a gap between the films; thus, the records span the full eighteen months, as show in the diagram below.

Reels T-16603 and T16604

This new release of records is not currently available anywhere else, which means at least for the time being, a researcher must search both LAC and HC for C.I.9s.

These records show that nearly 5700 Chinese people travelled from across Canada to sail from Vancouver, British Columbia. Both men and women are represented in the records, although the men outnumber the women approximately one hundred to one, and they come from all over British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Surprisingly, the Chinese from Quebec all live in one place: Montreal. Unless they lived nearby, it’s likely they took the train west: crossing through the Rockies on the tracks built by the sweat of thousands of Chinese labourers, to roll into the Vancouver train terminus at Main and Terminal.

This seems like a lot of movement: over three hundred departures per month. Why would that be? I theorize a push/pull situation. On the push side, the Chinese Exclusion Act, in place since 1923, had banned nearly all new Chinese immigrants. If these 5600 wanted to see their families, they’d have to go to China, and in the era of exclusion, the C.I.9s would be their only way back to Canada. On the pull side, it’s possible that Chiang Kai-Sheck’s new Nationalist government, promising reforms and hope for a better future, caused some to reconsider their lives in Canada. (There’s another possibility: some might be going home and hoping to sell their reentry permits.)

Google map showing Ports of Vancouver and Hong Kong

Reel T-16603

Here are the details:

  • Name: “Records of entry and other records: T-16603″
  • Microfilm reel no: T-16603
  • 2845 images
  • Dates: 15 Nov 1928 to 2 Oct 1929
  • Document nos. 64990 to 67819
  • Departing: Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Reel T-16604

Here are the details:

  • Name: “Records of entry and other records: T-16604”
  • Microfilm reel no: T-16604
  • 2851 images
  • Dates: 2 Oct 1929 to 2 Jun 1930
  • Document nos. 67820 to 70659
  • Departing: Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

How to find the records

In this section I will explain how to find the records at Héritage Canadiana. As of 20 Feb 2022, the records are not searchable, either on this site or at LAC. It’s been my experience that LAC’s Collection Search eventually catches up to the records at Héritage but if you want to research now, here’s how to do it.

Go to Heritage Canadiana.

Type “16603” (shown) or “16604” into the Search box.

Type 16603 into the Search box

The correct source will likely be at the top of the results: “Records of entry and other records: T-16603.” Click on the name.

Records of entry and other records


There are 2845 pages to explore. To navigate, either click the dropdown box at left (shown) or choose the advance arrows left and right.

Navigating the database “Records of entry and other records: T-16603”

If you locate a record you would like to keep, right click on the image to download it.

What is on a C.I.9?

Everything. C.I.9s are original records that, in the absence of vital records, provide biographical information. Immigration officials recorded the following details:

  • Full name and alias and sometimes the name in Chinese
  • Year of immigration (and sometimes conveyance)
  • Current place of residence in Canada
  • Length of time in Canada
  • Other Chinese Immigration Certificate identity numbers (e.g., C.I.5s, C.I.28s, C.I.36s, which together help locate the original entry on the General Register of Chinese Immigration)
  • Present occupation (and what a litany of poorly paid jobs, among them laundryman, houseboy, car cleaner, sawmill [worker], restaurant [worker], cook, farmer, and the job lacking even a description: labourer)
  • Place of birth
  • Height
  • Physical description
  • Name of attestor
  • Photo
  • Date and place person left the country
  • Date and place person reentered the country

Occasionally there are surprising facts, such as this example where the immigration official processing Wai Gin Ham’s return on 17 Oct 1930 tried to describe why the person standing in front of him didn’t look like the photo on his C.I.9. The notation reads, “Suffered loss of right eye through explosion of gun while hunting in China leaving long scar on right cheek.”

Excerpt, 1928 C.I.9 of Wai Gin Ham

This record for Leong Yue Tong strikes me with his quiet dignity and bearing. After forty-six years in Canada, he’s looking forward to seeing his family again. He boldly signs his Chinese name beside the “X.”

Excerpt, 1928 C.I.9 of Leong Yue Tong

What else does a collection like this tell us?

Ships lists

I notice since the records are consecutively ordered that images 2-161 are all for the Empress of Russia departing on 17 Nov 1928: that’s 159 people. There are no passenger lists for outgoing passengers, but if I needed to, I could use these records to make a comprehensive passenger list, and by checking the Vancouver Sun for the same date, I know she left as scheduled.

Departure of the Empress of Russia, Vancouver, BC 17 Nov 1928

Friends, Associates, and Neighbours (F-A-N)

It’s clear that only people with good character references were able to secure a C.I.9 and only people or businesses of good character were able to give references. Among the references were entities such as:

  • Wing Sang and Co. (managed by son Yip Kew Mow after the death of Yip Sang in 1927)
  • Ying Tai & Co., merchants, New Westminster
  • Seto More, President of the Chinese Benevolent Association

Formal studio photos

Nearly every photo is a studio portrait showing a clean, well-groomed, neatly-dressed man in a suit and tie. They all look as though they’ve come fresh from the barbershop with clean shaves and fresh haircuts. The clothes might be borrowed but the grooming is impeccable. Very few wear glasses.

In 1928-1930, the photographer Yucho Chow had his studio on Pender and then Main Streets. It’s likely he was the photographer for many of these certificates, particularly after his 1930 move to 518 Main Street. Here’s a map showing the easy 2.5 kms (1.5 miles) walk from the train terminus to the studio and then down to the approximate location of the port.

Map showing 1928 locations of train terminus, Yucho Chow’s photography studio, and the Port of Vancouver

Postscript

C.I.9s are some of the richest Canadian records available to a Chinese genealogist, along with the “General Register of Chinese Immigration.” There are fifteen reels’ worth of C.I.9s currently available at LAC, each with about three thousand records, or forty-five thousand in total. The new collection at HC brings the number up to 50,700. This is about as good as it gets in genealogy: a massive influx of the best possible records, completely free and available to you from home.

Thank yous

Thanks this week to John Reid at Anglo-Celtic Connections and Gail Dever at Genealogy à la carte for the head’s up on the new C.I.9s!

References

Catherine Clement, “Yucho Chow: Vancouver Chinatown’s first and most prolific photographer,” [blog], YuchoChow.Ca (https://www.yuchochow.ca/yucho-chow/ : accessed 21 Feb 2022).

Department of Employment and Immigration, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, “Chinese immigration records : C.I.9 certificates from Vancouver and Victoria,” [digital images], HéritageCanadiana.ca (https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_mikan_161413 : accessed 2 Dec 2017); citing Library and Archives Canada mikan 161413, 180178, RG 76 D2di.

Héritage Canadiana (https://heritage.canadiana.ca : accessed 20 Feb 2022).

“Immigrants from China, 1885-1949,” “General Registers of Chinese Immigration,” [digital images], Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/immigrants-china-1885-1949/Pages/introduction.aspx : accessed 21 Feb 2022).

Province of British Columbia, Department of Immigration and Colonization, Chinese Immigration Branch, Vancouver, British Columbia, “Records of entry and other records :T-16603,” Chinese immigration certificates no. 9, [digital images], image 278, record no. 65268, record of Wai Gin Ham, 28 Nov 1928, Héritage Canadiana (https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_t16603/278?r=0&s=2 : accessed 20 Feb 2022); citing LAC reel T-16603, identifier no. 156416. 

___ image 382, record no. 65373, record of Leong Yue Tong, 29 Nov 1928, Héritage Canadiana (https://heritage.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.lac_reel_t16603/382?r=0&s=2 : accessed 20 Feb 2022); citing LAC reel T-16603, identifier no. 156416.  

“Ships in Port,” The Vancouver Sun, 17 Nov 1928, pg. 30, col. 3, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, [digital images], Google Newspaper Archive (https://news.google.com/newspapers : accessed 21 Feb 2022). Notes departures for ships Texada, Sagoland, Nankoh Maru, Empress of Russia.

4 thoughts on “Over 5K new Chinese Canadian records are now online at Héritage Canadiana

      1. I have reason to believe that he had an earlier visit to Toisan but haven’t found the record at LAC yet. I’m hoping to see more reels of CI9s for those born abroad (July 1919 to Nov 1928) departing from Vancouver at Heritage.Canadiana in the near future.

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