Evernote for Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

My trip to the archives: how I prepare and what I found

In this post I share how I get ready for a research trip. Research time is precious! Maximize every moment by knowing what you’ll research, where it is, why you want it, and how important it is before you go. You’ll see how I pare down my wishlist from impossible to achievable. Then I’ll share two discoveries with you. This is part two of my two-part BC Archives series. If you’d like to begin with part one see What you need to know to visit the BC Archives today (Sep 2022).

Before the trip: Asana and Evernote

I get ready for a research trip using the project management software Asana and the the notes program Evernote. Together, these two tools are my support team and second brain.

I use the free version of Asana. If you’d like to see how it works, here’s Using Asana for Genealogy.

I’ve been using Evernote since 2014 and I upgraded from free to paid about 2015. If you’re new to Evernote, see What’s Evernote for Genealogy. In 2022, there are about five dozen notes apps on the market but two dominate: Evernote and Notion. As of this writing, I have over twenty-two thousand notes collecting everything from Abbotsford to Zealandia.

Step one: review my Evernote files

Like you, I spend inordinate amounts of time researching obscure documents at odd hours. (Truthfully, sometimes it’s research and sometimes it’s getting lost down rabbit holes.) If only everything was online. I read archival finding aids like a Christmas wish list: I want this, and this, and this too. My curiosity is far bigger than my budget (to pay external researchers). For example, this is a finding aid I found at the BC Archives 14 Nov 2020. My note said, “What are these? Ask researcher to pull files.”

Finding aid, File GR-0166.3.2 – Vancouver, Chinese: forms.

In Evernote I have a tag called “BC Archives To Do List.” This shows all the items (29) I’ve found over the years that piqued my interest. Some research questions date back to 2018.

My BC Archives To Do Research Wish List in Evernote

For example, here are ten in order of Government Record (GR) number:

  • GR-0166.3.2 – Vancouver, Chinese : forms 602101 – 602114
  • GR-1547 – Central registry of the Immigration Branch
  • GR-1547.55 – Dept of Labour re: Chinese, Japanese & Hindoo immigration
  • GR-1547.71 – Gateway, B.C.: detention building
  • GR-1547.72 – Detention buildings at Pacific
  • GR-1665 – BC Archives Correspondence and reports from Department of Provincial Secretary Originals 1887-1953
  • GR-1754 – Mental hospital records
  • GR-1999 – Property tax assessment rolls
  • GR-2881 – List of persons buried in the cemetery at the Public Hospital for the Insane in New Westminster
  • GR-3019 – Provincial mental hospital registers

I mean, look at these. Wouldn’t you want to see what’s in every one of these files? Sadly, research time is limited and choices must be made. After reviewing my research wishlist, I move to Asana to get organized.

Step two: make a research plan

A research plan is personal. Do what makes you comfortable. If you prefer notebooks, by all means use pen and paper. If your plan is in a simple notes program (AppleNotes, OneNote), great! You’ve got a list. You might use AirTable. There’s no wrong way to make a plan – the important point is that you have a plan. I use Asana for planning. Asana is project management software – like a supercharged To Do list. Here is my project board showing the category “Visit BC” and the card “Visit the BC Archives.”

View of my Asana board showing two categories and one card: Visit the BC Archives.

There are six items in my subtasks for the “Visit BC archives” card. From the Evernote wishlist, I made my priority research list. My first task here is “Review Genealogy To Do List in Evernote, make a spreadsheet.” This reminds me to check for all the vital statistics records I want to pull.

My plan keeps me on course when it’s too easy to get distracted.

Step three: Map out your timeframes

I planned for three days of research: three mornings and three afternoons with a one hour break for lunch, for a total of six separate sessions.

Any researcher will tell you that real life research takes much more time than you expect. When I visit archives, I am on a mission to extract as much as possible in the time I have. I don’t analyze. I’m there to research fonds and pull records. For example, I was able to pull thirty-nine birth, marriage, and death (BMD) records on my list (saving myself $1300) in two sessions. (Thirty-nine records in about six hours is nine minutes/record.) This is a good use of my time but it meant I had just two days for doing more substantive work. From the above, I had twenty-nine fonds (groups of records) to find which meant a hard choice:

Should I see more fonds superficially or less fonds deeply?

I classify archival research into three broad categories:

  • Pulling records – You know what records you want – it’s more a case of getting them as quickly as possible. For example, once you understand how BMD records are microfilmed and how to read the codes, pulling them is easy. (See my previous post here for how to read the codes.)
  • Direct searching You know where you need to look. This is different from pulling records because you don’t know the record(s) you want will be there. For example, I was looking for Won Alexander Cumyow’s will and probate file in “GR-2988 British Columbia Supreme Court (Vancouver) Probate Indexes 1952-1973.” He died 1955 in Vancouver. His will and probate should have been in this index but wasn’t.
  • Fond Research You don’t know where you need to look or what you’ll find. This is the delightful rabbit hole of discovery where you can spend dozens of hours without finding anything directly relevant or you can find a never-before-conceived document that reframes your entire understanding of history.

Putting the two concepts together – how much time have I got, and how will I spend it – I decided on the following plan for my six total sessions:

  • Get every BMD I’ve previously identified (two sessions) – results: thirty-nine records
  • Research Alexander Won Cumyow’s probate file (one session) – NIL results
  • Research the correspondence of the Chinese Immigration Branch with regards immigration sheds (one session) – results: forty-eight records of Chinese detained on arrival at Vancouver / Victoria 1921-23
  • Research Chinese partnership agreements in Vancouver (one session) – results: thirty-one partnership agreements 1895-1900
  • Review research done and clean up any priority items (one session)

What I found

In this section I’ll share two excerpts from my research.

GR-1547 – Central registry of the Immigration Branch, 1873-1968

This massive archive of 583 reels would take a lifetime to review. Topics include:

  • Detention hospital, Vancouver 1905-20
  • Immigration building at Victoria 1892-1896
  • Medical inspection of immigrants at Vancouver 1905-26
  • Medical inspection of immigrants at Victoria 1905-23
  • Vancouver immigration building 1890-1908

Fortunately, the finding aid is detailed, which allowed me to quickly choose which microfilms to review. I looked at four.

GR-2325 – BC County Court (Vancouver) 1894-1949

Here is one of the gems: an 1898 partnership agreement amongst my great-grandfather Yip Sang and his business partners for the Wing Sang Company: Charley Yipyen (cousin), Yip Hing, Yip On (cousin), Yip Loy Quong, Yip Long, Yip Yow, Wei Yick, Yip Sing, and Yip Sue Ung. I recognize only three of the ten names but suspect they are all family. It’ll be a while before I analyze the documents fully, including the intriguing list of notes you see on the left.

Excerpt, 1898 Business Partnership Agreement for the Wing Sang Company, Vancouver, BC. Royal BC Museum and Archives, from microfilm, Victoria, BC.


I will never leave an archive feeling I’ve done enough. The truth is I’d need three weeks or even three months to get everything done and so it’s not my efficiency that’s the issue: it’s my expectations. I think I did well for my three days’ of work and it will be a long time before I fully analyze and process what I did find.

Next week: a visit to the Chinese Museum, Victoria

Thank yous

Thank yous this week go out to the denizens of the archives. Being at the archives was literally being among friends. It was lovely to see all the archivists who’d answered my questions over the years. I met Chris, a local researcher I’d hired, again putting a face to a relationship that had been entirely virtual. I met Walter, cousin to another friend of mine, and had the pleasure of seeing what he was doing and gaining an impromptu lunch partner. To all my fellow researchers who spend their time with fonds when they could be out enjoying the gorgeous summer, thank you. You get me.

8 thoughts on “My trip to the archives: how I prepare and what I found

  1. Hi Linda,
    Magnificent research done by you.
    You are spot-on about the 1898 Business Partnership Agreement for the Wing Sang Company, Vancouver – all from the YIP family – it was a gem of a find!
    How on earth did you find that? Did you physically have to go through microfilm-by-microfilm at the Museum and Archives? I may have to do the same & any suggestions will be great.
    I’m in the process of trying to track down the 1909 Partnership Agreement for the Wing Sang Company, Seattle with the Washington State Archives. The founders were all of the CHIN / CHAN family of Mi Kong, including my Great Grandfather. I suspect my Great grandfather, CHIN Cheo in Seattle got inspiration for the name from the trips he made back to Kwangtung Province and Hong Kong.
    In contrast, the 1890 Business Registration Certificate for the Wing Sang Company, Sydney, which was founded by the MA / MAR family in screen dumped on this website: https://www.heritagecorridor.org.au/places/the-wing-sang-co-buildings-sydney
    One of the descendants of the Sydney founders was in disbelief recently when I pointed out to him that, historically there were Wing Sang & Company / Wing Sang Company stores in other cities of the world.

    1. Why thank you – what a lovely thing to say.

      I found the agreement the old fashioned way: by physically advancing hundreds of documents on microfilm and taking downloads of the ones that look interesting! I’m interested in the subject of HOW Chinese people did business and I feel the community was so close-knit that even if I don’t recognize a business name now, I might in future. I keep a list of Yip Sang’s other business interests but he was involved in so many I don’t flatter myself I know them all. I therefore collected everything I could find 1894-1902 and this one was among them.

      Imagine it: Wing Sang’s around the world. If only they were partners..!

    1. On the one hand I feel silly for not having thought to check HC for these films but on the other I’m deeply grateful to be reminded because now I get to check the records from the comfort of my own home! Thank you, thank you.

  2. Hi Mary,
    Thank you for sharing your advice! The records that are now being digitized is wonderful & not readily known. The link you gave will be helpful, will save time, will save money, as I could then do research from my home in Australia.


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