Canadian Genealogy · Chinese Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

The startling details of a Chinese Case File, pt. 4 – How to get your ancestor’s file

In this post, I share thoughts on how you can look for case files for your family. If you’re new to Chinese Case files, I recommend starting with the first part of this series: The startling details of a Chinese Case File – the story of Quon Hing, aka George Sing, pt. 1.

Please note this is my current working theory and that as time progresses, I will be refining and updating. You may wonder why I don’t wait to publish until I have all the kinks worked out and my answer is that we’ve waited long enough for these files.

How to get your own Chinese Case File

Before we begin, I must warn you this is a slow process. You will need tons of patience, be a Canadian, have five dollars and a major credit card. You will significantly increase your chances of success if you already have your ancestor’s names as known by the government, and the Case File number.

Table of Case File Numbers

To help you identify Chinese Case File numbers, I have located the following identifiers.

Chinese Case File NumberProbable Meaning
VAN-CHVancouver Chinese
HKHong Kong
VAN-P-CHVancouver Pacific [Regional Office] Chinese
Table of Chinese Case File numbers and their probable meanings.

Step 1: Collect a list of your ancestor’s names

In Chinese genealogy, names are challenging. You will need to know your ancestor’s common English name(s) and various spellings. In addition, it will be helpful to know the names of their businesses because sometimes even immigration officials mixed them up. For example, people often called CHANG Toy by his business name of Sam Kee.

For a lot more about this topic, see Finding the Chinese names of my family: 葉.

Step 2: Find the Chinese Case File number for your ancestor

Step 2a: Consult C.I.44 collections for Case File numbers

New this June, a foundational set of Chinese Immigration records was released to the public.1 The Chinese Immigration no. 44 (C.I.44) forms were a mandatory registration process for all Chinese persons in Canada as of 1 Jul 1923. Most people registered by the deadline of 30 June 1924, but others registered later due to being born or being being out of the country. The date range is 1923-46.

Many C.I.44s have a list of Case File numbers inscribed on them and are the best sources for this information.

Find C.I.44s in:

Step 2b: Consult the records for The Paper Trail collection at UBC

The brainchild of curator Catherine Clement, the Paper Trail exhibition is part exhibition and part crowd-sourced collection of over five hundred Chinese Immigration certificates. To build the collection, Catherine asked people to look in their attics, basements, and garages for original records. Catherine solicited high-resolution scans only, and those without access to scanners were directed to local volunteers.

The exhibition opened at the Chinese Canadian Museum on 30 Jun 2023, with the certificate collection concurrently released at the University of British Columbia Rare Books and Special Collections. This is the only collection of its kind known to be in existence. Given their importance in Chinese Canadian history, these certificates help fill a huge loss in our collective memory.

In the free digital archive, the certificates are scanned front and back. For our purposes in finding Chinese Case file numbers, we want the backs of the certificates.

Find the collection here: Collection RBSC-ARC-1838 – The Paper Trail collection

Step 2c: Consult the General Register of Chinese Immigration for Case File numbers

When I was brainstorming where else a researcher might find a Chinese Case File number, I wondered if the General Register of Chinese Immigration (GRCI) might be useful. It was, after all, the central register for Ottawa.

In the absence of a C.I.44, try the GRCI. Use the numbers in Columns no. 1, “Ottawa Serial No.” and no. 6, “Fyle no.” These are not Case File numbers but may help an archivist find one for you. Also be on the lookout for notes and marginalia (the notations at the edges of a document). [Click on the image.]

Find the GRCI at:

Step 2d: Consult C.I.9s for Chinese Case File numbers

Along with the C.I.44s and the GRCI, the third foundational set of records available for Chinese Canadian genealogy are the Chinese Immigration no. 9 (C.I.9) re-entry documents. It’s unlikely a Chinese Case file number will be inscribed on the form; however, one should check all knowns C.I.9s for marginalia and notes. As with the GRCI, in the absence of a C.I.44, provide all the file numbers you can locate.

Find C.I.9s at:

Step 3: Consult LAC’s finding aids

LAC has two types of finding aids: the ones that appear as a result of a search and the older PDFs that are sometimes attached to the electronic finding aids. I recommend consulting my accumulated meta-list of Chinese Case File finding aids (FAs) at Chinese Immigration Act Case Files: Finding aids at LAC. Some of these finding aids are being digitized and could be available to Collection Search as early as Fall 2023.

You may wish to print them.
Printed binder of finding aids for Chinese Immigration Act case files found at Library and Archives Canada. ©2020 Past Presence.

Even if you don’t have a Case File number, go ahead and make ATIP requests for Case Files with similar names to your family. You’re making a five dollar bet the file you’re requesting is the right one and in genealogy, that’s a cheap investment for a potentially big payoff.

Step 4: Collect all relevant information for your Chinese Case File

I err on the side of too much rather than too little information. Having spent days researching at LAC, I’ve learned that fonds and finding aids get organized and reorganized over the decades. The archivists may use the information you provide to search for even more reference numbers and you don’t want to slow this process down.

Here’s an example:

I am requesting the Case file for “Lee Tang.” Finding aid 76-77, page 41, File #10605, Box 69. From: Chinese Case files. RG & Accession: RG76. Accession number: 1984-85/041 GAD. LAC file link:

ATIP request example created by the author

Here is another, from the “Completed Access to Information Requests” site:

CHINESE CASE Files, RG76, 1984-85/527 GAD, Box 30, File no. CH-1-18124, Name: Lue Jar. Lue Jar immigrated in 1913 under CI-5 certificate number 79715. He was born in China in June 1894 and passed away in June 1994 in Vancouver. I am assuming his case File contain details of his immigration in 1913 and his visit back to China in 1924/1925. I have a File number QMS139353 from the LAC genealogy consultant.

ATIP request example, Completed Access to Information Requests, LAC

Step 5: File an Access to Information and Privacy request

Chinese Case files are only accessible to Canadian citizens through the Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request process at LAC.4 This means that even if you were to show up at LAC in person and ask for the files, you’d be disappointed. The archivists have no power to circumvent the ATIP process. When I visited, a researcher was trying to do exactly that – find an ATIP workaround – and he was firmly refused.

Filing an ATIP request has changed since I last filed one. Now you can start with “Make an ATIP Request” and go through the “Launch the ATIP Assistant.” You’ll need a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express credit card.

Your request should be filled within three months (the normal thirty days plus the usual forty-five day extension). Before you protest, remember I waited 2.75 years for mine, in the days before LAC got lambasted for its ATIP backlog. In June 2023, the ATIP department was considerably enlarged.5

PRO TIP: Be sure to keep a copy of your confirmation on hand. I’m currently discussing two of my ATIP requests which were apparently filled but never received.

My own journey with Chinese Case Files

I met Marisa Louie Lee in September, 2019. Marisa, who is based in California, is an an expert in U.S. Chinese Case Files.6 She was researching worldwide Chinese genealogy resources and had found something intriguing at Library and Archives Canada: “Chinese Case Files.”

Could it be true? Did Canada really keep U.S.-style Case Files for its Chinese population? I’d never heard of such a thing. Yet there it was, “Finding Aid 76-84,” showing a list of Case File numbers beginning with “CH-1-x” and a nominal index.7

It took almost four years to prove Marisa’s theory correct – that Canada kept mind-bogglingly detailed case files on its Chinese population – but first I had to learn what a Case File was. I had the pleasure of attending her lecture, “Immigration and Exclusion in the United States,” at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in Salt Lake City, UT, in Jan 2020.8 There, we studied Chinese Case Files and I learned how shockingly comprehensive they could be. I came home wondering if these things really existed for Canadians.

Covid hit Saskatchewan in March, 2020. I abandoned my office and spent my time scouring LAC for information and finding aids. So many were frustrating lists of file numbers with no names. Some were restricted. Let me repeat that: some of the finding aids are unfindable due to privacy legislation. This strikes me as ridiculous: the government kept detailed files about the public for almost a century, compiled finding aids, and then decided even the finding aids were too much to share with the public.

It was Kafkaesque.

I wrote up my discoveries in Chinese Immigration Act Case Files: Finding aids at LAC. I’ve been updating that post ever since, and have accumulated a meta-list of twenty-six finding aids. Due to their nature, I suspect there are more because they might be called something other than Case Files (like Chinese immigration records).

I’ve worked with about fifty Case Files since 2019 but most are from the National Archives and Records Administration in Seattle and Boston.9 In the U.S., Chinese Case files are a subset of the Chinese Exclusion Act Records and are a staple of Chinese-American genealogy. Unlike Canada, older Case Files are unrestricted and available to anyone. As this series shows, one Case File can provide a level of detail about an ancestor that is available nowhere else. What’s surprising is how useful American Case Files can be for Canadians. I’ll say it again: the U.S. kept files on Canadian Chinese whenever they crossed the border.

I filed a handful of ATIP requests in October, 2020 and received my first Canadian Chinese Case File on 28 Jul 2023 – two years, nine months later. It was a 1950s application to reunite a family. It was detailed but not like the American files I’d seen. I was both disappointed and relieved that it wasn’t the surveillance file I feared it might be.

Canada’s not so bad, I thought.

Then I got George’s file. This series is the result.


This is the follow up post to “Chinese Immigration Act Case Files: Finding aids at LAC,” written exactly three years ago. In that post, I’d hoped to one day acquire a Canadian Chinese Case file. Now I have seen four and they are everything I’d hoped – and feared – they would be. For my community, simultaneously ignored by some systems while being overdocumented in others, it feels right that we reacquire the information collected about us.

Join me on Facebook at Genealogy for Asian Canadians, where we are pooling our collective knowledge in real-time.

Thank yous

Like anything that takes years to accomplish, I didn’t do this alone. Thank you to Marisa Louie Lee, Alice Kane, Kelly Summers, June Chow, Carol Lee, Robert Louie, Allen Mar, Betty Tang, and Connor Mah. Thank you to the LAC archivists who’ve helped along the way, from Vancouver to Ottawa. Thank you to my friends at the Chinese Family History Group, the Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files, and the archivists at NARA (Boston) and NARA (Seattle). To Ancestry®, for making their Chinese Exclusion Act Records collection free. And thank you to Linda Stufflebean and Gail Dever for keeping me informed. [Updated: There is always a risk when making a list like this that I forget important people.] Thank you to Catherine Clement for her extraordinary work and vision.


1For more, read June’s excellent post. June Chow, “New to Chinese Canadian genealogy: C.I.44 records of registration,” 29 Jun 2023, blog, Canadian Research Knowledge Network ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

2“Collection Search,” 20 Jul 2023, database lookup, Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

3Government of Canada, “Completed Access to Information Requests,” 1 Mar 2023, website, Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

4Government of Canada, “Access to Information and Privacy,” 9 Aug 2023, website, Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

5Government of Canada, “June 2023 update,” 29 Jun 2023, website, Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

6Marisa Louie Lee, “Genealogical & Historical Research,” website, Marisa Louie Lee ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

7Canada, Department of Employment and Immigration fonds, Immigration Program sous-fonds, Chinese immigration records, Chinese case files, (1900-1966), textual records, ID no. 43293, reference RG76, 1984-85/527 GAD, Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023); Finding Aid 76-84 ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023).

8Marisa was one of the lecturers for “Chinese Ancestry: Resources Methods and Sources,” coordinated by Kelly Summers, AG. This course is offered periodically. See Salt Lake institute of Genealogy ( : accessed 20 Aug 2023); also see my post “Top 10 thing I learned at SLIG.”

9U.S., National Archives at Seattle, “Chinese Exclusion Act Records at the National Archives at Seattle,” 6 Jan 2021, Museum and Archives, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) ( : accessed 21 Aug 2023).

5 thoughts on “The startling details of a Chinese Case File, pt. 4 – How to get your ancestor’s file

  1. And then there’s the “Linda Yip Finding Aids, Parts 1-4”
    We’ve all been learning the terrible hateful political mess of these various Acts and documentation produced as you have worked your way meticulously through every clue found, with detailed blog posts! The results blow my mind. Plus the online results which can now be found on Ancestry and archives in both Canada and the US. A sincere thank you from me for all your work – on some levels we are all impacted.

    1. Me too! There are still times I think, “No. That can’t be right.” But we are genealogists and we follow the clues to their outcome. We double check our logic and method. We make theories and test, revise and write some more. And the results are the results. Now that I (and dedicated readers like you) know this, the next question is, “What can we do with it?” That’s where I am now. What indeed.


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