This page last updated 8 May 2021.
This page contains resources primarily for British Columbia, Canada.
British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871.
The GNR served Washington, Montana, and North Dakota, as well as reaching into Oregon, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Canadians travelled the GNR, crossing at various points from Sumas, Grand Forks, and Gateway in BC; Sweetgrass, Montana; Northgate, ND; and Bannerman, MB. It’s pretty useful to have a visual.
If you haven’t been on LAC lately, it’s worth another look. In 2019, LAC rolled out my three favourite words in the English language: centralized database search. Bearing in mind that the usual spelling issues still apply, you can now search all the collections at once.
This is a meta-site that searches the digital archives of BC-based institutions of higher learning. You will find digitized archives from Athabasca University, Camosun College, Capilano University, Coast Mountain College, College of the Rockies, Douglas College, the Justice Institute of British Columbia, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Mount Royal University (Calgary), Red Deer College (AB), Sellkirk College, Thompson Rivers University, Trinity Western University, the University of Northern British Columbia, and the University of British Columbia.
Ever thought: I wish there was someone to help me read this totally illegible record? There is. In this incredible source, volunteers transcribe census records for the Canada censuses 1851, 1901, 1911, 1921, and the Prairie census 1906. Specific to BC, there is a growing list of BC marriages ~1890-1930.
If you’re researching the 1860s, the Cariboo, the gold rush, or Williams Creek, this might be a gold mine (haha) of information for you.
Free. Check this library for the digitized collections of the below named papers. Vanderhoof, BC is ~100 kms west of Prince George.
- The Vanderhoof Herald: 1917-1920
- Nechako Chronicle: 1920-1983
- Omineca Express: 1982-1989 and 1991-2007
Currently there are 19 city directories, mostly for Vancouver. I have a special fondness for city directories – they are fantastic for finding the movements of your families.
Search for public and private statutes, legislation, and regulations.
A transcription of the voters list – very easy to read and click through. But I have a better tip: Use google’s advanced site search function. Once there, type the name of the person you want at the top, then cut and paste the site’s URL into the “site or domain.” Click “Advanced Search.”
If that doesn’t work, try trimming the site down to its root structure, like this. (If you have any questions about this technique, please use the comment page below.)
A tremendous free resource of the history of BC with an excellent search engine.
It’s useful to be able to figure out the property ID. This lookup tool allows you to enter an address and get the property ID, along with the eye-popping Vancouver real estate assessments..!
A huge cache of digitized birth registrations. If you can’t find it at the BC Archives, look for it here. And before you go clicking through all the numbers, here’s a listing that gives the microfilm number and matches it up with what’s on it: British Columbia Birth Registrations Digital Folder Number List.
If you’re in the collection and you suddenly can’t see the images, try a different browser or try visiting at a later date. If you cannot see it at all, it may be subject to viewing rights restrictions and may be viewable only at a Family History Centre:
Whenever possible FamilySearch makes images and indexes available for all users. However, rights to view these data are limited by contract and subject to change. Because of this there may be limitations on where and how images and indexes are available or who can see them. Please be aware some collections consist only of partial information indexed from the records and do not contain any images.Image visibility, British Columbia Birth Registrations – FamilySearch Historical Records, FamilySearch.org
Looking for a particular family member? You might find them listed in the city directory. Along with voters lists and censuses, these three documents can really give a picture of your ancestor’s life, plus directories can pick up where the censuses end: 1922 and beyond. Voters lists show people of voting age only in a house – if there are minors, they won’t be listed on a voter’s list. The directories list people, occupations, and addresses. A huge benefit to genealogists is the fact that directories are sorted by name. This means that even if your ancestor’s names suffer from name variations (Yip, Yipp, Yep, Yap, Yapp, etc.), they’ll all be grouped together in the same place.
A HUGE list of BC directories by genealogy expert Dave Obee.
Imaged records of BC Death registrations. Note this as well:
When Ancestry.com independently indexed these records, they indexed certificate numbers (which FamilySearch omitted). Thus, it is necessary to refer to Ancestry.com’s subscription index, in addition to FamilySearch’s index, in order to find death certificates in the Family History Library’s microfilms.What is in This Collection? British Columbia Death Registrations – FamilySearch Historical Records, FamilySearch
I haven’t tried this site yet but it looks promising.
Imaged records of BC marriages. Should be your next goto after the BC Archives. Before diving into the indices, consult the British Columbia Marriage Registrations Digital Folder Number List.
BC Penitentiary, or the “BC Pen”
Find inmates of the BC Pen in the 1901 Canada census. Here is the Ancestry link to the first inmate, or use this information to find the records at LAC: Year: 1901; Census Place: New Westminster (City/Cité), New Westminster, British Columbia; Page: 4; Family No: 17, where “family” is the first inmate. There are ~2 full pages of inmates by name.
Here is an Ancestry link to the beginning of the BC Pen listings in the 1911 census. The notation on the census says “Penitentiary.” The listings begin with staff, then continue with inmates. Here are the details if you are trying to find the page on LAC: British Columbia, District No. 11, Subdistrict 6 New Westminster City, census page 30, images 30-35. They are not in alphabetical order, and listings for men and women are mixed together.
If your ancestor passed away in BC and left a will, there is a good chance you may find it here. The AGS has compiled an index from SIXTY-TWO volumes of wills, which are available for order.
My survey of the historic cemeteries in historic New West, including Woodlands, the BC Pen, and nearby Essondale.
A great site of historical records for the City of Vancouver. I liked the maps going back to the 1700s, the fire insurance maps that detailed each building, and the private pioneer family records.
Want to know exactly what the city looked like in 1912? Amazing interactive free resource, inviting you to explore, view, edit, and print maps of Vancouver.
You will need to select the “Aerial Imagery,” then “1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map” to get the right layer.
Search The Courts of British Columbia for court judgements from ~1990s onward for the Court of Appeal and the BC Supreme Court. Does not have historic cases.
Search the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) for all databases for Canadian cases and legislation. Now with an easy, centralized search function that is a joy to genealogy. From the site: “The CanLII.org website provides access to court judgments from all Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, federal courts, and the courts in all Canada’s provinces and territories. CanLII.org also contains decisions from many tribunals nationally.” It doesn’t have everything, but it has a great deal to find.
University of British Columia Open Collections: Review the British Columbia Reports, “The British Columbia Reports is a law report series that was first published in 1884 by the Law Society of British Columbia, with judgments dating back to 1867. The series ceased publication in 1948. This collection includes the full text of all decisions published in the series.
1903 – Mining cases, see Reports of mining cases decided by the courts of British Columbia and the courts of appeal therefrom to the 1st of October, 1902 : with an appendix of mining statutes from 1853 to 1902; and a glossary of mining terms, 1903.
1905 – Mining cases, see: Martin’s mining cases of British Columbia with statutes, 1905.
1915 – See the Digest of British Columbia Case law: being the cases determined in the courts of British Columbia and on appeal therefrom in the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council : and reported in the British Columbia reports (volumes I. to XX. inclusive), the Supreme Court of Canada reports (volumes 1 to 50 inclusive), and in the Law reports (English) up to and inclusive of the year 1915.
1936 – See The British Columbia reports: being report of cases determined in the Supreme and County courts and in Admiralty and on appeal in the courts of appeal, with a table of the cases argued, a table of the cases cited and a digest of the principal matters reported under the authority of the Law society of British Columbia, 1936/37.
Absolutely amazing resource for central BC. I learned about this site when the Kelowna and District Genealogical Society posted on Facebook that their massive data gathering project had been completed and uploaded online. Look for the KDGS logo, go past the “People and History” page, to find over a dozen searchable online books filled with names, family histories, grave sites and much more.
For divorces in BC, if you know both names of the parties to the divorce, plus the approximate date, you can apply for a copy of the divorce order here.
Although I try to provide online information, this process seemed worth doing if you are near the city of Vancouver’s Central Library and don’t know all the particulars of the divorce. (If you do know the names of both parties and the date, see above for Divorce Orders before 1968.)
If I’m reading this correctly, you can first try looking for a divorce in the annual index of the Canada Gazette, Part 1, e.g., 1962 Index, 1963 Index, etc. After you’ve located a likely file, you can request the right gazette.
I plan to do a little digging when I visit Vancouver (~summer, 2018), so stay tuned for an update.
It gets more complicated to acquire a copy of a divorce order after 1967. You must have the consent of one of the divorcing parties, fill out an application, and pay a fee.
Very cool. From the site, “The Heritage Site Finder is an interactive map of the Vancouver Heritage Register. Previously only accessible to the public as a PDF, the Heritage Site Finder lets you search over 2200 locations by address or site name, with images and information for each site. The interactive map is compatible with both desktop and mobile devices.”
Chuck “Mr. Vancouver” Davis, who passed away in 2010, spent much of his life collecting odd facts about the city of Vancouver. His compendium reads like part history, part gossip, which is perfect for genealogists! The site is still maintained, but if you’re a real Vancouverite, the book is a solid addition to your library.
Davis, C. (2011). The Chuck Davis history of metropolitan Vancouver. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd. If you’ve ever wondered what was happening in Vancouver on a given historical date 1757-2011, chances are that Chuck Davis, aka “Mr. Vancouver” has it recorded in this comprehensive book, a compendium of his website at http://www.vancouverhistory.ca. See below.
Hospitals in BC: Essondale, Woodlands, Riverview, and the Asylum
I always thought that hospital records were completely private. Such is not the case. The 1921 Canada census surveyed everyone in June, 1921, and that included patients at so-called mental hospitals. Be aware, too, that these hospitals didn’t exclusively care for mental health issues – I found one hospital that had a tuberculosis wing. Before you start reading the census documents, here’s some helpful background information from BC Archives.
Essondale Provincial Mental Hospital
If you have Ancestry, here’s a link to the 1921 census file. Here are the particulars: 1921 Canada Census; District 16 Fraser Valley; Subdistrict 22 Chilliwack; Name: Essondale – Provincial Mental Hospital.
BC Mental Hospital, aka Woodlands
The census only indicates “Patient Asylum” on the left border, but as Essondale didn’t open for another 3 years, I think this is Woodlands in 1901. Here is the link to Ancestry. If you use the transcribed index at Ancestry, under relationship it will say “Patient Insane Asylum (Patient).” If you’d like to use the info to find it at LAC: Year: 1901; Census Place: Province: British Columbia, District No. 2, Subdistrict D, Polling No. 6, New Westminster City, Census page 17, Image 123, “Patients Asylum. The listing begins on Row 23.
I believe this is the link on Ancestry for the 1911 census for Woodlands. The notation on the census says “Asylum Inmates.” Here are the details if you are trying to find the page on LAC: British Columbia, District No. 11, Subdistrict 6 New Westminster City, census page 16, images 16-29 (about 650 patients).
Here’s a link to the 1921 census file for Woodlands, and here are the particulars: 1921 Canada Census; District 20 New Westminster; Subdistrict 72 Burnaby; Name: BC Mental Hospital.
These archives have excellent finding aids which may be reviewed prior to requesting documents directly. Look for the funding aids. There is also a cemeteries locations map here.
A list of 190+ archives in BC. There are some odd ones, like the BC Golf Museum and the BC Teachers Federation museum. Definitely a hidden gem.
Located at 5455 Fraser, Mountainview Cemetery is the only cemetery located in Vancouver, BC. Opened in 1886, it contains 92K graves and 145K interred remains.
Canadiana Online has the full text of the 1895 Vancouver Weekly World online. Going forward, there may be much more. Here’s how to find them:
- go to the link and scroll down to the Serials section of periodicals, annuals and newspapers
- Click “Browse this collection”
- In the search box, enter “Vancouver,” and refine the search by entering “Title” in the “Search in” dropdown menu
- Browse the results list
A growing collection of free digitized newspapers. Currently there are two titles: The Nanaimo Free Press 1874-1928 and the Cowichan Leader 1905-1928.
When I was at the SK genealogical conference in April, 2018, I attended a lecture about using digitized newspapers for genealogical research. While this UofA collection naturally focuses on Alberta, there is one for BC:
- The Outcrop, Windermere / Golden, 1900-1907 available online; good for details of miners in the N.E. Kootenay region
I had to find a list of small towns in Alberta, and this site was the answer to my question. There are maps as well – a real genealogical find.
Are tax rolls available for the genealogist? Yes. Are they online? Sadly, no. I have not had the opportunity to visit the Archives to see these microfilms in person but for future reference, there are fonds available for BC, roughly 1916-1924. There is also an excellent finding aid (FA). Review the description and the FA before you dig in.
Find what’s often called the “tax rolls” at the CoV Archives. They are not online. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting in person, but I did find a cached 40 page finding aid here. Heartbreakingly, the tax rolls for 1890-1928 are missing.
One of my favourite sites for vital statistics (records of birth, marriage, and death). You’ll find that Ancestry.com has links to this site, but if you want the actual record, you’ll have to do some digging. Here are some tips for finding that elusive record:
- Try the full name first, then start subtracting letters. For example, if you are looking for Elizabeth Mary Jane Smithe, try the whole name, then Elizabeth Smithe, Mary Smithe, Jane Smithe, or even just Smithe. You might have to get creative with searches: try Smithe, Smith, Smit, or Smi* (Boolean search).
- There are date limits. From the site: “Search our indexes to births (1854-1903), marriages (1872-1940), deaths (1872-1995), colonial marriages (1859-1872) and baptisms (1836-1888).”
There are over 67K building permits available on this site. If your ancestors owned a house that was built or altered before 1929, you might be able to find the permit details here. I found two of my relatives here – and a mystery. Of course.
HINT: Use the Keyword Search if your ancestor had a unique name. Use the Address Search if you have a full or partial address. I used both, and the address search worked best for me.
Dating from ~2001, obituaries published in BC are available at this link. It’s much more comprehensive for later years, but you might luck out and get one closer to 2002. Note that you’ll need to update the “Date range” to “all time” and “The Province” to “All BC obituaries”.
Newspapers are an incredible genealogical resource, and when you have a site that is not only free but also has a good lookup engine, it’s like gold. Don’t be put off by the name – the Colonist covered news for all of BC. Here’s a link describing what’s available.