This page last updated 3 Jan 2023. This page contains resources primarily for British Columbia, Canada. Main archives and lesser known locales have location maps. Listings are under the following categories:
- BMDs and Divorce
- Cemeteries, Obituaries
- Censuses – See Western Canadian Censuses
- Church Records
- Courts, Law, Legal, Prison
- Land, Directories, Property
Brief history of BC
- 1849 – Vancouver Island colonial jurisdiction became a Crown colony
- 1858 – New Caledonia (roughly the lower half of mainland British Columbia today) became a Crown Colony
- 1862 – Territory of Stikine (roughly the upper half of mainland BC but also part of southern Yukon)
- 1863 – New Caledonia, Territory of Stikine, Queen Charlotte Islands were joined together as “British Columbia”
- 1866 – Vancouver Island joined British Columbia
- 1871 – British Columbia joined Confederation as a province of the Dominion of Canada
- For researching these territories before, during, and after these dates, consider the Colonial Office materials, National Archives, London, UK
From: Mandy Banton, Administering the Empire, 1801-1968: A Guide to the Records of the Colonial Office in the National Archives of the UK (London, UK: University of London Press, School of Advanced Study, Institute of Historical Research, 2020), https://humanities-digital-library.org/index.php/hdl/catalog/book/administering-the-empire-1801-1968 : accessed 14 Jun 2021.
In this section are links to archives and museums around the province that have online resources. Also links to meta-sites that collate finding aids.
If your ancestor passed away in BC and left a will, there is a good chance you may find it here. The society has compiled an index from SIXTY-TWO volumes of wills, which are available for order. Look here for burial indices for Abbotsford, Agassiz, and Chilliwack.
Archives – ARCA digital repositories
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.
Archives – Barkerville Historic Town Collections
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.
Archives – BC Archives – Royal BC Museum
This site is a must-have for genealogists with an extensive collection online, excellent finding aids, and full time archivists on site. For more, see What you need to know to visit the BC Archives today (Sep 2022).
Archives – BC Black History Awareness Society
This society site is a good place to start learning about the history of blacks in British Columbia. There are timelines, history, biographies, and photos.
Located at 4595 Albert Street (inside McGill Branch), Burnaby, BC V5C 2G6.
See this FREE, downloadable, 48-page guide on the history of the Chinese community in Burnaby.
Archives – Galiano Museum
Archives focus on donor fonds: Beale-Oulette, Elvereson, Georgeson, Henneyssey, New, Scone, Steven; and subjects such as schools and miscellaneous.
Archives – (City of) Kamloops (KMA)
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.
The national archives. Essential for its collections: census, immigration, military and now with a centralized search.
Archives – MemoryBC digital repositories
Check here to see what is held at archives around the province. I usually search broadly first, then narrow my searches. For example, try searching for racial origin, e.g., English, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian [sic], Black [sic], then narrowing down to geographic location. It’s unlikely unless your person was prominent for reasons celebratory or notorious, they’d be listed by name. For example, if your person’s fonds were donated to an archive, you’d be very likely to find them here.
Archives – Okanagan History (Kelowna & district)
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.
Archives – Pender Islands Museum
A small collection of digitized photos, documents and records arranged by name and subject in Dropbox. No discernible search function but worth a look if researching history in the area..
Archives – Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives
Donor-supplied fonds and photos with a growing collection of freely available digital records. Supported by LAC.
Look here for hyper-local information about Salt Spring Island history and surrounds: timelines, photos, fonds, and links to other archives in the area. Look here for the special 1901 BC census of Salt Spring.
The society and museum of the Sea Island Heritage Society in Richmond, BC. Look here for the families that lived and worked at the airport, for military, and for companies.
Archives – United Church of Canada (BC and Yukon)
Archives – (City of) Vancouver Archives
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. See also True crime, the Wing Sang Co., and police records: A trip to the City of Vancouver Archives.
Archive – (History of Metropolitan) Vancouver – Vancouver History
This site is based on the work of Chuck Davis. Look here for digestible facts about Vancouver, photos, and sample chapters from Chuck’s book.
Birth, Marriage, Death and Divorce
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.
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
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
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.
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).”
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.
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.
My survey of the historic cemeteries in historic New Westminster, including Woodlands, the BC Pen, and nearby Essondale.
Anglican Diocese of New Westminster – Anglican Church of Canada
You will not find an online database here: rather, come here after finding an index elsewhere, to pursue finding the original record.
For members, the BCGS has transcribed church records for baptisms, marriages, and burials:
- Baptisms: Bella Coola Methodist, Donald (Kootenay), Nelson Methodist, Nelson Presbyterians, Ocean Falls Methodist
- Marriages: Hagensborg Lutheran, Nelson Methodist
- Burials: Bella Coola Methodist, Hagensborg Lutheran, Nelson Methodist, Ocean Falls Methodist, Revelstoke Anglican, Revelstoke Catholic
The most comprehensive wiki on BC church records.
Courts, Laws, Legal, Prison
Courts – judgements and legislation
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.
Laws – BC Laws
Search for public and private statutes, legislation, and regulations.
Laws – British Columbia Gazette
Look for the BC Gazette on the Internet Archive. Search for “British Columbia Gazette” and if desired, the year.
The gazettes were published weekly. From UVic: “Gazettes are official publications that disseminate government proclamations, notices, and regulations as required by colonial or Provincial legislation.” Look for incorporations and dissolutions of companies, organizations, and societies by your ancestor. Learn more at the University of Victoria here.
Laws – BC Legislative Assembly Journals (1851-2021)
The legislative assembly is the government of the province of British Columbia. It is the mandate of the legislature to propose changes in the form of bills, debate them, and decide whether to assent them into law, leave the matter for future resolution, or decide to do nothing further. Genealogists will find detailed discussions of business issues including full names of the parties and the names of assembly. The journal format is title page, index, proclamation page, journal. The journals are page numbered throughout a calendar year across multiple books and session sittings.
Legal Cases – Internet Archive
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.
Prison – BC Penitentiary Prison, 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.
Essondale, Woodlands, Riverview, and the Asylum. Hospital records are NOT completely private. 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.
If you are a member of the BC Genealogical Society, see the “Essondale / Riverview Hospital (Coquitlam) list of admissions (1890-1957), deaths (1920-1959), and burials (1932-1958)”, 97 pages, here.
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.
Land, Directories, Property
Land – BC Assessment – Property IDs
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 list of BC directories by genealogy expert Dave Obee drawing from sites around the province such as VPL, UBC, etc.
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.
Currently there are nineteen city directories, mostly for Vancouver. I have a special fondness for city directories – they are fantastic for finding the movements of your families.
Did your ancestor successfully file a Crown land grant? Find it – and a lot more about the Crown land registry – here.
For current land titles. Need to have the Property Identification Number (PID). There is a fee. If you are searching the history of a property, you must hire a registry agent or lawyer who lives near the Land Registries in Victoria or New Westminster, There is no access to the public.
If you have the civic address or Property Identification Number (PID), you can access a realtime map lookup of the property.
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.
If the building is still standing, check out recent Vancouver permits here.
See historic permits here. There are over 78K 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.
Look here for BC voters list 1875, 1898; BMD extracts 1858-1875; directories for 1882, 1892 Victoria; public school teachers and trustees 1880s-1890s; post offices and postmasters 1893; unclaimed letters at Victoria 1863, 1870, 1871; convict deaths BC Pen 1875-1916; income tax BC 1889; Justice of the Peace lists 1877, 1889; BC gov’t employees 1877; BC hospital patients 1878; land grant applicants 1884; intestate lists 1861-1883; land grant applicants 1884, return of settlers from Califronai 1873. Also petitions 1880s-1890s: against Chinese and Japanese miners; femal franchise, CPR fences; etc.
Voters lists: 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.)
The creators of this site have done all of us a major service in documenting the photographers of the British Columbia, Alaska, and Yukon Photo Directory. In addition, they’ve corroborated evidence from other sites such as the BC archives.
If you are a member of the BC Genealogical Society, see the >200 page index of collated newspaper mentions from the Delta News (1902-14).
This link will take you to a 92 page book of voters for the province, excluding Chinese, Indigenous, women, and all those ineligible to vote.
This is a list of online maps. Some are interactive.
Interactive map lookup! Useful for working with homestead files. It’s not very intuitive. You’ll need to launch it to run the app, then go to the District Lot (DL) tool to find Legal Land Description format coordinate lookup boxes. Example: “SW-13-20-18-W6.” This will take you to a submenu with more choices to get the quarter section or legal subdivision.
This is one of the best descriptions of the township system in Canada I have ever seen, because it includes the provinces of BC and Ontario. If you’ve ever wondered what “DLS” meant, or wondered how Ontario was different from Saskatchewan, or why British Columbia was different from Alberta, this is the page to see. This is the only page I’ve ever seen that included Legal Subdivisions (LSDs) subdivisions in its descriptions, encompassing the urban and the rural. Also has a free lookups, limited to ten lookups/month. If you’re wondering why you might need this tool, I have one phrase for you: homestead files.
Gorgeous hi-resolution map of the province before it was a province. Shows the Colony of Vancouver Island, the United Colony of British Columbia, and the Lieutenant-Dependency of Queen Charlotte Islands, as well as countless other intriguing details.
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.
Hosted by the University of British Columbia, this is a collection of ultra-high-resolution maps of the then termed Indian reserves in existence in 1916. This is a good place to get familiar with looking at the landscape with the spellings for areas as they were then spelled. The Department of Indian Act (DIA) agencies in place in 1916 were Babine, Bella Coola, Cowichan, Kamloops, Kootenay, Kwawkewith, Lytton, Nass, New Westminster, Okanagan, Queen Charlottes, Stikine, Stuart Lake, West Coast, and Williams Lake.
I had to find a list of small towns and this site was the answer to my question. There are maps as well – a real genealogical find.
About twenty beautiful, hi-resolution, public domain maps of Vancouver centre, including Chinatown and Japantown.
[Updated Oct 2022] For an explanation of how to get to the mapping, see here. It’s a two step process but easy to locate if you’ve seen it before.
“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.”
Use the link to get to VicMap, then select Business Directory for the lookup. All current business permits are viewable, online and for free, with a handy map locator.
Called the “Insurance Plan of Victoria Vol I,” these are a collection of high resolution, downloadable maps of the city of Victoria, useful for many applications. I located them for use with the 1911 Canada census when searching by keywords failed and I was looking for a more efficient way to navigate than going through all 25 subdistricts page by page. Note: it’s very useful to know the names of the streets to help figure out if you have the right family in the right area.
Important early newspaper of the western colonies of the British Empire which later became British Columbia. Covered news for the Dominion, not only BC. Heavily pro-British and Britain-focused. Predates Confederation. Use the “sort by date” checkbox. No relevancy sorting.
Newspapers – BC Historic Newspapers – UBC Open Collections
About one hundred seventy small newspapers of BC are here. Look here for places from Abbotsford to Ymir.
Canadiana Online focuses on eastern publications but 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
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
A growing collection of free digitized newspapers. Currently there are two titles: The Nanaimo Free Press 1874-1928 and the Cowichan Leader 1905-1928.
Newspapers – Vancouver Sun / Province Obituaries
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 – Vanderhoof Public Library
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
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.
If you are a member of the BCGS, get a copy of “British Columbia Vital Statistics from newspapers 1858-1872: an index to births, marraiges, and deaths published from 1858 to 1872 in British Columbia newspapers.”
The BC Genealogical Society was my first genealogy society membership – with roots in BC it seemed a natural fit. Since then, I’ve learned about BC genealogy from SO. MANY. PEOPLE., impossible to list, but definitely every archive on this page, plus the members of the FB group British Columbia Genealogical Society. Thank you, everyone.