Ryan Taylor Research on Vancouver Island


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By Ryan Taylor

Vancouver Island is a hotbed of genealogical activity. While societies elsewhere find themselves with dwindling membership and fewer people at meetings, the societies on the Island are hopping.

I lectured at workshops for the Victoria and Campbell River groups recently, and spoke at the monthly meeting of the Nanaimo club, which meets in the comforts of the local community center. They had a crowd of 100.

There are also groups elsewhere, including a new one in Quesnel Beach, a beautiful retirement community where, I'm told, the average age is 59. They are very proud of their new grocery store.

One reason for this activity is Victoria as a genealogical resource center. The provincial archives has a broad collection of materials including the usual census and similar, but it also includes a library, which many provincial archives do not.

They have amalgamated their library holdings into the archival collection, so everything can be found in the same computer catalog and is retrieved using the same system. It works fine. Another sidelight of working in the BC Archives is that they have most of the collection accessible through the computer, but some of the very old materials must still be looked up in a card file.

There are institutions where using an old card file brings looks of shame to cutting-edge administrators, but the simple fact is that public institutions across Canada are pressed for funds. If you cannot automate all your catalogs at once, it is a fact of life, and the BC Archives is living proof that having two systems is not a hardship for users. I found myself consulting both forms of catalog with ease, and receiving all the material with the same efficiency.

The B.C. Archives web site will give a good introduction to their services, and also provides access to birth, death and marriage registrations. B.C. is in the forefront of providing access to these materials online. Through the archives site, you can search the indexes and order a copy of the certificate, which arrives electronically within minutes. It's a taste of how we'll all be doing business, in the future.

One word of warning: the B.C. Archives site has a governessy tone which sounds like they have a bookful of rules which will hamper researchers. They don't. They just want to be sure you do things their way.

The Victoria Public Library also offers access to materials about the city. Their tiny local history room is in the downtown branch. It is open for very restricted hours, but researchers can arrange for it to be unlocked for them.

They have historical monographs about Victoria, and a large collection of directories. They also have some newspaper clipping files, housed elsewhere.

Their extensive collection of Victoria newspapers starts in the 1850s. I spent a few happy hours looking at accounts of boat accidents in the island waters, and the development of fall fairs in small nearby communities. There were only 'apples' grown there in the 1850s. By the 1870s, there were fall and winter apples, but by the 1890s, over thirty named varieties of apples were being grown, only a few of which could be found in the baskets at farmers' markets this autumn. Even apples are constantly developing.

The Victoria City Archives is the place to go for tax records and questions about house histories. The B.C. Legislative Library has the largest collection of provincial newspapers on microfilm. The Victoria Family History Society also maintains a research library.

Genealogists planning a research trip to BC should plan on dividing their working time between resources in Victoria, and those in Vancouver, where the public library has many family history items.

Posted May 12, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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