Have you ever looked for information on your family history? Whether you are simply curious about a few relatives or embarking on an in-depth genealogy research project, there are many online resources that can help your search. If you have relatives from British Columbia, or relatives who are UBC alumni, UBC Library’s Open Collections can be a rich source for your genealogy research.
Newspapers are frequently used in genealogy research. Obituaries provide information about individuals’ lives, including birth and death dates, details about careers, and information about other relatives. You can also find birth announcements and other news articles about your relatives. The BC Historical Newspapers collection contains 167 different publications from across British Columbia, with over 47,000 individual papers. The newspapers in the collection date from 1850-1995. Specific date ranges depend upon the paper, and you can check them at a glance here.
The BC Sessional Papers collection contains over 3,700 selected provincial legislative documents from 1865-1982. In particular, this collection includes lists of voters by district, records of land sales, and lists of incorporated companies.
Here is the list of people entitled to vote in the April 30, 1898, election in Vancouver – it even lists their addresses and reported professions:
If you have relatives affiliated with UBC, you might find relevant material in the UBC Publications collection. You can explore UBC yearbooks from 1911 to 1966, and look through back issues of The Ubyssey, from the inaugural October 1918 issue to the present. Other publications may also be of interest: you can see the full list on the collection page.
Check out this issue of the Annual from 100 years ago – it even includes brief profiles of each member of the senior class:
The Third Annual of the University of British Columbia, 
The BC Historical Documents collection contains selected documents from the forestry, fishing, and mining industries in British Columbia, education development in the province, and British Columbia’s early history. If your relatives attended the Provincial Normal School between 1918 and 1936, you may find them in the selection of digitized yearbooks in the collection.
Many of our collections include photographs and correspondence (both handwritten and typed). Depending on your family history, you may want to explore the Japanese-Canadian Photograph Collection, the UBC Archives Photograph Collection, and BC Historical Documents for photographs and correspondence.
Keyword searches can go a long way in Open Collections. To perform a general keyword search, start with the search box on the Open Collections home page:
Because all of our text collections have optical character recognition (OCR) applied, keyword searching allows you to search the full text. This applies to newspapers, other publications, and most typed documents, but not handwritten documents.
The above search yields 984 results across Open Collections. There are several ways to narrow your search. For genealogy research, the Collection and Date range filters on the left are particularly useful:
To use the Collection filter, you can start by selecting any of the collections featured above, or other collections that might be relevant to your relative’s life.
For the date range filter, note that the end date is January 1st of that year. For example, if you want to bring up results from 1890 through all of the year 1920, you would enter 1890 to 1921 in the date range, pulling up results from January 1, 1890 to January 1, 1921.
If you know your relative’s full name, as in this example, you will want to use quotation marks. When using quotations, it is important to try several variations, since the full name may not always be printed. For example, Hannah MacMillan could be referred to as “H. MacMillan”, or her husband’s name could be used – as in, “Mrs. John MacMillan”. You may also want to try a common misspelling, like “McMillan”.
For this name, using quotation marks narrows our pool down to one result, from the BC Historical Newspapers collection:
Clicking on the result opens up the newspaper.
The search box can be used to search within the newspaper text itself, and is automatically populated with your original query. The highlighted pages contain your search term(s). If you click on the à arrow, it will bring you to the first occurrence of your search term:
You can zoom in using the buttons on the right to read the section containing your search.
The search turned up an obituary for Hannah MacMillan. From this short obituary, you can learn her date of death, how old she was when she died, where she lived, her husband’s initials, and where she was buried. In addition to being key information about Hannah, this information can help you continue your search.
Have you used Open Collections for your own genealogy research? Let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!
- Library and Archives Canada has a Genealogy and Family History section with beginner’s tips, research strategies, and links to resources. The website has pages specific to different provinces and territories, including British Columbia.
- The Vancouver Public Library also maintains a Genealogy and Family History page, including a Getting Started
- Wikipedia’s list of record types used in genealogy research can be a source of inspiration for your search.