FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Are all the archives' holdings stored in the Archives Building?

No. Many of our records are stored offsite in records storage centres. If you are planning a special trip to the BC Archives to consult records, be sure to contact us several weeks in advance to find out where the records you wish to consult are located. It can take up to one week for the records to come in from offsite storage. Be sure to include call numbers and box/volume numbers in your request. You can order up to ten boxes of records at a time to be brought to the Archives building from offsite storage.

Can I use a camera to make photographic copies of records?

Researchers are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to use their own camera to photograph material, for reference and research purposes, especially where copying is not possible due to fragility of originals or time constraints. For more information, please consult Reproductions for guidelines on camera use.

How can I tell if the BC Archives has the records I need?

Our holdings include: government documents and records; private historical manuscripts and papers; maps, charts and architectural plans; photographs; paintings, drawings and prints; audio and video tapes; film; newspapers; and an extensive library of publications with a strong emphasis on the social and political history of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. You can search online to see if the records you need are on our web site, but please note that not all of our archival descriptions are available online, so you may need to search the hard-copy catalogue cards and finding aids in our reference room. If you still can't find what you’re looking for, you can visit MemoryBC (formerly the BC Archival Union List) to see descriptions of records held at 173 publicly-accessible archives in BC.

Which of your records are available online?

In order to allow researchers who live far from Victoria to have access to our records, we have also made it a priority to provide our indexes, catalogues and finding aids online. Converting these access tools is an ongoing project. Because we have so many records, in myriad forms, converting them all into an electronic format for viewing online would be an enormous and expensive project. Instead, you can consult records in our collections at the BC Archives. There is no charge for using the archives and staff are available to help you with your research.

Due to great public interest in photographs, we have begun to scan and describe photographic records item by item. To date, you can view descriptions of over 175,000 photographs and over 80,000 scanned photographs through our online catalogue.

Are all records at the BC Archives open? What about the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act?

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act covers all government documents. Some may be restricted for general research. Other restrictions may apply to court records. Private (non-government) records may also have specific restrictions. Please phone the reference desk during regular hours to ask about the access status of particular government records (we’ll need the call number and box number). If you have more than three call numbers, please put your request in writing. If the records you are interested in are not open for routine access, staff will explain your options for access.

Do you have any information about other provinces and countries?

No. We collect and preserve records about British Columbia. The best place for information about other provinces and countries is your local library. The internet is an excellent resource for finding contact information for libraries and archives.

How do I get copies and reproductions of records?
Do you lend material through interlibrary loan?

The BC Archives' library and archival collections are non-circulating and therefore unavailable through interlibrary loan. However, if you can provide an exact reference to a book or an archival record held by the BC Archives, we may be able to provide photocopies at the usual cost.

I’m looking for a government record. Where do I start?

The BC Archives is the repository for the records of the provincial government of British Columbia. Most government records have a "GR" prefix. A GR usually consists of an accession of records. The Bureau of Canadian Archivists' Rules for Archival Description defines an accession as "a body of material from the same source taken into archival custody at the same time." An accession can vary from a single document to hundreds of metres of records. You can see descriptions of these records by searching the online catalogue. Each listing gives you the GR number, the name of the transferring agent, the format of the material, the date range and physical extent. It also gives a short description of the records, a general note and subject headings. If a GR is quite large (i.e. more that 30 cm of records), it is likely that we have created another description of them. These descriptions are called finding aids. A finding aid consists primarily of a file, box or item listing. The purpose of a finding aid description is to let you know the content of a GR before you view the records themselves. You can search finding aid catalogues by using keywords to search the entire content of the description, the title or the call number. If you still can't find what you are looking for, contact or visit the BC Archives.

Please Note: Not all government record catalogues are available online, and you may need to visit the Archives to consult them. We also have a backlog of undescribed records, due to the large volume of government records received. An archivist may be able to search lists and in-house resources to see if the records that you are looking for exist.

I’m looking for private papers, not government records. Can I find them online?

First complete a search of our fonds descriptions and textual records. If your search is unsuccessful, search MemoryBC (formerly the BC Archival Union List). If you find what you’re looking for, be sure to record both the record numbers and the repository (MemoryBC contains listings for 173 archives in the province, including the BC Archives). If your search is still unsuccessful, send a written inquiry to the BC Archives so an archivist can check the manual card catalogues and lists of unprocessed records.

What kinds of company records do you have?

We hold operational records of some private companies, such as the BC Land and Investment Company and Britannia Mines. You can search for these in the Text Records indexes or catalogue.

We also hold specific records filed with the British Columbia Registrar of Companies and Registrar of Societies. They include annual reports of inactive companies and societies that have been dissolved or removed from the registries for more than ten years. To determine whether we have a particular company or society file, please contact the Corporate Registry. You will need to supply the BC Archives with the registry search information to identify and locate the file. Please note that the records contained within the files are only the documents that the Corporate Registry under the Companies Act or Societies Act required to be filed. They are not the operational records of a company.

How do I access court records?

Researching court cases can be very time consuming. If the case took place in the last ten to fifteen years, your first stop should be the court registry where the action took place. You should also consult the local newspaper from the time, to get details about the case. A visit to a law library to take advantage of published resources (including published judgements) and the help of expert librarians will be useful.

You are also welcome to use our online resources or visit the BC Archives in person to conduct research. If you are not able to visit, please consider hiring an Independent Research Agent to conduct research on your behalf. Please keep in mind that most case files are routinely destroyed by the courts after fifteen years and transcripts are not necessarily prepared for every case. Court records (both Provincial and Supreme) transferred to the BC Archives include orders, judgements, samples of case files and other record books. You may have to look through a variety of indexes, finding aids and records to track down information about the particular case you are interested in. Some court records are restricted and may require a research agreement. BC Archives may also charge you an hourly search fee if staff time is required to search through restricted records.

Can I order a copy of a will from the BC Archives?

The BC Archives holds wills probated in British Columbia between 1861 and 1981. The wills indexes and the wills on microfilm are self serve and open for access in the reference room. The 1981 wills are in hardcopy and stored off-site. See conduct research on your behalf.

What are probate files? Can I get a copy of one?

The BC Archives holds probate or estate case files from many BC court registries up to, in some cases, 1992. Probate/estate files include the proceedings of all business relating to either the proving of a will, in cases where there was one, or to the ultimate settling of an estate in instances where the individual died intestate (without leaving a valid will). A typical file might contain: a copy of the will, a death certificate, an inventory of belongings, claims from creditors and general family, and financial information. Historic probates were filed either in the Supreme Court or the County Court, depending on the value of the estate. The BC Archives does not have all the probate files for the province. See Probate Case Files Guide for more information. If you need to have staff search for a probate file for you, you must make your request in writing. You need to provide the name of the deceased, the date of death and the name of the court registry that processed the probate (usually the court registry closest to the community where the person lived). Please keep in mind that we charge a fee for each probate search. If you request copies of three different probate files, three search and copy fees will apply.

Can I get a copy of my divorce order from the BC Archives?

We hold some court records relating to divorce; however, if you are looking for a certified copy of your divorce order you should first contact the court registry in BC where the divorce took place.

The court registry may be able to supply a certified copy of your divorce order, or a divorce certificate. If they have transferred the records to the BC Archives, they should be able to supply the index information: accession, box, volume, folio, file numbers and the date of the final order. Once you have this index information you can write to the BC Archives to request a certified copy of the divorce order.

If your divorce took place after 1968 and you do not know which BC court registry processed the divorce, you may write to the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings in Ottawa. They will provide the registry location and the registration number, which you can then take to the appropriate BC court registry for more detailed information.

Family Law Assistance Services
Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings
PO Box 2730, Station D
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5W7
Telephone: (613) 957-4519
Fax: (613) 941-2520

They will need at least four of the following seven items to complete a search:

  • Husband's surname
  • Husband's given name
  • Husband's date of birth
  • Wife's maiden name
  • Wife's given name
  • Wife's date of birth
  • Date of marriage

All requests for copies of divorce records must be made to the BC Archives in writing.

Do you have old maps of BC?

There are over 63,000 maps of various geographical areas of British Columbia in our Cartographic Records section. They date from the early explorers up to and including more recent maps prepared for tourists. Our collection spans a broad range including: maps prepared by the Royal Engineers, early land surveyors, admiralty charts, architectural plans, fire insurance atlases, and BC government maps.

Many of our maps have been reproduced on microfiche which are available in the Reference Room on a self-serve basis. To request information by mail, please indicate a specific geographic location and date range. Reproductions are available.

I’m interested in my family history–can you do some research for me?

We cannot undertake general research on your behalf. You are welcome to visit the archives to do your own family research, or you can hire an Independent Research Agent to conduct research for you (See Other Resources). For more information about genealogical resources, please see the Genealogy Research Guide.

Can you help me find a living person?

No. BC Archives staff cannot provide contact information. Check on-line telephone listings, city directories and telephone books to try to locate a living person in BC.

How can I view or get copies of birth, death and marriage registration records for British Columbia?

As of 4 September 2012, images of over half of the publicly released are available on our new genealogy database (a collaborative project of the BC Archives, the BC Vital Statistics Agency and FamilySearch). The remainder of the digitized images will be added later. If the image you want has not yet been loaded, you can view the microfilm at the BC Archives and make a copy at the standard onsite copying rate. The microfilm is held at other locations as well, such as the Cloverdale branch of the Surrey Public Library, the Central branch of the Vancouver Public Library and the Victoria Genealogical Society. You can also submit a written request; the remote inquiry fee will apply to each registration. For birth, marriage and death registrations that have not been released, contact the BC Vital Statistics Agency.

Do you have registrations of overseas war casualties?

Death registrations for World War I casualties are not available at the BC Archives. See the World War I Canadian Dead section of the Canada at War website for a searchable listing of over 63,000 names with the date and location of death, if known. (There is also a section for World War II Canadian Dead.)

Death registrations for 3,423 BC World War II casualties (1940-1945) were collected by the Division of Vital Statistics at the time, although they were kept separately from the provincial death registrations and not included in the indexes. They are now included in the deaths index in both the old genealogy search and the new genealogy database. Images for these records will soon be loaded on the latter and are also available on microfilm.

The records consist of completed statements documenting the deaths of members of the armed forces who died while on active duty and who were residents of BC. During the war, the armed forces completed forms supplied by the province to register the deaths. The statements contain personal particulars and the date, place, and cause of death. The forms also contain medical certificates of death, although these were not always completed by a physician.

You can search the overseas casualties by names of individuals, by using a partial match in the place field for the country for people killed in action on land (most common are England, Holland, Hong Kong, India, Italy, France, and Germany), by using the terms "overseas" or "at sea" in the place field, or by browsing reels of film, if special difficulties are encountered (B14424, B14425, B14426, and B14427).