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Genealogy & Family History

Genealogy is all about research, keywords, and knowing where to look! It’s also about note-taking and organization. At our Digitization Station of the NPL’s Tech Hub, you’ll find software such as Family Tree Maker and MyMemories where you can upload your images (maybe you’ll need to digitize them too? you can do that in this room too!) and connect them to your research.

Hints & Tips

  • Have conversations with family members, and write down all the stories–even the ones that aren’t strictly official. Templates for ancestral charts and research logs exist through (see below)
  • Remember to note your sources or where the information came from, even if provided through a family oral interview.
  • Try different spellings of names, eg. Pollock and Pollok, and anglicized names such as Bhana for Barney.
  • Marriage records will give you the parents’ names on both sides
  • Death records will often give you the last address lived at and for how long, professional details, and marriage names.
  • Obituaries are usually published within a week of death, and can provide a lot of information but should be fact-checked as these are usually submitted by family members to the local paper. Death notices are submitted by undertaker or funeral home and usually only provide information about the service.
  • Other resources include: Directories, Fire Insurance maps, Newspapers and more.
  • Online databases have different ways of searching so be sure to check out the help guides that each offers.

Local Resource: Touchstones Nelson, Museum and Art Gallery

Shawn Lamb Archives – The archives holds an extensive collection of original sources. Some of these can be accessed for free in-person, or an electronic copy can be emailed for a nominal fee. See website for details, including how to make an appointment.

Online Courses & How to get started

  • Gale: Genealogy Basics – Learn about the genealogy research process and how to interpret the information you find. This course guides you through the search process for family names using several subscription-based websites, which you can access while enrolled in this class.
  • FamilySearch Getting Started – A series of activities that will help you get started, or watch the YouTube video.
  • How to Build A Family Tree (National Genealogical Society) – offers questions to ask to get started, and discusses several types of resources.
  • How to Begin (Library and Archives Canada) – Step-by-step, more information than you ever realized.


  • Library Edition (Remote Use extended till 31 Dec 2021) – Access to this resource has been temporarily expanded to library cardholders working remotely. contact your library for instructions on how to access this resource. Once you have your access credentials, please click –> here <–
  • Library Edition (In-Library use only) – provides genealogical and historical research capabilities. With more than 5 billion names in over 4,600 databases, includes census, military, court, land, and probate records; vital and church records; directories; and passenger lists. Best to use this in Chrome.
  • Points to the Past – Searchable primary source material: maps, photos, newspapers, manuscripts, pamphlets, portraits, sermons, poems, and more. For research, teaching and learning.

Magazines & Newspapers

Government Resources

  • Ancestors Search: Library and Archives Canada collection of databases, including: birth, marriages, death; census; immigration; land titles; military. Review the “Instructions to Enumerators” which will give context to how the data was collected and for what reason.
  • BC Archives: Vital Events Registration Records – Electronic index to BC’s historical birth, death and marriage registration records. Birth records are available 120 years after date of birth, marriage records 75 years after date of marriage, and death records 20 years after date of death. Many of the records now have the image file linked at the index level.. Guide available for “Indian” registrations for birth, marriage and death.
  • BC City Directories (Vancouver Public Library) – Covering the period 1860-1955, this is an excellent resource for anyone researching their ancestors, the history of a home or business, or just wanting a sense of what British Columbia communities were like in the early years.
  • Canadiana – Search the digital collections of libraries, archives and museums from across Canada, as well as access 60 million pages of Canadian digital documentary heritage.
  • Genealogy and Family History (Library and Archives Canada)- A gateway to Canada’s genealogical resources offering genealogical content, advice, services and research tools. Several databases included with different search approaches.
  • Indigenous Heritage (Library and Archives Canada)- provides access to published and archival heritage material that represents First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation experiences and contributions to Canada. This includes text, photographs, maps, and audio-visual material. Databases include Indigenous Genealogy, Residential Schools, virtual exhibitions and more.

Genealogy Groups & Other Resources

  • BC Cemetery Finding Aid – Offers a province-wide search by name, but is not a complete set of records.
  • BC Genealogical Society – The main genealogy society for the Vancouver area. Website has links to their catalogue and other sites for genealogy.
  • Canada Gen Web
  • Cyndi’s List – A comprehensive categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the internet. A good starting point for genealogy research by topic. Compiled by someone who has worked as a librarian, and knows how to cite sources.
  • FamilySearch – The new super-site for the genealogy services from the LDS (Mormon) church. Massive digitization projects are underway as their extensive microfilm collection is digitized.  View a tutorial.
  • Find A Grave – database of memorials. Can be searched by cemetery.
  • Historical Atlas of Canada – Though still being developed, this site enables users to explore the data and themes presented through interactive mapping. Map Tours help users navigate a number of these themes easily and effectively.
  • Historical Photograph Collections (VPL) – Ever-growing digital collection of historical photographs, hosted and maintained by the Vancouver Public Library.
  • Root’s Web – A forum for people to help each other and share genealogical research. It includes many user contributed records and databases as well as messageboards. Supported by

Historical Atlases / Place Names

  • British Columbia Geographical Name Information Service (BCGNIS) – to find the name of a current or historic location in BC, such as an early post office.
  • Historical Atlas of Canada – Though still being developed, this site enables users to explore the data and themes presented through interactive mapping. Map Tours help users navigate a number of these themes easily and effectively.
  • In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project – A searchable database of the property owners’ names which appear on the township maps in the county atlases (forty-three atlases in total). Township maps, portraits and properties have been scanned, with links from the property owners’ names in the database.
  • Maps, Charts and Architectural Plans Collection – From Library and Archives Canada, this search guide provides access to approximately 40,000 item-level descriptions from the “old map card catalogue.” About 4,000 items from the catalogue, now in the public domain, have been digitized and may be consulted online.

Related Guides