Genealogy Essay

Conducting Genealogical Research:
Using the Library and Archives Canada Database

Successful genealogical research requires skillful detective work and a measure of luck.

Thanks to recent digitalization of government records within the public domain, much research can now be conducted on one’s computer. Since genealogy enthusiasts and citizens alike are uploading information and images daily, retracing the footprints of our forebears has never been easier.

In the early years of Chinese immigration into Canada when the Chinese were greeted less than hospitably upon their arrival in Canada, the Canadian Government enacted several Immigration Acts to restrict the number of Chinese immigrants. This came in the form of what is now commonly known as the Chinese Head Tax from 1885 to 1923. This was replaced with the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Colony of Newfoundland instituted a $300 Head Tax between 1906 and 1949. Records of over 97,000 Chinese entering and leaving Canada between 1885- and 1949 have been carefully documented in the “General Registers of Chinese Immigration.” for each immigrant. For each entrant there are 20 columns of useful information to genealogists.

Even after over a century, we are able to ascertain that great-grandfather had a scar above the left eye upon entering Canada aboard CPR’s Empress of Asia at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, for European immigrants welcomed into Canada with open arms, nary a bit of information can sometimes be uncovered; such is the irony and perversity of these detailed records for unwelcomed immigrants.

If you are fortunate enough to have a Head Tax certificate with name and certificate number of your forebears, your search will be greatly accelerated. For Canadians of Chinese extraction who have been in this country for several generations, whose Chinese language skills are shaky at best, and who possess only scant bits of information of their forebears, the retracing of the past will likely take longer. While genealogical research is patience testing at the best of times, this search often poses special and unique challenges when searching for Chinese immigrants within North America. Patience is a necessity.

The challenges may include: names lost in translation; the order of Chinese names; mispronunciations due to various dialects; different English spellings for the same Chinese name; “paper names” or falsified identities; women being left out of family trees; entire villages in China relocated due to bad feng shui; re-drawing of boundaries during Liberation; re-naming of counties; lunar versus Gregorian calendar; men having different Chinese names in various stages of their lives; nicknames and monikers; differences in pinyin and Wade-Giles spellings; Chinese employees identified simply as Chinese #23; a resident in the city directory listed as simply “Chinese;” lack of photographs; graves moved; stepfamilies; faded memories; cloaks of silence; and the list goes on. An imagination with the ability to “think outside-the-box” will be an invaluable tool in the genealogical toolkit.

Databases contain the hard data of birth, death, marriage, date of entry, and name of ship; the real stories are what happened in between these dates of vital statistics. What are the traditions, rituals, customs, habits, values, stories, foods, and unique dialects of the family and community?

With each loss of parent, grandparent or great-grandparent, aunt or uncle, we lose answers to questions of our genealogical past.

If we are lucky, precious tidbits of information may be sitting on a server waiting to be accessed. If we are less lucky, the answers may be in another language for which we have a weak grasp. As more information is translated, sepia photographs scanned, and scratchy recordings converted from analog to digital, succeeding generations will have more tools at their disposal to put together the missing puzzle pieces of our families – our blood family as well as our Canadian family.

The General Register of Chinese Immigration spans from 1885 to 1949. Commonly known as the Head Tax registry, it also contains names of individuals exempt from paying the Head Tax.

While the Library and Archives Canada database is very comprehensive, what follows are some tips to increase your chances of a successful search.

Please download the pdf file for further details.

More Genealogy Resources:

Downloadable Head Tax Registry Database:

Village Database (China):
For a search of surnames and villages in China, go to Village DB at:

UBC Chinese Canadian Stories Portal:

British Columbia Directories 1860-1940

British Columbia Genealogy Records Online

Chinese Canadian Historical Society

Chinese Canadian Stories

Chinese Canadian Women 1923-1967

Chinese Culture

Chinese Heritage Interest Network

Chung Collection – University of British Columbia

Chinese Overseas Collection – The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites of the Internet

Harling Point Chinese Cemetery

Global Research and Archival Management Inc.

Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia – An Electronic Inventory

Mountain View Cemetery – Alphabetical Listing of Burials

Newfoundland and Labrador GenWeb

Vancouver Public Library – Chinese-Canadian Genealogy

WCILCOS – The World Confederation of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies

Genealogy Powerpoint
Genealogical Essay PDF


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