British Columbia Vital Records:
Births, Marriages, and Deaths

B.C. Flag
British Columbia Flag

Are you looking for information about British Columbia vital records?

This province has an interesting history, which helps to explain the whereabouts of British Columbia vital records.

What is now British Columbia was claimed by both Britain and Spain in the late 1700s. By the mid-1800s, Britain had control of the region, and a colony was established on Vancouver Island, which was called Vancouver Island colony.


Panning for Gold.
Public Domain
Panning for Gold

A gold rush in the later 1850s resulted in a rapid increase in the population, and a second colony, called British Columbia, was established in 1858.

The gold rush ended by 1866, the population declined, and it was decided that the two colonies would combine, under the name British Columbia.

In 1871, this colony chose to join the Canadian confederation, on one condition: that a railway be built linking the new province with the rest of Canada.

And so began the building of the railway that would open up the West for settlement, and would link Canada from coast to coast.

Civil Registration in British Columbia

Prior to 1871 and the province's entry into the Canadian confederation, there was no requirement to record British Columbia vital records; if recorded at all, this type of records were kept by churches. However, as we will see, there is evidence that some British Columbia vital records, such as marriages, were systematically recorded during the period from 1858 to 1871.


British Columbia's Privacy Laws

Under the province's privacy laws, British Columbia vital records cannot be released which are of a private and sensitive nature for specified periods of time after their occurrence. The privacy laws apply to British Columbia vital records as follows:

  • Birth records are available to the public 120 years after they occur. (Up until 2004, this time period was 100 years after the birth, but the number was changed in that year to protect the privacy of centenarians);
  • marriages are available 75 years after the date of occurrence; and
  • death records are available 20 years after the event; and
  • divorce records are available 25 years after the event.

At the current time (i.e., in 2011), the British Columbia vital records available to the public are as follows:

  • Births – from 1872 to 1902
  • Marriages – from 1872 to 1935
  • Deaths – from 1872 to 1990
  • Divorces - from colonial days to 1985

British Columbia has created an on-line Vital Events Index of births, marriages and deaths from 1872 to the most recent date possible under the privacy legislation, as indicated above. This is only an index. The registrations themselves have been microfilmed, and can be viewed at the British Columbia Archives, a number of public libraries in the province, and through the Family Research centres of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

For more recent records, the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency will allow access only to individuals who meet certain specifications, in order to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. See their website for details.


Births Registered in or after 1872

For births registered under the civil registration system, you can expect to find most, if not all, of the following information:

Wikimedia Commons
Baby

  • Date and place of birth
  • Name of child
  • Sex of child
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s name, including maiden name
  • Father’s residence and occupation / profession
  • Name of person who delivered the child
  • If report made by someone other than the father, the reason the father did not make the report
  • Date of registration, and
  • Registration number


Births Prior to 1872

There are a number of sources for birth and christening records prior to 1872, as follows:

  • The Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have birth records for British Columbia from 1854 to 1903 in their online database. They indicate that the earlier records are due to late registration (i.e., events which occurred earlier, but were registered after civil registration began in 1872);
  • Rootsweb database contains a number of birth notices published in the Vancouver Times 1864-1866, the British Columbian 1861-1869, the Victoria Daily Standard 1871, and the New Westminster Mainland Guardian 1870-1875;
  • The BC Archives has a database of baptisms / christenings, as well as a database of births.


Marriages Registered in or after 1872


The information you can expect to find with respect to a marriage is as follows:

  • Names and ages of bride and groom;
  • Residences of the bride and groom when married;
  • Places of birth of the bride and groom;
  • Marital status of the bride and groom;
  • Religious affiliations of bride and groom;
  • Rank / profession;
  • Names of parents (earlier records may have only the father’s name);
  • Names and addresses / residences of witnesses;
  • Date and place of marriage;
  • Name of person performing the marriage; and
  • Whether married by licence or banns.


Marriages Prior to 1872

Wikimedia Commons.
Wedding Rings

The British Columbia Archives has eight volumes of marriages from the period 1859 to 1871, for the two colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. These records are either copies of marriage certificates, or marriage entries reported by clergymen from various denominations.

For marriages in this area prior to 1859, the most likely source of records would be the church in which the marriage occurred, or its headquarters.



Deaths Registered in or after 1872

The following information may be in a BC death registration (If the informant did not know the answer to a question, some of the data requested may not have been recorded):

  • Name, age, sex, and residence of the deceased;
  • Date of birth / Age at death;
  • Date and cause of death;
  • Occupation / Profession;
  • Religious affiliation;
  • Name of attending physician;
  • Name and residence of informant;
  • Registration district name or number; and
  • Date and number of registration.


More recent registrations also include:

  • Marital status at time of death; and
  • Parents’ names and birthplaces.

Full Military Funeral, Vancouver, B.C., August 3, 2005
for Ernest "Smokey" Smith, WWII veteran
and last remaining recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.


Deaths Prior to 1872

While there does not appear to be a central source for BC death records prior to 1872, there are a number of sources of information which may prove helpful:

  • The BC Cemeteries Finding Aid, a database of more than 344,000 interments in British Columbia. This will provide the cemetery where the person is buried;
  • The BC Archives has all of the Coroner's Reports for any inquests or inquiries which occurred between 1859 and 1970; and
  • The Archives also has custody of all wills that were probated in the province between 1861 and 1981.

Divorce Records

For general information about divorce records in Canada, see my page Divorce Records in Canada.

According to the RootsWeb site (see link below), between 1877 (when the first divorce was granted in BC) and 1900, there were 47 divorces granted by the British Columbia Supreme Court.

In 1911, British Columbia passed legislation amending the UK laws regarding Divorce and Matrimonial Causes previously in force in the province.

The British Columbia Archives has divorce records up to 1990 for the larger Supreme Court registries. If the records are not there, then they are at the court registry that processed the divorce.

For the period from 1935 to 1989, (i.e., the records are subject to a 25-year privacy restriction), the Division of Vital Statistics collected final divorce orders. Those from 1935 to 1989 are available on microfilm at the British Columbia Archives.

Those less than 25 years old are located at the individual Supreme Court Registries.

An index is available of BC divorces from 1901 to 1990. For the period from 1901 to 1935, it provides name, date, and court location.

The index also includes the microfilmed records from 1935 to 1985.

In addition, Rootsweb has an online index of divorces for the Victoria, BC area, called Orders Issued in Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, 1877-1931.


What Records are Online?

In addition to the sources already cited above, the following may be relevant for searching for British Columbia vital records:

Ancestry’s Canadian version, at www.ancestry.ca, has three databases containing British Columbia vital records:

  • British Columbia Birth Index: 1872 to 1899
  • British Columbia Marriage Index: 1872 to 1924
  • British Columbia Death Index: 1872 to 1979

The British Columbia Gen Web project project has a number of free resources with respect to British Columbia vital records.

Among the other databases, the BC GenWeb project has the Victoria Court Divorce and Matrimonial Causes database, from 1877 to 1931. This database is searchable by name. It does not provide transcripts or details of the court cases, but it does tell you which spouse petitioned for divorce, when and where both spouses were born, who their fathers were, what their occupations were at the time of the petition, and so on.

The BC GenWeb website also has a “births, marriages and deaths” section, on one page of which it helpfully explains that, while the BC Vital Statistics Agency charges $50 per certificate (i.e., copy of the registrations), and $60 per certificate for a rush job, the Victoria Genealogical Society will provide copies of the registrations for $10 per certificate. Their address is:

Victoria Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 45031
Mayfair Postal Outlet
Victoria, BC, Canada. V8Z 7G9

A third option, if you live close enough, is to go to one of the regional libraries that has the data on microfilm, and print a copy. It is also possible to order the films through the Family History Search centre, and have them delivered to a centre near you for viewing and printing.

I hope that you find this information about British Columbia vital records of assistance in your search for information about your ancestors. All the best in the quest!




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